Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Baltimore riots

Being the mayor of any city in the throes of a race riot is a losing proposition; being an African-American mayor when the rioters are all black and the riot was sparked by the mysterious death of a black man in police custody is a hopeless proposition. Last night’s riot in Baltimore actually justified the kind of para-military response that got Ferguson, Missouri condemned by Eric Holder’s Justice Department, but that approach was politically impossible. I don’t know what I would have done in Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s hot seat, except hope against hope that President Obama didn’t come out with a statement that Freddie Gray could have been his son. So this is not the time to second-guess the mayor’s actions.

For the record, my assessment is that the volatile combination of acculturated black community contempt for policy authority and long-incubating and neglected racist inclinations in police departments was activated nationwide by seven years of cynical exploitation of racial divisions and distrust by President Obama, Eric Holder and the Democratic Party for electoral gain. Race riots were the predictable  consequence, and I say that with confidence because I predicted it in 2012, when Trayvon Martin’s death was elevated to a national issue just in time for the President Obama’s re-election push. Rawlings-Blake may have been part of that effort; I haven’t investigated that. She certainly inherited its results.

My verdict of incompetence in her case focuses less on her failure to prevent or contain the riots than on her inept communications skills. Leaders have to communicate clearly. If they can’t, they have a duty to learn: the skill can be taught. (I’m looking at you, W.) If they can’t communicate, their leadership ability is intrinsically crippled. Leaders who have to constantly “clarify” what they said, or “walk back” comments, or claim that they were “quoted out of context” when they were just quoted lose the public’s trust, and deserve to.  Public officials have to be careful  what they say, and how they say it, and this is a crucial, indispensable skill in their chosen field.

Rawlings-Blake held a press conference as the riots in her city were unfolding, and said this:

“And I’ve made it very clear that I worked with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech. It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars, and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wish to destroy, space to do that as well. And we work very hard to keep that balance, and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate and that’s what you saw.”

This statement was immediately interpreted by the news media (and everyone who heard her remarks or saw the YouTube video), as giving rioters permission to destroy. The interpretation was not unfair. First of all, she said it. Second, it echoed  the infamous remarks of New York Mayor David Dinkins during the Crown Heights Riots in 1991, when he said that he had ordered the police to let protesters “blow off a little steam.” Conservatives extrapolated her comments to be a continuation of civil rights leaders’ and liberal pundits’ rationalizations justifying the Ferguson rioting and looting, but even mainstream media commentators were perplexed. It was an irresponsible statement by definition.

Soon the mayor’s office indignantly denied the clear meaning of her words, putting out this “clarification,” which included an edited version of the statement including emphasis and bracketed words that were not spoken to show what she claims that she meant:

“I’ve made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech. It’s a very delicate balancing act, because, while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also [as a result] gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well. And we worked very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate, and that’s what you saw.”

Ah!

Got it.

Too bad you didn’t say that, Mayor.

She used “while” and “space” in ambiguous contexts, and left out that crucial “as a result.” If the interpretation above was what she intended to say, and I will generously give her the benefit of the doubt on that, then she and only she is the one at fault for not saying it. Naturally, Rawlings-Blake isn’t accepting responsibility for her own inarticulateness, for elected officials and politicians seldom do. Yesterday, she blamed the media, saying:

“The very blatant mischaracterization of my words was not helpful today. I was asked a question about the property damage that was done. In answering that question I made it very clear that we balance a very fine line between giving peaceful protesters a space to protest. What I said is, in doing so, people can hijack that and use that space for bad. I did not say that we were accepting of that. I did not say that we were passive to it. I was just explaining how property damage can happen during a peaceful protest. It is very unfortunate that members of your industry decided to mischaracterize my words and try to use it as a way to say that we were inciting violence.”

Thus Baltimore’s mayor  compounded incompetence with dishonesty. She was not “very clear,” since literally nobody understood her words to mean what she now says they did. It wasn’t a “blatant mischaracterization” of her words to quote them verbatim. Nobody “decided to mischaracterize” her words. The Mayor, an Oberlin graduate and a supposedly a professional communicator, failed, in a moment of crisis, to say what she now says she intended to say. The news media, for once, were just reporting what she did say, and they share no culpability for her incompetence or its consequences.

[Runner-Up for Incompetent Elected Official, Baltimore Division: Bernard C. Young, City Council President.

He really said, ludicrously:

“I’m heartbroken and I’m disturbed about how the news media are focusing on the negativity of this city, and not looking at the great things that are going on in this city. We have young people who are out there protesting peacefully, but you’re not focusing on them. You’re focusing on those that are burning down buildings and rioting throughout the streets of Baltimore”

To which CNN’s Anderson Cooper reasonably retorted,

“I’m not sure what he thinks cameras should be focused on at a time when cars are being destroyed, lit on fire, 15 police officers are being injured and stores being looted — I’m not exactly sure what images he would like us to be photographing at this time. But it seems pretty important that authorities know what is happening in their own city.”

_______________________

Sources: Daily Beast, Opposing Views, PoliticoFusion, American Thinker

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at jamproethics@verizon.net.

58 thoughts on “Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

    • Still ambiguous. Did “space” mean “freedom,” “leave,” “autonomy,” as in “give me space, dude!”, or did it mean simply that if you gave law abiding citizens room to live in the city, you also provided area for mischief and violence to occur.

      • No way it’s ambiguous.

        juxtaposed with the concession that they sought to protect the legitimate actions of protesters, it is analogous that “we also gave those who wish to destroy, space to do that as well.” that she subtly implied the legitimacy of the rioters and therefore their right to destroy…

  1. Jack, I agree with most of what you post, have become a faithful reader, and have directed others toward your blog as well. That being said, I understood perfectly what the mayor meant, before her clarification. I believe you when you say you misinterpreted it, but I don’t believe that EVERYBODY else did, particularly the media. Certainly I am in favor of clear communication, but in a spoken statement intonation and inflection cannot ethically be discounted.

    • I’ll concede that I did not include, in “everybody,” mind-readers, those who were inclined to always interpret the mayor’s words in ways that reflect well on her, her family and friends who are accustomed to her being verbally sloppy, and people who misinterpret everything anyway. Inflection is fine, but a leader must know that even now, his or her words will be in print, and that’s how a large segment will know of them. Congratulations on reading “we also gave those who wish to destroy, space to do that” as meaning something other than what English would dictate, which is “we granted the wish of those who wanted to destroy by allowing them to.”

      The clarification, in my view, slam-dunks the issue. If you have to add words to a statement to explain it, it wasn’t clear, and you know it. And it wasn’t “clear” just because one person, or 100, may have puzzled it out.

      • To the contrary – I’d be astonished to find ONE PERSON who actually believed that she intended what you claim her words suggest.

        It doesn’t take “puzzling it out” – show me one person ignorant enough to truly believe that the Mayor of Baltimore actually intended to balance the rights of looters with those of demonstrators?

        • Really? I don’t think it’s implausible at all. That was the strategy of LA during the Rodney King riots. It was exactly what David Dinkins. It was how the police behaved in Baltimore last night: let ’em riot. She just happened to use the term “destroy.”. Why would we assume she meant other than what she said, when what she said fit precedent and the actual conduct of the police? Are you seriously suggesting that Jake Tapper, Ann Althouse, and reporters left right and center intentionally misrepresented what she said, when the plain meaning of her words was consistent with their interpretation and not hers? The police just said they weren’t going to suppress “the kids” with force.

          Wow. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, but only a real true believer can say there is no reason for doubt.

          • Wait a minute – I just googled the Jake Tapper comments, and it was some guy named Fuentes who said all that. Here’s Tapper’s response:

            “Is there ever a strategy to cede some territory to allow demonstrators to commit violent acts against property so that, for instance — I’m just speculating here because I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE MAYOR MEANT, so that people are not injured? Is that ever a strategy?” Tapper asked.

            Doesn’t sound to me like Tapper misunderstood at all: he’s being properly skeptical of an interviewee’s wild claims.

            Got another supposed counter-example?

            • Huh? If she was so clear, how come Tapper, a gfair intelligent man, says he has no idea what she meant? That means he thought oit was unclear and ambiguous, meaning that it was subject to multiple interpretations, presumably including the one she was being criticized for.

              Or are you arguing that by “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE MAYOR MEANT” everybody except me understood that Jake Tapper meant that he knew what she meant?

          • “It was how the police behaved in Baltimore last night: let ’em riot. She just happened to use the term “destroy.”.”

            Distinction with little to no difference.

            I’m fairly certain “destroy” is a component of “riot”.

  2. Having seen the youtube clip of that speech, read the transcript and listened to her explanation, I can see how she could think she had said what she thinks she said. I’m not sure if it is clear to her that what she thinks she said and what she meant to say is NOT what she said. Now, if somebody could just explain to me what I just said, I’d be grateful. Maybe I’ll run for Mayor, myself.

    • On the other hand, I’m not sure she didn’t say what she reall ymeant to say, and when what she said was widely attacked, then said she said what she really didn’t say—though in fact she said what she said when she said it—as if she didn’t say it, since what she had said was better left unsaid, and she knew what she hadn’t said needed to be what people thought she said, so she said that’s what she said even though she didn’t say it, and at the time, didn’t intend to.

      Clearly.

      • Jack, I am flabbergasted at your view on this one. When you say “literally nobody understood her words to mean what she said they meant,” you are doing exactly what you accuse her of doing, because you’re already trying to walk back what your (unequivocal) words said.

        I understood perfectly well what she meant – in text, too, not to mention in live with full video. And I’m far from alone in that view, which immediately gives the lie to your categorical statement. You say you’ll “give her the benefit of the doubt?” The hell you will; you call her “incompetent elected official of the month,” how much benefit is that?

        Seriously now – did YOU actually THINK she had an “oops” moment, an “off-mic” moment, temporarily unmasking her real agenda – to balance the equal rights of a bunch of rioters bent on causing damage with the rights of those demonstrating? Surely YOU can’t believe that. But then who do you believe IS stupid enough to believe that? I know you don’t think well of the press, but if the press actually believes that, then you’ve got a great ethics piece to write about the press’s stupidity. Again, I’m aghast. NOBODY believes she meant what you’re trying to suggest she said – hence this is a complete strawman.

        But, you aghast me further. I read this sentence of yours very carefully:

        “My assessment is that the volatile combination of acculturated black community contempt for policy authority and long-incubating and neglected racist inclinations in police departments was activated nationwide by seven years of cynical exploitation of racial divisions and distrust by President Obama, Eric Holder and the Democratic Party for electoral gain.”

        Now let’s parse that sentence:

        “…the volatile combination…was activated…by…Obama…for electoral gain.”
        All I did was strip the adjectives, multiple nouns, and adjectival clauses. That is YOUR sentence.

        And I have to ask – are you serious? Are you seriously claiming that the match thrown onto gasoline (that gasoline being the “acculturated black community contempt for policy authority and long-incubating and neglected racist inclinations in police departments” which you fairly describe) was thrown by Obama – and for electoral gain?

        You know of Occam’s razor. You know that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Do you not read the news? The background causes are partly what you enumerate, as well as mass incarceration of young black men, de facto segregation of housing and education, and extreme unemployment.

        And the proximate causes – well, I would have thought it was obvious what set Baltimore off – yet another unarmed dead black man at the hands of police, one in a string. And yet, you present this “assessment” that Obama and Holder, et al, for political gain (never mind Obama has no more elections to run and Holder’s the lamest of ducks) are rubbing their evil hands at the prospect of playing the race card (e.g. by acknowledging publicly that the progeny of a black president might be black?) and reaping votes from the conflagration that follows.

