What Hogan got wrong about Baltimore crime

Gov. Hogan trotted out the most tired criticism of Black Lives Matter. Here's why he's wrong.

Gov. Larry Hogan is absolutely right that violent crime in Baltimore is out of control. As polarizing as his comments to that effect on yesterday's C4 Show on WBAL have proven to be, we don't see how anyone can deny that fact in the city's deadliest year ever on a per capita basis, and we don't see how anyone can deny the need for everyone from the mayor on down to feel more urgency about addressing it.

Where Mr. Hogan went wrong, however, was in implying that Baltimoreans protesting the death of Freddie Gray don't care about the city's murder rate.

"We have a lot of people out there, expressing their concern, their frustration over the tragic death of Freddie Gray," he said. "But where is the uproar from the community? Where are the people protesting the 330 people murdered?"

This isn't exactly a new line of criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many others have made much more explicit remarks along those lines, arguing that if black lives mattered, people would also be protesting the large-scale black-on-black violence that happens daily in the streets of places like Baltimore.

That's a false dichotomy, for several reasons.

First, we are allowed to express a special outrage for what is in effect state-sponsored violence against individuals who, in the case of Freddie Gray and many others, committed no crime at all before they were killed. The phenomenon isn't new; the difference is the presence of video and a renewed national focus on the issue, and the outrage is compounded by just how infrequently police are prosecuted or even disciplined in such cases.

Second, the post-Freddie Gray protests may have been particularly large and well documented by the media, but people are also speaking up about this year's violence, and they are trying to do something about it. The 300 Men March has been calling attention to Baltimore's killings for years, and it hasn't been alone. Residents crowd town hall meetings to talk about crime, and they still express heartache and anger about individual killings. The fact that it wasn't on CNN doesn't mean it didn't happen. Witness, for example, the reaction to the killing of Kendal Fenwick, who was trying to build a fence to keep his three children safe from drug dealers when he was gunned down. Dozens of friends, family members, police officers, community leaders and neighbors showed up a week later to finish the fence — and plaster "we must stop killing each other" signs on telephone poles. Police announced an arrest in the case this month, thanks both to ballistic information and "some brave souls" who provided leads.

And finally, the issues animating the Black Lives Matter movement and those contributing to the spike in killings are directly related. Black Lives Matter is about more than the killing of blacks by police officers. It also encompasses a legacy of often dehumanizing treatment of inner city blacks by police as well as the segregation, poverty, failing schools and stunted economic opportunities that are endemic to neighborhoods like Freddie Gray's. Baltimore's history of violent crime is inextricably linked to those conditions and to the mistrust of the criminal justice system that is the product of the war on drugs. It is difficult for police to effectively fight crime when many people in the most violence-ridden neighborhoods distrust them more than the drug dealers.

In fairness to Mr. Hogan, he has — other than an unfortunate remark a year ago that the protests in Ferguson didn't have anything to do with Maryland — generally recognized the legitimacy of the grievances of those who have protested Freddie Gray's death. He has helped lead a re-evaluation of the state's criminal justice system in an effort to reallocate resources from incarceration to investments in keeping people out of jail in the first place, and this morning he announced an "extensive review of the legal and regulatory barriers that individuals with a criminal record face when re-entering the community after time in prison," focused on things like the loss of professional and occupational licenses or impediments to accessing government services.

But the governor also needs to recognize that people in Baltimore have reasons to be wary of the sincerity of his commitment to the city. The education aid he refused to spend had a large impact here, both symbolic and actual, and the fact that he recently promised $4 million to help Carroll County schools rubbed salt in the wound. The Red Line light rail project he killed would not only have pumped billions in construction spending into the city but would also have connected thousands of people in neighborhoods like Freddie Gray's to employment opportunities.

Mr. Hogan said the violent crime in Baltimore is "something we've got to figure out a solution to." If he intends to include himself in that "we," he's going to need to produce more than just talk.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad