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Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: Hogan is no hero | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake holds a press conference at City Hall in 2015 to talk about the unrest in the wake of a march to protest the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Standing with her is, right, Dr. Jamal Bryant, former pastor of Empowerment Temple, and, left, Dr. Donte Hickman, Sr., of Southern Baptist Church.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake holds a press conference at City Hall in 2015 to talk about the unrest in the wake of a march to protest the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Standing with her is, right, Dr. Jamal Bryant, former pastor of Empowerment Temple, and, left, Dr. Donte Hickman, Sr., of Southern Baptist Church. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Across America, communities are awakening to the revelation that the lives of Black men, women and children matter. It is a hard-earned understanding that the structures of systemic racism that diminish humans based on the color of their skin must be eradicated. To paraphrase Angela Davis: The public is no longer accepting the things they cannot change; they will change the things that they cannot accept. However, to understand how hard this transformation will be, one needs to look no further than Maryland.

Maryland is an affluent state with a proud history of producing Black leaders from Harriett Tubman to Thurgood Marshall, from Frederick Douglass to Verda Welcome. Our state has four historically Black colleges and universities and the wealthiest predominantly Black county in America. Despite our resources and history, we are led by a governor seeking advancement to the national stage not by uplifting Black communities and leaders but at their expense.

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Gov. Larry Hogan is on a media tour to promote his upcoming memoir touting himself as a different politician who should be considered a future presidential contender. However, based on releases from his new book, he fails to understand the shifting winds of political discourse. Through his words and his actions, he devalues the Black community.

In 2015, when Baltimore was shaken by the in-custody death of Freddie Gray, communities demonstrated their anger over the loss of this young man’s life. Governor Hogan uses Baltimore’s uprising to promote himself while criticizing and diminishing members of the Black community. His self-serving and myopic narrative that he saved Baltimore from itself demeans proud Baltimoreans.

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Governor Hogan depicts himself as a white knight riding in to save Baltimore, while Black leaders like President Barack Obama and myself, as Baltimore’s then mayor, hindered his efforts to restore order. In Governor Hogan’s words, Mr. Gray was no singer in a church choir but rather a “Crips gang-connected street drug dealer” — a Willie Horton-like assertion that insinuates his death was not worth outrage. He misuses a civil rights refrain to mock Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby as a “no justice no peace prosecutor,” and CNN anchor Don Lemon as a “jerk.” The governor’s venom is sprayed to besmirch our community in a vain attempt to raise his political profile.

Governor Hogan appears to believe Black citizens, officials and journalists need to be chastised, marginalized and minimalized for society’s good. His narrative ignores Black leaders — such as the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, former Baltimore NAACP President Tessa Hill, Del. Nick Mosby and Rev. Jamal Bryant — who were in the streets of Baltimore restoring calm during the 2015 uprising. Sadly, their efforts do not matter to a governor who is intent on whitewashing them away.

Governor Hogan ignores the Baltimore Police Department, led by a Black commissioner, which used restraint against student protesters and restored order within one evening. His dismissive, paternalistic tactic is familiar to our Black community; it is the very approach that fuels the Black Lives Matters movement.

Like most cities in America, Baltimore faces challenges of poverty, crime, transportation, drug addiction and failing infrastructure. With diminishing tax bases, cities across our country need national and state leaders with the courage to invest and work in conjunction with local leadership to solve complex problems. Governor Hogan did bring the National Guard to Baltimore, and in the five years since, he has brought little more beyond criticism and disdain.

Despite promising citizens during the unrest that he would address issues of poverty, Governor Hogan subsequently killed the Red Line, a federally subsidized mass transit program designated for Baltimore. His decision denied residents easy, direct access to education and employment. Tellingly, he allowed a similar mass transit program to progress in a wealthy white suburb of Washington. In Governor Hogan’s Maryland, Black residents ride buses; like our leaders, we are seen as less than our white counterparts.

Maryland’s public schools have declined under Governor Hogan’s leadership, and the state’s crime rate is high; both policy failures disproportionately impact the Black community. His veto of a bipartisan bill to reform public education solidifies the urban achievement gap and denies opportunity to Black children. He cynically claims record education investment when he merely complies with existing statutory funding formulas.

Black people account for 31% of Maryland’s population but around 41% of confirmed COVID-19 fatalities. Governor Hogan hasn’t done nearly enough to address the disparities and alleviate the harm, and even publicly criticized Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young’s restrained opening. The governor’s recent decision to force in-person voting in November during a pandemic will force our community to risk their lives to cast their vote.

Governor Hogan’s treatment of state employees also breaks along racial lines. He routinely provides the most substantial pay increases to predominantly white police unions over lower-paid African American labor groups. His disregard of our community is reflected in his cabinet, where no Black women serve. The small percentage of Black voices in his administration may explain his refusal to settle a long-standing lawsuit with Maryland’s HBCUs, despite a bipartisan bill sent to his desk, which he vetoed.

Citizens of all ethnicities in our country have amplified the call for equality. We need public officials who are brave enough to address past wrongs and genuinely put meaning to the words Black Lives Matter. Our nation is compelled to listen to the voices demanding change and to turn to bold leaders with the courage to bring transformation. Unfortunately, as long as Governor Hogan is “still standing,” the Black community will languish at his feet.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (Twitter: @MayorSRB) is former mayor of Baltimore.

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