        Seriously?

        Of course there are dysfunctions in the black community;of course there are gangs and of course rappers are not creating great role models, etc. – but saying that race riots were “activated” by a cynical national campaign by Obama? I’m sorry, Jack, that is just too far around the bend, and it’s not worthy of you.

        • I just responded with amazement to your second comment on this: the comments come to me latest first. We both speak English, Charles—you’re the one reconditioning the language. “It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars, and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wish to destroy, space to do that as well. And we work very hard to keep that balance, and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate and that’s what you saw.”

          There is only one natural way to interpret this statement. You are presuming that the clear meaning doesn’t apply. WHAT “balance” is she talking about, if it is not balancing the right to protest with leave to destroy? Your indignation is absurd, frankly, because it requires ignoring 1) her actual words 2) That another big city Mayor essentially said what you claim she couldn’t possibly have meant, and that a third city, LA, clearly adopted a “let rioters riot and looters loot” as its strategy during the Rodney King riots. Moreover, they did let the rioter riot—as in “destroy”—last night. And you say “how dare you interpret what the mayor said, which was consistent with precedent and her police force’s conduct, as what she said”? I don’t find it unlikely at all, in the wake of the backlash over the Ferguson police response, that an African American mayor would say what she now denies saying.

          I do give her the benefit of the doubt because I have no basis to assume she’s lying about her intent. She is lying when she says her words were misinterpreted. Since she was required to add words to her actual statement to make clear what she said was clear, when it obviously wasn’t, that means that she inarticulately didn’t say what she meant to, and allowed the ambiguity caused by what her police were doing AND what Dinkins has said to make a repulsive interpretation not only plausible, but the most logical.

          Then she called the rioters “thugs,’ which last I heard was a racial slur when applied to blacks. Yeah, she’s one hell of a communicator, Charles.

          • First, you’re AGAIN making the mistake of assuming that the same words mean the same thing regardless of says them. “Thugs,” like the N-word, has a whole different meaning when said by blacks about blacks. (In fact, if that weren’t true, you wouldn’t even have noticed it!)

            But to the main point – English.

            The original:
            “It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars, and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wish to destroy, space to do that as well. And we work very hard to keep that balance, and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate and that’s what you saw.”

            The implicit (CHANGES IN CAPS);
            “It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars, and the other things that were going on, we also EFFECTIVELY gave those who wish to destroy, space to do that as well. And we work very hard to keep that balance, and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate and that’s what you saw.”

            Or,

            “It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars, and the other things that were going on, THE UNFORTUNATE KNOCK-ON EFFECT IS THAT we also gave those who wish to destroy, space to do that as well. And we work very hard to keep that balance, and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate and that’s what you saw.”

            This is what I understood.

            To be honest, I had not thought of the LA parallel; I guess because it didn’t occur to me that this Mayor was, in context, discussing a conscious strategy of letting a city burn itself out. I just didn’t make that connection, it doesn’t sound at all like what she meant. I still don’t make that connection, but I’ll let it gel for a while.

            • From The Atlantic:

              As any scholar of systemic racism might have predicted, Baltimore is showing that simply having African Americans in top jobs—including mayor and the police commissioner—is not enough. In the early days of protests, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake seemed to be winning praise for sympathetically listening to protestors and staying above the fray. By Monday night, she seemed to have become just another politician, subject to criticism from people on all sides of the drama. First, there was her widely debated statement on Sunday that police had created space for destruction—she says she was misunderstood, and was only making the point that bad actors could take advantage of circumstances. Then on Monday night, she referred to protestors as “thugs,” an often racialized term that, when used by white authorities in Ferguson and elsewhere, keyed strong reactions. Her linguistic slips, the fact that the city seemed largely unready even though protests were a week old, and the fact that there’s still almost no information about what happened to Gray, have eroded her sway.

