Maryland leaders have come under fire for a slow response to the outbreak of riots and looting in Baltimore — a contrast to criticism of the heavily militarized police presence in Ferguson, Missouri that was blamed for escalating confrontations there in the wake of a fatal police shooting.
Law enforcement analysts say the criticisms of both scenarios underscore the difficulty that political leaders face in providing an adequate emergency response.
“The response has been a little slow but it’s not the disaster that we saw in Ferguson,” said David Harris, a police accountability expert with the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. “We’re watching a burning police car and looting for quite a while before anything happened.”
In Baltimore, rioting broke out shortly after 3 p.m. Monday following simmering tensions and small fits of violence that interrupted otherwise peaceful protests over the weekend. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan sent out notice a state of emergency had been enacted at 7 p.m. and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake made her first public comments about the day’s events an hour later.
When Mr. Hogan spoke Monday night, he seemed to shift blame for the delay to Ms. Rawlings-Blake, saying his office had been working on plans to declare a state of emergency for days and that he immediately acted when “she finally made that call.”
The comment led reporters to pepper Mr. Hogan with questions Tuesday about whether the police response was sufficient and why more resources were not brought it sooner.
“We waited until the mayor asked for us to come in,” Mr. Hogan said. “We did think it was appropriate to come in and take over the city with out the request.”
The riots broke out following the funeral services for 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after he sustained a traumatic spinal cord injury while in police custody. The circumstances of his encounter with police remain under investigation.
The riots resulted in 144 vehicles destroyed, 15 structure fires, 247 arrests including 34 juveniles, and 20 police officers injured, according to the Baltimore Police Department.
Security experts said the city should have been more prepared for an outbreak of violence.
“With the circumstances as tragic as they were with Mr. Gray, I think it’s fair for the city to have expected something serious,” Michael Balboni, a former senior homeland security and law enforcement official in New York told Reuters.
But police pushed back against the notion they did not act quickly enough when violence first broke out Monday afternoon after groups of teenagers began gathering at Mondawmin Mall.
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“Do you want people using force on 14, 15, 16-year-old kids out there?” said Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, noting that 200 to 300 officers were on scene. “They are old enough to know not to do those things. They are old enough to be accountable. But they are still kids and we had to take that into account while we were out there.”
In Ferguson, violence erupted over the summer following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. Protesters had taken to the streets to demand an end to police brutality when authorities outfitted with sniper rifles and armored cars rolled into town.
“In Ferguson, they rolled out all the military equipment and weapons. The idea was we are going to shut this down,” Mr. Harris said. “It really inflamed the situation, it did not calm it.”
That seemed to be the exact scenario Ms. Rawlings-Blake said she wanted to avoid.
“We’ve seen what happens when other jurisdictions have overreacted and brought in resources that escalated the violence on the street,” she told CNN. “And I didn’t want that to happen in Baltimore.”
• Andrea Noble can be reached at email@example.com.
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