One thing we know for sure after this exchange. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake isn’t ready for a higher level of public office.
The video clip below, from Megyn Kelly’s evening broadcast on Fox, captures a brief interlude in a Baltimore press conference on Wednesday, in which reporter Leland Vittert questioned Rawlings-Blake aggressively about what lay behind the spate of murders in the city over Memorial Day weekend.
It’s quite true that Vittert didn’t ask his questions in a timid, self-deprecating manner. He was trying to force an answer to his basic question, and not accept evasion or spin.
But we actually see questions posed to politicians and political spokesmen in this way all the time. Quite literally, every day. Certainly, well-known press spokesmen like Josh Earnest and Marie Harf are used to it. So are big-city mayors like Bill de Blasio, Rahm Emanuel, and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles. I’ve seen senators, governors, even the president – including Barack Obama – questioned in this way.
Your mother might call it rude at the dinner table. But in a press conference held by government authorities, it’s called “journalism.”
That didn’t stop a fellow reporter from rebuking Vittert for persisting in his questions (apparently instead of asking one, and then shutting up when the mayor wandered verbally away from it).
The mayor herself got it together enough to lecture Vittert on how they run their press conferences in Baltimore, which clearly is in a manner that excludes committing acts of journalism. Her stately-paced reference was to holding “orderly” press conferences.
But the deer-in-the-headlights look on her face, under Vittert’s far from ferocious assault, sheds considerable light on the leadership situation in Baltimore.
Given that situation, and if it’s accurate, as Vittert says, that arrests are down 50% since the riots, I’d suspect two motives on the part of the police leadership. (These patrol policy decisions are made by the leadership.) First, protection of their officers’ lives is paramount, at a time when the department is being pressured to court vulnerability. The police aren’t there to act as bullet sponges for the public. There’s no one who’s commissioned to do that on the public’s behalf. God forbid there ever should be.
Second, the leaders want to protect officers and the department from a bunch of excessive force lawsuits – or, of course, criminal charges – in which they can already see they can’t expect a fair shake from the political leadership.
By insisting on making an example of police officers in a still-ambiguous situation – we still don’t know enough to judge what really happened to Freddie Gray – Baltimore and the state of Maryland have set up powerful disincentives for the police to continue business as usual.
There are probably a lot of cops who even now want to be out on the beat giving the community good service. Cops are human beings; they know that the parts of town where the riots occurred have plenty of goodhearted citizens in them, and they’d rather be out there protecting those folks.
But the police commissioner, the police chief, the heads of the union – all those who are responsible for their officers’ lives – aren’t going to just fling their people into a situation where they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
This is in addition to the fact that what the U.S. Justice Department demands of local police forces is, precisely, less aggressive policing, and policing that holds officers’ motives to be suspect at all times. Any leader of men and women can tell you that the more suspicion you throw on their acts of initiative and discretion, the fewer such acts they’ll take, and the less mission accomplishment you get.
Besides the glimpse into the leadership climate in Baltimore, the video gives us a bonus section between Kelly and Dana Loesch on the Obama administration’s predictable theme that what Baltimore needs is more federal gun restrictions. Kelly and Loesch go point by point on how Maryland is just about the most gun-restricted state in the nation – more so than any actual proposal for gun restrictions being made in Congress – so the administration’s theme is mere opportunism. It’s not a relevant remedy for the violence in Baltimore.
The segment from the Baltimore press conference is at the very beginning of the video.