              Note that “lingusitic slips” were the entire point of my article.

    • Who suggested that they did? I don’t think anyone. The issue is…

      1. Did the Mayor instruct the police to let the rioter riot?
      2. Is that a responsible policy if she did?
      3. Did the rioters take advantage of police passivity?
      4. Was avoidable damage and loss of property cause by this laissez faire attitude?

      The issue isn’t whether this caused the rioting, but whether it exacerbated the damage.

      • I don’t know if there is anything this Mayor could have done to prevent the rioting — short of pleading for National Guard assistance before it happened. She was aware this was a powder keg.

  3. I wonder if our new Governor is to blame as well. He’s now saying that he was considering declaring a State of Emergency last week. Duh.

  4. Mayor needs to be fired immediately. She has ignorant tendecies that caused a city to be destroyed. She should have never been a leader of that city. Just because someone is born and raised in a city doesn’t mean they know how to lead. Ignorance and personal feelings is the problem that screwed the city of Baltimore. Fire the Mayor.

  5. Until, and unless, black Mayors, Police Commissioners, Police Chiefs and City Councilmen get over the idea that being black trumps being Mayor, Police Commissioner, Police Chief or City Councilman, we will continue to have Baltimore’s, Washington D.C., Detroit and, God help us, the U.S.A. To all of these people, I would say “You were born black. There’s nothing you can do about it but prove that it’s irrelevant. You were hired/elected to do a job. DO IT! For EVERYBODY! Being a person matters.”

  6. Riddle me this Batman. IS the Mayor of Baltimore more guilty of being: Inarticulate, no understanding of English Comp, i.e. run on sentences, dangling participles, poor syntax (grammar), prejudice, or just ignorant (uninformed), or a more forgiving trait of being JUST PLAIN STUPID!!!HUM may All of the Above?

  7. Fox News is reporting that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ordered police officers to “stand down” as rioters and looters were vandalizing and setting fire to buildings in the city on Monday.

    Fox correspondent Leland Vittert, who has been lauded for his reporting in Baltimore over the past few days, explained to the hosts of The Five that a senior law enforcement source gave him the information.

    According to FoxNews.com’s online report, the source said, “you are God damn right it was” the mayor who directly ordered the police chief to have his officers stand down. Vittert said on-air Wednesday that the mayor’s direct quote was: “let them loot; it’s only property.”

    Yoo hoo! Charles?

    • Jack, at this point I am perplexed by what point you are trying to make.

      I originally THOUGHT you were saying that her words amounted to a sort of “equal time” provision for protesters and looters, and that she was committed to allowing each group to “express themselves.” I said I couldn’t imagine anyone taking such a position, couldn’t imagine a mayor who thought her job was to represent looters.

      Now you seem to be expressing glee at quite another statement – the idea that she made a trade-off between property damage and physical confrontations with police.

      To which I would say – well, yeah, DOH!

      What responsible mayor, when faced with crowd emotions that high, WOULDN’T perform some sort of calculus of that type?

      There is a very clear difference in moral values between what we generally call ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ on the issue of property rights. Conservatives generally rate them higher in the moral scheme than liberals do; I hope that can be heard as a factual rather than an inflammatory statement.

      But I think most of us would look down on extremists at either end. A conservative extremist in this case would be someone whose reaction to crowds of this type would be to send in a fully-armed SWOT team with orders to arrest people for jay-walking and littering and anything worse, and intimidate them back to their homes. (Think the iconic image of the Chinese tank in Tienamin Square). Which would, almost certainly, have produced injuries if not fatalities.

      An extremist at the other end, of course, would say ‘burn baby burn’ and be delighted to let the capitalist insurance companies and the greedy landlords pay for it all, thus hastening the glorious day of reckoning.

      Reasonable people will find some middle ground – even if it’s not at precisely the same point – between those extremes.

      You seem to feel that the fact the mayor told the police chief to “stand down, it’s only property,” is de facto horrible. I would say it’s not a de facto issue at all – it’s a question of degree (recall Winston Churchill’s argument about the price of the dowager).

