Voters statewide, in city see April's unrest differently

A protester rides his bike in front of a police line at North and Pennsylvania Avenues on April 27, 2015.
A protester rides his bike in front of a police line at North and Pennsylvania Avenues on April 27, 2015. (Algerina Perna / TNS)

Looking back at the unrest that followed Freddie Gray's death, Baltimore voters see events differently than do voters statewide, a new poll shows.

City voters are less likely to sympathize with police, and they are more likely to see joblessness and racism as a cause of April's unrest, according to a poll of likely voters conducted for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore.


Those living outside the city are more likely to blame "a lack of personal responsibility among residents" for the city's ills.

The divided opinions were most pronounced when respondents were asked for their opinions of how Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby has handled the case. She brought charges against six officers charged in Gray's death, ranging from reckless endangerment to second-degree murder. The first of the officers to face trial is scheduled to have a motions hearing Tuesday.


About 63 percent of Baltimore voters support the way Mosby, a Democrat, has handled the case, but only 38 percent of voters statewide do. Maryland's Republicans are even more negative: Only 11 percent say they approve of her handling of the case.

"The people siding with the police are disapproving of Mosby, because she's the one who brought the charges," said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, the Annapolis-based firm that conducted the poll.

"If you have a fear that the trials are not going to be fair and the police are going to be railroaded, you're going to take it out on Marilyn Mosby," he said. "But she's got 3-to-1 approval in the city. She's got great numbers in the city."

One such supporter is Connie Williams, 70, who lives in Baltimore's Park Heights neighborhood.

"I've lived in Baltimore for 60-some years," Williams said in an interview. "I've seen the brutality of the Police Department and nothing has ever been done. Mosby's doing well. She's a good attorney, and it's about time some of these police be held accountable."

But Walter Regner, 60, of Baltimore County's Baldwin community, sees Mosby as a "disaster."

"Mosby really has it out for the police," he said. "She doesn't want to go by the facts. I'm not saying all police are great people. But the same people that hate their guts, the police are the guys who are going to take a bullet or run into a burning building for them."

Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal cord injury in the back of a police transport van after being arrested April 12, according to the state medical examiner. His death sparked protests across the city. And hours after his funeral on April 27, rioting, looting and arson broke out. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called in the National Guard and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, instituted a nightly curfew to restore order.

In the aftermath, Baltimore's murder rate has soared. The city has experienced over 300 killings this year.

City and state leaders pledged to address long-entrenched problems in Baltimore, including unemployment and poverty, and nonprofits earmarked millions of dollars for struggling city communities.

But the poll shows voters statewide and Baltimore voters don't agree on the root cause of the unrest. A third of Baltimore voters cited a lack of job opportunities as the most important cause, followed by racism at 19 percent. Statewide, nearly a third of voters said "lack of personal responsibility" was a chief reason, along with the lack of jobs.

Sondra Lechliter, 76, from Cumberland, said she puts the blame for Baltimore's problems on the breakdown of the family. Residents who have children outside a two-parent family are contributing to poverty and crime, she said.


"People should be taking care of their children," she said. "There's no discipline anymore. The kids are left to go out and do all kinds of things. There's no sense to it."

In contrast, Mack Simpson, 91, a retired educator from Northwest Baltimore, blames a lack of jobs and structural racism — issues he says are intertwined.

"The No. 1 problem I see is people on the street corners with no jobs," said Simpson. "When it comes to job opportunities, if a Caucasian goes for a job and an African-American goes for the job with the same qualifications, nine times out of 10 the Caucasian is going to end up with the job."

Officer William G. Porter is the first Baltimore police officer scheduled for trial in Gray's death. Judge Barry Williams could rule Tuesday on several motions in Porter's case, including a defense request to exclude videos that area residents shot of Gray's arrest. Porter's trial is scheduled for Nov. 30.

The poll shows Marylanders statewide are more skeptical than Baltimoreans about the likely fairness of the trial. About 35 percent of voters statewide said they are "not confident" the trials will produce a fair result, compared with 17 percent of Baltimore voters.

The poll also shows voters statewide have a more positive view of the police.

About 50 percent of Maryland voters say they sympathize more with the police when considering the unrest after Gray's death; 30 percent say they sympathize more with the protesters. In Baltimore, 35 percent say they sympathize with the police compared with 30 percent for the protesters.

Raabe said he believes the disconnect has much to do with ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats. Hogan won 20 of the state's 24 jurisdictions in 2014's elections, while Baltimore hasn't had a Republican mayor since the 1960s.

About 85 percent of Republicans polled say they sympathize with the police, compared with 37 percent of Democrats statewide.

"One's prevailing politics are driving how we view this," Raabe said. "If you look at Republicans, there is extraordinarily strong support for the police. And there are extraordinarily strong numbers among Republicans for personal responsibility as the driving cause of Baltimore's problems."

But Raabe noted voters in overwhelmingly Democratic Baltimore are more supportive of police than voters in the Democratic bastions of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, who back the protesters by wide margins.

"People on the progressive side [in the Washington suburbs] are reflexively siding with the protesters," he said. "But if you live in Baltimore, and you see people on the streets doing damage, the word 'protester' to you may mean 'riot.' It's a very different answer if you're viewing it from 50 miles away."

Patricia McNair, a 60-year-old retired hospital worker who lives in Baltimore's Pen Lucy neighborhood, said she sympathizes with the protesters, and she's disgusted by the way the police behaved in Gray's case.

"They had no concern for that boy," she said of how police treated Gray. "The just let him die."

At the same time, McNair said she has no support for those who turned to rioting in April.


"They just wanted to loot and steal," McNair said. "It had nothing to do with that boy."


Another dividing line among Maryland voters and Baltimore voters is their view of Rawlings-Blake's job performance. Voters statewide generally disapprove of Rawlings-Blake's performance in office, with only 26 saying they approve. But 52 percent of Baltimore voters polled said they approved of her job performance, including 41 percent of Democratic primary voters.


About this poll

Statewide results are based on a survey of 926 likely voters of all parties from across Maryland. City results are based on a survey of 421 likely voters of all parties from Baltimore. The poll was done by OpinionWorks of Annapolis for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore's College of Public Affairs and Schaefer Center for Public Policy. Voters were randomly selected for interviews from a voter file provided by the state Board of Elections. The survey was conducted by telephone, both land-based and cellular, by trained interviewers from Nov. 13 to Nov. 17. The margin of error for statewide results is +/- 3.2 percentage points. The margin of error for city results is +/- 4.8 percentage points.

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