During the past three years, Baltimore has suffered its worst period of violence on record with more than 1,100 people killed. The public has demanded urgency and new approaches from everyone involved in trying to stop the killings. We as a city have replaced the mayor and police commissioner (several times), and we have placed judges, the governor, parole and probation and juvenile services officials, the police union, legislators and others under intense scrutiny over their roles in stopping the bloodshed. Baltimore’s state’s attorney also must be held accountable, and we believe it is time for a change in that office. In this month’s Democratic primary, we endorse attorney Ivan Bates.
The incumbent, Marilyn Mosby, has made a strong defense of her record, and we believe that it has merit in some important respects.
We agree that her announcement of charges against the six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death staved off violence. Those who view her actions then from the safe remove of three years and through the hindsight of the charges’ result are forgetting the real and justified fear that the city would erupt again into rioting if the foolish self-imposed deadline then-police commissioner Anthony Batts had set for completing the investigation into Gray’s death passed with no move toward accountability for the officers.
We also credit her assertion that her office’s job of prosecuting violent criminals has been made much more difficult by a period of intense turmoil in the Baltimore Police Department. Her critics may try to blame her for that instability, but she didn’t fire the police commissioners. She isn’t responsible for the corruption in the Gun Trace Task Force or the death of homicide Det. Sean Suiter. She didn’t tell Darryl De Sousa not to file his taxes. The reckoning the department is now going through as a result of its legacy of unconstitutional policing and the diminished trust city residents have for the force were born of policies and practices that long predated her. In that context, it’s entirely believable that the increase in dropped felony cases during her term is to a great extent the product of forces outside her control.
At the same time, we have to acknowledge that she did not have the evidence to sustain the heavy charges she brought against the officers in the Gray case; her assertion that she would do nothing differently if given the chance is simply bizarre given the trials’ outcomes. The loss of some experienced prosecutors from the office during her term is troubling, and so is the fact that she has not even acknowledged the strained relationship between her office and the police department, much less tried to mend it. Fundamentally, the reason we believe voters should not give her a second term is that she seems unable or unwilling to entertain the notion that she should do anything differently in the face of Baltimore’s record violence.
Ms. Mosby came into office complaining her predecessor was too soft on crime, yet she hasn’t proven herself any better at securing convictions. Instead, she styles herself as Baltimore’s chief advocate and prime mover for law enforcement reform, but that job actually belongs to the federal consent decree monitoring team. What we need is a prosecutor — someone who will focus on building strong cases and securing convictions. We believe Ivan Bates is that person.
Mr. Bates has worked in Baltimore courtrooms for decades, first as a prosecutor and then as a defense attorney. He knows the system. He knows Baltimore judges and juries. He is well respected in the legal community, and we believe he would be able to recruit and retain skilled prosecutors while developing a relationship with the police that strikes the appropriate balance between partnership and accountability.
Ms. Mosby’s other opponent, Thiru Vignarajah, is also a strong candidate who has well-articulated plans for the office, but we believe Mr. Bates’ experience and focus give him the edge. The question he asks repeatedly — do you feel safer than you did three years ago? — is the right one, indeed the only one, in this election.
This is not an easy choice for Baltimore voters, but Mr. Bates gives Baltimore its best chance to break the cycle of violence. He has our endorsement.