Haley's comment

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley recently offered an assessment of what's happening in Baltimore that requires a response. In an address to the National Press Club in Washington this week, she suggested that the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police misconduct was endangering black lives in Baltimore as well as Ferguson, Mo.

"Most of the people who now live in terror because local police are too intimidated to do their jobs are black," the 43-year-old Republican told reporters. "Black lives do matter, and they have been disgracefully jeopardized by the movement that has laid waste to Ferguson and Baltimore."


First, let's make one thing clear: Baltimore has not been "laid waste" by any protest. Whatever problems this city endures, whether in lack of jobs, concentration of poverty, drug addiction or crime, they did not suddenly present themselves this year and certainly not a mere five months ago after the death of Freddie Gray. If the governor is unaware of this, she can ask around. Baltimore's economic decline is about a half-century in the making.

Second, police here are not "too intimidated to do their jobs." Maybe in South Carolina, police officers are easily cowed, not so in Charm City where they are, sorry to say, battle-hardened. We have witnessed the criminal prosecution of police for possible misconduct in office before (as well as mayors, council members, legislators and yes, even governors). As Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said about his force last week after his predecessor suggested police "took a knee" after the riots in April, "they're working hard." Their reasonable but firm handling of the rather desultory protests in downtown Baltimore during last Wednesday's hearings in the Freddie Gray-related prosecutions provided the latest evidence of it.

But Governor Haley's point is really much more obnoxious than that. She, like too many on the right, would like to pin the blame for crime in places like Baltimore on civil rights protesters and specifically on the black men who are speaking up. Let's see, a southern governor who is fearful of public demonstrations by blacks — is this 2015 or 1955? Whatever enlightenment Ms. Haley displayed after the Charleston shootings and her decision to remove the Confederate flag from a public memorial appears to have be a one-time aberration.

As a movement, Black Lives Matter does not pose a threat. The protests are not always polite, and immoderate things may be said (as apparently took place at the Minnesota State Fair with the "Pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon" chant), but the movement's core mission is to seek equal justice for African-Americans. The response from critics that "all lives matter" is certainly true but shockingly insensitive in the context of what's going on. The "all lives matter" or the related pro-police "blue lives matter" rebuttal is not a call for universal compassion but usually offered as a way to minimize or ignore genuine racial disparity.

Whatever is causing Baltimore's recent spike in crime, we can be certain it's not because there's an excess of civil liberties granted black people. The evidence of racial disparity is irrefutable: The life expectancy in Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods is worse than in Syria. And police brutality is not some imagined problem; the city has doled out millions of dollars in settlements to victims in recent years. Black Lives Matter is a call — and a sometimes angry one — to right wrongs. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once observed, "Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation can't be expected to find voice in a whisper."

Perhaps it's also easy for some to forget that protests and riots are not the same thing. Those young people who threw rocks at police or looted Mondawmin Mall or otherwise behaved as criminals weren't doing so at the behest of a civil rights movement seeking recognition or redress. The perpetrators were, however, the product of neighborhoods caught in a long standing cycle of drugs, crime, poverty, and joblessness from which there is little escape and — as Governor Haley has demonstrated — about which outsiders often have a minimal understanding or empathy.

Make no mistake, black lives are in danger. That's part of what has fueled the anger and outrage. They are in danger of being murdered or robbed, of suffering from lead poisoning or perhaps other undiagnosed or untreated illness, of getting arrested and punished more harshly than others, of finding few jobs where they live and no way to get to them elsewhere. But perhaps there is no greater threat than being ignored, dismissed or forgotten by people who are in a position to remedy this chronic inequality and lack of opportunity. Governor Haley isn't offering a solution to Baltimore's crime, she's blaming the victims who are speaking out.