In 2015’s newsworthy year-end reviews, Baltimore will be mentioned.
The reviews will read that Baltimore was just another American inner city pot that simmered over into violence after police brutality.
Both players in the Baltimore story, the police and black citizens are inevitable adversaries. Their narrative reads as equal parts dystopian journalism, Kafka allegory, and political cartoon panel. The facts of how the conflict began are simple but the after effects, many. A black citizen is found dead in police custody. The police create a half-truth which stokes the ire of already skeptical citizens. Their half-truth implodes causing a full blown riot. A situation is created in which a mayor and governor play a game of chicken over deploying the National Guard. The governor acts. The mayor brushes him off as an arm-chair critic while people scream in the streets. During the riots the mayor offers no commentary on the process of charging the officers involved. Suddenly news breaks that they have been charged within 24 hours of the police delivering their final investigation to the State Attorney.
After a week of media bear-baiting and the ending of a city curfew, the logical step should have been to move on. Just as the pot seemed that it was going to stop simmering this week, Fox News aired a news flash that yet another man had been shot in Baltimore.
The report of this shooting was quickly determined to be bogus, prompting a rare on-air apology. In what seems to be an aggressive end game of increased ratings, Fox News has proven their mastery at letting a situation play out towards a dramatic end. In 2012 they set the gold standard in meta-news casting and self-critique through their airing of a live car chase turned suicide. The report of the alleged shooting in Baltimore had less factual death but a separate fact was undeniable. In response to the report, a crowd began to flock to the alleged crime scene once word had reached an audience.
In a city where the past mayor stepped down after being indicted in a gift card scandal.
State Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, stands as a welcome antithesis to current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. SRB, as she is colloquially referred to, can be prickly in her public speaking endeavors. In a reaction to a 2009 rollout of then proposed Live Entertainment Legislation, local business owners (full disclosure: I was a business owner of one of potential targets of the Live Entertainment Bill) packed a sequence of auditoriums and community centers to voice their irritation. The legislation as it was written, was shut down. SRB, then City Council President, hardly spoke at these events, instead deferring to fellow council members. When she did speak, she seemed elusive. There was no metaphor in her words. When elusiveness became tiring, it was enthusiastically replaced by something resembling angst.
No person likes to sit on a series of committees proposing legislation that seems doomed to begin with. This was clear to everyone back in 2009. In 2015, SRB limits her speaking time to address the facts, such as her public response to Mosby bringing charges against the police officers involved. Mosby, who faced an urgent issue worthy of angst, had multiple reasons to delay legal action. She instead acted rapidly and decisively, perhaps presumptuously according to some.
There is a nugget of observation here: SRB is possibly fascinated by the idea of letting an event build in tension until the 11th hour. This fascination can at times inform strategy to draw the upper hand in a situation, but other times it distorts reality, such as in her hours-delayed response to answering Governor Larry Hogan’s phone call to deploy the National Guard. SRB’s belief in her 11th hour prowess and that “…there is a very delicate balancing act that you have to do in order to respond but not over-respond” may be absolutely true in her own mind, but it does not miraculously clone a chronically understaffed Baltimore City Police Force. To Mosby, the 11th hour is the one you avoid by having formed a plan within the 1st hour. It is the final hours in which the returns of winning diminish.
Ultimately, reality distortion will result in an absurd situation, such as setting bail for arrested protestors, many of whom have not been charged, at $500,000, while setting bail for the officers involved in Gray’s death, who have been formally charged, at $350,000. This situation can immediately be deemed classic, not for its ominous undertones, but because it is now making its very way into the print of new law textbooks, as the definition of over-response.
Perhaps the thinking is that by placing more inmates in an overcrowded city jail system, it will create a deterrent to would-be protestors. What is actually being conveyed by the local government is something akin to a red pen being drawn through protestor signs reading “Black Lives Matter.”
While it now seems difficult to destabilize the initial triumph of Mosby having filed charges against the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s homicide, there will continue to be challenges to it. Further red pen moments will be highlighted. The media will find further ways to pragmatically prod a dead organism rather than follow journalistic ethics by engaging in a fact-checked and guided critique of the players within city and state government who are deepening the conflict. Major news outlets cannot milk gold from the 11th hour, if its possibility is preemptively taken away from them.