Critics question delay in calling out the Guard

As the Maryland National Guard patrolled Baltimore streets for the first time in more than 45 years, some critics questioned why it took so long to deploy them.

Among those airing concern: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not return his repeated phone calls for more than two hours Monday as rioting spread across the city. He felt he couldn't call out the Guard without her.


Rawlings-Blake would not directly respond to his complaint, saying she would not engage in "political football."

It was nonetheless clear Tuesday that the two powerful politicians had viewed Guard intervention quite differently — the new Republican governor eager to marshal troops and the Democratic mayor reluctant to appear as though she were quashing protesters.


"We didn't think it was appropriate to come in and take over the city without the request of the mayor," Hogan told reporters as he explained why it took hours after violence erupted to activate the National Guard. Once he got the mayor's call, he said, "it was about 30 seconds before we completely activated all of the resources that we had to bear."

Rawlings-Blake dismissed the critique from Hogan — and a chorus of national experts and others in Baltimore — that she may have waited too long to ask for help as outrage over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray boiled over into violent mayhem.

"We responded very quickly to a very difficult situation," she said. "It's understandable to armchair quarterback and second-guess, but there is a very delicate balancing act that you have to do in order to respond but not over-respond."

A week of peaceful protests about Gray's death while in police custody first turned violent Saturday evening, but on Monday a confrontation between teenagers and police quickly flared out of control.


"They just outnumbered us and outflanked us," police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said later. "We needed to have more resources out there."

When the biggest of the riots broke out at Pennsylvania and West North avenues Monday afternoon, officers watched from a distance as people tore apart a police cruiser, set two other police vehicles on fire, and looted businesses. The looting spread throughout the city, and officials said more than 140 fires were set.

Some experts said city police needed help sooner and failed to quickly seize control.

"When you have felony-grade criminal behavior, you have to stop it," said David A. Klinger, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri and a former police officer.

Klinger said police were too tame because of fears of how the use of force would be perceived.

"You have a huge disincentive for tactical commanders to do the right thing," he said. He expressed dismay at videos showing police getting pelted with rocks and retreating.

"Violence in this type of environment is very emotionally oriented. When people feel emboldened, they will continue," Klinger said. "When you cede ground to rioters, it is going to spread. Clearly in my mind, that is at least part of what happened."

Former Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris agreed.

"You tolerate the verbal abuse, you take some things being thrown from a distance. But once things get dangerous, it's over. And it's certainly over when looting starts," he said. "I don't believe in giving rioters space. It's failed everywhere, and it takes away from the actual peaceful protest and becomes an opportunity for criminality. It's like a fire and you're giving it oxygen."

Still, Norris said, calling in the National Guard is not a decision to be taken lightly.

"Once you call the National Guard, you've lost control. That's a last resort," he said.

The mayor's supporters say they understood her concern about the specter of uniformed military officers confronting civilians on city streets.

State Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a Democrat who represents the West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray was arrested, said she watched television footage in anguish.

"I know that the mayor kind of held back because she didn't want to be perceived — as it was in Ferguson and other places — of not being tolerant to the anger," she said. "I think she may have held back a little too long."

The friction between Hogan and Rawlings-Blake played out first while city police were pelted with bricks and bottles Monday afternoon, and then again on national television Tuesday as each politician claimed they were doing all they could to keep Baltimore safe.

Hogan, a first-time officeholder from a mostly white suburb, and Rawlings-Blake, a native Baltimorean with 19 years in public office, have known each other just a few months since Hogan's upset win for governor. In recent weeks, they have been at odds over funding for city schools.

The pair held two sets of dueling news conferences Tuesday — one in the morning, one in the evening — as Baltimore braced for more demonstrations over Gray's death.

Hogan aides said he'd prepared an executive order Saturday morning to declare a state emergency should one be needed, and the governor said he tried "multiple times" Monday for more than 21/2 hours to reach Rawlings-Blake without having his calls returned.

He deployed a top aide to the mayor's side Monday afternoon, dispatching Keiffer Mitchell, a Democrat from a prominent Baltimore family of politicians and civil rights activists, who had served three terms on the City Council and another in the legislature.

Mitchell said he arrived at the city's emergency operations center at 4:30 p.m. Monday — about an hour after violence began. As to why the mayor did not respond to Hogan until about 6 p.m., Mitchell said, "That's a question you've got ask to her."

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor did not hesitate to call for outside help when the situation in Baltimore got too violent.

"The mayor was managing the city's response to the crisis," Harris said. "When it escalated to the level where it was necessary to ask for the National Guard, she did that. There was no delay. Any insinuation contrary to that is not consistent with the facts."

Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said police believed on Monday that they were deploying to react to a protest planned by students on social media — only a "high school event," he said.

"I don't think anyone would expect us to deploy automatic weapons and armored vehicles for 14- and 15-year-olds," Kowalczyk said.

Even so, police had come prepared with dozens of officers for the protest, forming multiple lines in the area of Mondawmin Mall as high school students filtered into the area. Maryland Transportation Police confirmed that on instructions from city police, they shut down buses there at 2:57 p.m. — a step that may have been designed to keep more students from coming, but also prevented those already there from going home.

Not everyone was critical of the police response. Ball State criminal justice professor Bryan Byers praised the department for showing "amazing restraint."

"The goal of riot training is to confront and disperse an unruly crowd," Byers said. "The police need to be able to identify agitators and remove them — usually by arrest — from the crowd. Not all forms of civil disobedience are a riot."


The Rev. Al Sharpton condemned Hogan for taking "cheap shots" at Rawlings-Blake, and criticized his inexperience. He is "a governor who's never stood up and dealt with police reform," the civil rights activist told reporters at a news conference in Baltimore.


Maryland Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican, said Hogan perfectly managed his public persona.

"He has stepped up to the plate, he's taken control — and he's not taken control away of the mayor," Jennings said. "To a lot of people, it felt like there was a vacuum of leadership [Monday] and the governor was able to step in and take charge."

The contrast between Hogan and Rawlings-Blake appears to have elevated Hogan's role in preserving order in Baltimore, said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.

"He has certainly shown himself to be more of a decisive leader in the situation, at least in terms of what the public sees," Kromer said. "Whatever she was doing behind the scenes doesn't matter to a lot of people. ... People only see what they are presented publicly."

Whether Hogan can maintain the sense that he has stepped in to fix things remains to be seen, Kromer said, but Rawlings-Blake will have more to answer for the city riots in the days to come.

"There seems to be a real sense of frustration among a lot of people that she wasn't in front of it, and that's something she's going to have to account for in the future."

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.


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