Baltimore Businesses Want Accountability. Taxpayers Will Probably Pay The Bill.

You may remember the riots in Baltimore, MD after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015.

What initially started out as peaceful protests turned into full scale riots where people were assaulted and property was destroyed.

The Mayor of Baltimore at the time Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, (in)famously said:

“It’s a very delicate balancing act. Because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also 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. (emphasis ours)

Media and the country jumped on her comment wondering why people needed the “space to destroy?” Isn’t that what the police should protect against?

Rawlings-Blake later said her comments were misconstrued and mischaracterized and her office released another statement:

What she is saying within this statement was that there was an effort to give the peaceful demonstrators room to conduct their peaceful protests on Saturday. Unfortunately, as a result of providing the peaceful demonstrators with the space to share their message, that also meant that those seeking to incite violence also had the space to operate. The police sought to balance the rights of the peaceful demonstrators against the need to step in against those who were seeking to create violence.

The mayor is not saying that she asked police to give space to people who sought to create violence. Any suggestion otherwise would be a misinterpretation of her statement.

The statement clarification was just as bad as the original statement. It seemed the Mayor was condoning the violence in the city and its destruction.

In an “after action” report by the police union, the police accused the City government of such things as to not stop people from causing damage to property, arrests had to be cleared by civilian lawyers, gas masks were either not distributed or had expired canisters, commanders told policemen not to wear gloves because of the image it created as well as being told not to move to stop the violence.

While the Mayor disputed the accusations by the police, Delegate Curt Anderson (D) said:

Del. Curt Anderson, co-chair of the state’s new working group on public safety, said the criticism was misplaced.

The Baltimore Democrat said the strategy and tactics employed during the riots were “probably the best considering no police force had been in that type of situation before.”

A more aggressive stance, he said, could have ratcheted up the tension.

“These are the rank-and-file officers and sergeants, and sure, they are going to be upset because they wanted to go out there and bust heads and take charge,” he said. “That’s exactly what we didn’t want them to do.”

Who’s “we” Anderson?

We suppose that it is okay for you to watch other people lives being destroyed, but people’s property and their businesses matter to them.

As to the “no police force had been in that situation before” comment, we guess Anderson forgot about the LA riots and the riots that took place in Ferguson, Missouri.

In fact, here’s a list from Wikipedia on riots in US cities from just 2010 to the 2015 Baltimore riots:

2010 – Springfest riot, April 10, 200 police disperse crowd of 8000 using tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and bean bag rounds, near the campus of James Madison University; dozens injured. 30–35 arrested; Harrisonburg, Virginia
2010 – Santa Cruz May Day riot, May 1, 250 rampage through downtown Santa Cruz attacking 18 businesses, causing an estimated $100,000 in damages. 1 arrested. Santa Cruz, California
2010 – BART verdict riot, July 8, in response to verdict in BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant. About 100 businesses were damaged and 78 people were arrested. Oakland, California
2010 – Westlake District Riots, Sept.6-8, in response to LAPD shooting a Guatemalan immigrant. Los Angeles, California
2010 – Oakland protest riot, Nov. 5, Police made more than 150 arrests as a crowd broke windows and knocked down fences, protesting sentence of former BART officer in shooting of Oscar Grant on New Years Day 2009; see BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant. Oakland, California
2011 – Pennsylvania State University, Joe Paterno riot. Students riot in protest of the decision of the Board of Trustees to fire head football coach Joe Paterno. State College, Pennsylvania
2011 – Occupy Wall Street (Brooklyn Bridge protests). Demonstrators blocked the bridge and more than 700 people were arrested. Brooklyn, New York
2011 – Occupy Wall Street Oakland protests riots. October. Protesters shattered windows, set fires, and plastered buildings with graffiti. Riot police fired heavy amounts of tear gas on the protesters.
2012 – NATO 2012 Chicago Summit, May. Conflict between riot police and protesters. Dozens of demonstrators clubbed and arrested.
2012 – Anaheim police shooting and protests, July 28. Violence erupted after multiple shootings in the neighborhood by police that included unarmed Manuel Diaz. 24 people were arrested
2012 – Violence breaks out at Arab American festival in Dearborn, Michigan as christian protesters are assaulted with chunks of concrete, bottles and eggs.
2013 – Flatbush Riots, March 11, Riots in Brooklyn, New York after the death of Kimani Gray who was shot and killed by NYPD
2014 – Ferguson unrest, Ferguson, Missouri, August 10. Protests turned into violent riots and unrest after the death of teenager Michael Brown, who was shot by a Ferguson police officer.
2014 – New York, New York, and Berkeley, California – After prosecutors and a grand jury refused to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, many people protested against it in New York City and other cities, some of them causing unrest.

