We’ve been through a lot in 2020 – that’s an understatement. In the last two months there have been both peaceful protests and unacceptably violent riots following the indefensible death of George Floyd. There have been some good discussions about how all of us can work together better to make sure everyone feel safe and valued in our society. Sheriff DeWees and other law enforcement leaders in our community should be commended for the straightforward way they’ve communicated with residents and explained how their training and practices work.
Unfortunately, in Maryland and nationally – there’s been increased hostile language about law enforcement, including attempts in many cities – including Baltimore - to defund police departments. That’s been followed by dangerous acts of violence and vandalism aimed at inanimate objects – like the Columbus Statue in Baltimore which was placed in the 1980’s to honor the city’s Italian-American immigrants, and the Fraternal Order of Police headquarters shortly thereafter. The response from elected leaders in Baltimore City to these destructive and dangerous activities? Deafening silence. The same silence we hear regarding out of control violent crime. Baltimore City’s leadership seems focused like a laser on keeping restaurants closed because of COVID19 but mass gatherings to vandalize public and private property seem just fine to them. Is it because the mayor and/or city council members believe the targets are “just”? I can’t answer that, although at least one councilman said that the rioters did the city a favor by removing the Columbus statue.
The First Amendment right to peacefully protest and petition government is one that I will always fight to preserve – whether I agree with what’s being said or not. But elected leaders have a responsibility to tell their supporters when their rhetoric is not matching reality. Defunding police is an absurd idea that would leave the very people who most protestors say they want to help without any recourse to deal with the violence that’s been surging in places like Baltimore.
When violence has taken place, these leaders should condemn and go after the perpetrators. That’s not happening anywhere near the level that it should. Instead, excuses are made for bad behavior – or – at times – there’s outright denial that violence is taking place like we saw with Congressman Jerry Nadler when he was asked about the escalating Portland protests.
Condemning all law enforcement as a racist institution and excusing vile language and behavior aimed at them is not acceptable and, perhaps worse, will keep any meaningful change or dialogue from occurring. Just as I opened this column by acknowledging that there are areas where how we relate to each other as human beings in general can improve, people who are critical of policing practices should acknowledge that vast majority of officers are doing their best in difficult circumstances and care about the communities that they serve. If policy-makers and activists want to most effectively address specific policies or practices that they feel are causing problems, they should start with the presumption that our police have good intentions. It also wouldn’t hurt to publicly acknowledge that, right now, out of control crime and violence in many of our cities is by far the biggest threat to residents’ rights and liberties.
The writer is State Senator representing District 5 – Carroll County.