      I get that you may disagree about the degree of latitude she chose to give the demonstrators, which predictably resulted in a light hand on the looters; but I don’t at all share your sense of moral outrage at it.

      You seem to think there’s a “gotcha” here. I’m not seeing it. I’m just seeing a classical conservative/liberal difference of opinion about how to draw the line between property rights and human rights – something about which reasonable people can, and frequently do, differ.

      • Charles, it certainly is a gotcha. I’d require an apology, except we’re both looking for the truth here. The fact is you missed it by a mile.

        1. I said that the Mayor, by her own diagnosis, was inarticulate and caused problems as a result. You, for some reason. denied that anyone could think that she meant to “let people destroy.”

        2. I demonstrated that not only did ONE person believe that, lots of very reasonable smart people did. You haven’t acknowledged that.

        3. I also gave her the benefit of the doubt in the post about what she intended to say. This, however, meant that she did not say it, making her claim that she “clearly” did a lie. You again found fault with this, saying that she said what she meant, and what she meant was that in protecting the demonstrators, that gave rioters some opportunities to destroy, not that the city intentionally allowed them to destroy. Again, almost nobody agrees that this was what the clear meaning of her words were, though you say “not one person” misunderstood. Which was, as I showed, demonstrably untrue. Indeed, Tex said I was wrong to say what she said a originally was even ambiguous (as Tapper though). That’s one MORE person.

        4. Now, if Fox has a good source, and they might, it appears that the truth is that what the mayor originally said that you indignantly argued couldn’t possibly either be what she meant OR what any reasonable person could have understood her to say-—that the city intentionally allowed the rioters to destroy, was in fact what she did! She said what she meant, then denied it and blamed the media for correctly reporting it…and I was, as it turned out, wrong to take her at her word and identify her as incompetent for being inarticulate. As it happens, she’s a liar, and incompetent for a different reason: allowing riots to destroy her city because she didn’t have the guts to use police force to protect property marks her as a weak, a coward, and a fool.

        5. You appear to be beset with bias blindness, while accusing others of it. What she said was outrageous. What she did was unethical. Her race is irrelevant to me, but not to you. That’s a problem. Black officials can be fools and incompetents, and she was, and is. You have twisted your brain into a pretzel to argue 1) that she didn’t mean what she meant and 2) that nobody who isn’t biased could believe she did. Wrong, and wrong.

        6. Ironically, almost everyone on all sides of the political spectrum now thinks she’s a bozo. The one person…oh, there must be others—who refuses to find fault with her is you.

        7. Please tell me that you aren’t now arguing that allowing rioters to destroy without police protecting businesses and senior homes, the position that you previously claimed that it was unfair to suggest anyone could believe she would take since it is so irresponsible, was the right stance for the mayor to take…because it appears that this was the position she in fact did take, but denied. Because that sure looks like what you are saying.

  8. I’m the sort of person that bends over backwards to give the benefit of a doubt as far as people’s words and their intent. Either she meant what she said as stated, and is hoping that the listening public is gullible and unsophisticated enough to be cowed into believing her retraction, or she’s a dimwit. I find it very hard to believe that a reasonably intelligent person wouldn’t hear these words coming out of his or her mouth and immediately say “whoa, back up; here’s what I meant to say”. Coupled with her order to stand down (and yes, I have zero doubt that she ordered this), her very belated retraction, and the indignant way she presented it, looks pretty bad.

    • Joed68 – where has she ever “retracted” her statement? Not that I’ve noticed.

      Nor did she deny giving an order to ‘stand down’ – that was the essence of what she did, after all. I think your argument is with her actions, not with her words.

      You can argue with her decision (I do, and it sounds like you do too) without claiming that she somehow meant something sinister. Seems clear to me she intended to respond conservatively, and in fact did so – and in the rear view mirror, she should have responded more aggressively.