Yeah, sure Anderson. The Baltimore Police were in a situation that no other police force had ever encountered.

(The only thing that may not have been encountered before was the attitude of the City government and directions to the police to basically “let the City burn.”)

Now, the owners of the businesses are fighting back and have filed a lawsuit against the City.

Dozens of Baltimore business owners are suing city officials, including the police department and former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, saying they mishandled the city’s response to the rioting in 2015.

In a nearly 700-page complaint filed in federal court this week, more than 60 plaintiffs say city officials failed to prevent the looting and rioting that erupted after the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in April 2015, despite warnings the city would experience violence.

More than 380 businesses, including many located south of North Avenue in West Baltimore, were damaged or destroyed. Property losses were estimated at nearly $13 million.

The plaintiffs are suing under the Maryland riot act statute, which allows parties to bring a claim against the city for property damage during civil unrest. They name Rawlings-Blake and former Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, who were in office at the time of the riots, current Mayor Catherine Pugh, the City Council, city police and the state as defendants. They are seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

The plaintiffs allege that Rawlings-Blake took too long to sign an executive order implementing the city’s emergency plan to protect city residents and property.

“Widespread rioting was well underway, and much of the property that the executive order was passed to protect was already being destroyed,” they write.

Obviously there is bit of a problem here in that it wasn’t the City that destroyed the properties. It was the rioters who did that. But because the City did not enforce the law, arrest those who were destroying property, and stood idly by why people’s businesses went up in flames, the City has a problem.

It appears the City knew they were in trouble because of their inaction:

The Baltimore Development Corp. started the Baltimore Business Recovery Initiative to provide financial assistance to businesses damaged during the riots. But the plaintiffs say the Storefront Recovery Grant Program offered $5,000 to individual businesses, and required business owners to waive any claims against the city.

“These waiver provisions were only included when applicants — many of whom could not speak or read English — were provided with hard copies of the applications and asked to sign,” the plaintiffs say.

Baltimore Development Corp. President William Cole said Wednesday he did not remember the legal details of the recovery programs. He referred questions to the city’s law department.

(Cole can’t remember the legal details of a program from a year ago? Who is he trying to kid?)

“This lawsuit is the result of the City and the other Defendants failing to do right by these property and business owners,” Peter K. Hwang, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The City and other Defendants failed them when they adopted a policy of restraint and issued stand-down orders, caring more about the public perception that they feared would result with increased police presence than preventing what were clearly preventable riots.”

This statement sounds about right.

After the death of Freddie Gray, the prosecutor charged the officers in the case. Arguably, she over-charged them and one by one the charges were dismissed by a judge because of a lack of evidence and lack of legal theories that fit the charges. It was, however, more for the City to appear to be doing something rather than actually doing what was right.

The City of Baltimore’s government was more concerned about the way their actions would be perceived.

Whether this lawsuit will succeed is a matter of conjecture.

What is crystal clear is that if there is a judgement or settlement against the City, it will be the taxpayers who foot the bill. No one in government will lose their cushy jobs. No one will be held accountable. Money that should have been spent on other services will be spent to recompense people who suffered throuth the arguably criminal and certainly immoral actions of those in charge of the City.

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