      No need to add verbal manipulation to the charges.

      • WHAT? Charles, you said nobody could possibly think she meant to give the rioters “space to destroy”!!!! What else do you think “stand down” means in this situation? It meant “who cares, let them destroy property”! In RETROSPECT it’s a bad idea to allow citizens’ businesses to be unprotected against an angry, lawless, arsonist mob? In retrospect?? “Gee, it looks like, upon reflection, that was a bad call.” Seriously?

        Cowabunga.

        If I were capable of being speechless, I would be.

        • Fortunately, you being speechless is not going to happen anytime soon! 🙂

          Your version of her words: “We granted the wish of those who wanted to destroy by allowing them to do so.” Which, taking you at your own word, amounts to saying a primary policy objective per se was to grant the wishes of lawless property destroyers. Which I still say is ridiculous.

          There’s a difference between making a calculated bet about collateral damage vs. intentionally granting legitimacy to rioters. No way a reasonable person could claim she intended the latter.

          Me and lots of others’ version of her words: “an unfortunate fallout of one choice is you get a tradeoff, which on balance I consciously chose as the lesser of two evils when I told the police to stand down.”

          Let me use that classic ethics puzzle: do you choose to save five lives on a runaway train by throwing one person onto the tracks to stop the train?
          As you well know, ethicists differ, but a respectable number of them (mainly the utilitarian side) make a reasonable case for the forfeiture. Others argue for the sanctity of intentions and are willing to let the five die rather than kill the one.

          She was clearly expressing the “better to suffer some property loss than worse consequences” utilitarian point of view. In telling the police to “stand down” she was placing a bet on the lesser of two evils by accepting some property loss.

          You may or may not agree with her view of the trade-off – but it hardly qualifies as the one-sided train wreck you characterize it as being.

      • Modified might be a more precise word than retraction, but I think that her modification is, in effect, a retraction. I’m saying this because I’m not buying it. Her indignation about the “blatant mischaracterization” to me is telling. I prefer thinking she is being evasive (bad approach, in my opinion) to thinking she is stupid. She would have been much better off saying ” yes, I meant it, and here is why”. It would be a much more defensible position; a tactical retreat. Even people who disagree with this approach ( I do. We did some amazing riot control work in Cuba in 1994; 1000 marines against 50,000 rioting migrants) could at least appreciate her logic. Now, she looks like a liar with poor crisis management skills. On another related topic: one of Jack’s links (not the breakfast sausage) mentions the “rough ride” in the back of the police ice cream truck. This most definitely happens. It seems to be SOP, in fact.

          • Even better. And an absurd one at that. “People can use that space for bad. I did not say that we were passive to it”, and an order to stand down. Further, it must have been a very explicit order to not engage short of taking bullets, being that cops were passively allowing themselves to be injured.

  9. Jack, at this point there may be too many breadcrumbs to walk back – you and I can’t even agree on what Jake Tapper meant, and we’re looking at the same footage. Let me try and bring it back upstream.

    Your crucial original sentence said: “This statement was immediately interpreted by the news media (and everyone who heard her remarks or saw the YouTube video), as giving rioters permission to destroy.”

    Basically you said “everyone,” and I countered with “no one.”

    The comments on the Jonathan Turley item you cite are instructive: here are two comments from that stream, one basically sounding more like (an extreme version of) you, one more like me:

    Comment 1: “It wasn’t a botched quote. The same mentality existed in Ferguson, Missouri, when Governor Jay Nixon failed to dispatch the National Guard and allowed the City of Ferguson to burn. The manpower was ready and able, standing by, waiting for orders to disperse, but the orders to do so never materialized from Nixon. Calls to Nixon went unanswered, as officials telephoned him seeking help. This story, now unfolding in Baltimore, is no different. The same marching orders, from our White House, to stand down and allow individuals to destroy their communities, is once again being used on one of our cities. This mayor, however, is not the brightest bulb in the pack and actually allowed the truth to slip out. If by botched quote, you mean she was quoting what the DOJ ordered her to do, then I guess it was botched. She was never supposed to let the American people know that an actual plan had been formulated to sit passively by as one of our cities is destroyed.”

    Comment 2: “I doubt that she truly wants B’more destroyed. I think it was a poor choice of words; that she meant to say something to the effect that the plan was to give the protestors time and space to blow off steam. Obviously that plan didn’t work; it turned into a full-fledged riot as the police were apparently ordered to stand by and do nothing. Or perhaps the cops were not acting because they figured, why bother…if they take action they will be criticized; why stick one’s neck out to protect a few liquor stores, and they probably live in the suburbs anyway, so who cares? Much like the Rodney King riots, the LAPD responded with a serious case of the “blue flu”, and stopped writing tickets, stopped making arrests, and just let the thugs run the streets while the politicians wrung their hands. It’s basically a passive-aggressive way for the police to reclaim some power. The liberal politicians love to criticize them, but when the cops stand back and let all hell break loose, the nervous politicians usually let up on the cops very quickly.”

    My take on this is that yes, you’re right, apparently there are people who actually believe the mayor is in on a plan to destroy our cities, and I was naive in not remembering there are people who believe such things. (There are of course others who understood her to mean what she herself said she meant).

    I recognize your original post was about incompetence in communication; but it seems to me much of the reaction is not to her statement, but to her judgment in waiting as long as she did (too long, IMHO) before calling in State forces.

    Suppose she had made the statement, but that little bad behavior happened. Suppose alternatively she had NOT made the statement, but HAD made the same error in judgment of waiting too long. My guess is the first scenario would have been little noticed; but the second one would produce much the same sturm und drang we’re seeing.

    So my question: quotes aside, how much threat to property, if any, should be tolerated by a mayor facing demonstrators in a situation like this?
    And how much preventive police power should a mayor amass in advance of any actual threat to property in order to prevent that threat from becoming real?

    • I’d say, tolerate the threat right up until it becomes a material reality. She could have (and should have) had a state QRF (quick reaction force) deployed there in no time at all, without having a de-facto standing army of militarized police permanently assigned there. She had every reason to believe this would get ugly, in light of recent events.

      • I think that’s reasonable, joed68, I agree with you. She misjudged the likelihood of it getting ugly (and perhaps the degree of ugliness), and was ill-prepared for it. No argument from me.

        • It’s too bad that happened. Things like this are huge contributors to setting back race relations. When you look at the comments sections of the various articles covering this, the common theme is “well, there you go; typical behavior”. I’ve seen some black commenters who are equally outraged and embarrassed. Unfortunately, a good number of others, who seem to be nothing at all like the rioters, are defending them nonetheless. I think this is enormously counterproductive. They’re very unlikely to win many people over to their point of view, whether it’s justified or not, and reinforces the stereotype of black people refusing to accept accountability for their behavior. If I was black, I would be condemning this in the strongest possible terms. I can appreciate the fact that the Mayor is now doing so. It would be very encouraging to see Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson follow suit.

          • Joed68, again I pretty much agree with you (and we’ll never heard Sharpton say that, and as a result you’ll never hear me defend Sharpton).

            Jackson’s another matter: remember some years ago he publicly and candidly admitted he crossed the street when he saw young black men with hoodies. He’s no stranger to acknowledging the full picture, and he’s quite willing to condemn lawless behavior. But remember, he’s also a civil rights leader, and if you don’t expect him to put most of his emphasis on that side of the issue, that’s not realistic either.

            How about this? It doesn’t help when black people solely talk about racism and refuse to accept some responsibility. Similarly, it doesn’t help when white people focus solely on black responsibility and refuse to acknowledge systemic patterns of racial disparity.

            If we’re going to get anywhere, it’ll be by both sides acknowledging the truth of the other side. That’s a statement about how human beings relate to each other emotionally, as well as – I think – a fair objective statement of the situation.

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