Saturday, May 2, 2015

Baltimore In Chaos

The April 12 arrest of Freddie Gray in Baltimore - which, now, turns out to have been illegal because he was arrested for carrying a perfectly legal switchblade - and the subsequent injuries that caused his death a week later have brought racial tensions in America to a head.  Conditions in Baltimore - investment in the suburbs at the city's expense, outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to other countries, disregard for the the city's black underclass - are similar to the overall predicament most other American cities face.  The situation in Baltimore, though, is somewhat surreal, given that it's a black-majority city with a large black presence on the police force and a black female mayor.  But it should be noted that there is as much a class divide as there is a racial one; Baltimore police officers treat residents in the the city's upper-middle class enclaves with dignity and respect, while poor people are not treated so well.  Of course, a member of the city's black middle class, if caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, could just as easily be harassed by the police, as if he were a common criminal.
I don't hold out much hope for reconciliation.  The riots in Baltimore this past week are an expression of outrage over decades of neglect, and past social disturbances have hardly led to positive change.  Passions cool off and die down, the media stop covering the story and move on to something else, and life goes on.  My lack of hope for positive change in Baltimore translates into pessimism about the nation at large, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in my take of the 2016 presidential campaign.  With U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) entering the contest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, we're likely to see a greater emphasis on economic policy proposals that could undo the damage done by disinvestment not just in inner-city America but in the entire country, and Sanders could push Hillary Clinton a little more to the left and make her more responsive to the Democrats' progressive base should she win the 2016 presidential election.  But I don't think it will matter much.  The center of gravity in American politics remains more toward the conservative side, because that's where Ronald Reagan put it and that's where all four of his successors have kept it.  (Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are centrists.)
The wild card in all this is Martin O'Malley, who was mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007 before serving as governor of Maryland.  When his name was came up before the riots, it was as a punch line.  (Ed Schultz never brought O'Malley up on his MSNBC show; he still hasn't.)  Now O'Malley's name comes up as an epithet.  O'Malley instigated a "zero tolerance" policy toward small crimes when he was mayor of Baltimore, hoping that large-scale arrests for minor offenses would cut the violent-crime rate.  His policy did just that, but it also left many black men with arrest records that worsened their already bad employment prospects.  O'Malley returned to Baltimore from a trip abroad this week and found himself greeting residents who saw him as the villain.  To O'Malley's credit, he went into the thick of things and took the heat from angry residents, showing that he doesn't run away from a challenge.  But the revisiting of his Giuliani-esque approach to combating urban crime could damage his presidential prospects more than allegations about foreign donations to the Clinton Global Initiative and that foundation's finances per se could damage Hillary's.  If O'Malley is smart, he'll allow himself to be called on for the negative effects of his policies as mayor of Baltimore and answer for them.  A humbled politician is a more attractive candidate for office than a haughty one.
I still think Marty's the one.  O'Malley and Sanders are more or less simpatico on economic and other domestic issues, but O'Malley is a more conventional liberal who has vast executive experience in having been the mayor of Maryland's largest city and the governor of Maryland, while Sanders, before going to Washington (first as Vermont's at-large House member, then as a senator), was only mayor of Vermont's largest city . . . Burlington, which is as populous as Montclair, New Jersey, a Newark suburb. Marty's got the experience.  He governed Maryland so effectively as that state's chief executive that it should be called "Martyland."  He's the only Democrat - including Hillary - with a chance to win the White House in 2016.  He ought to run for President.  In fact, I think he has to.  If he doesn't run, I give up.
I just hope Baltimore doesn't give up.
In the meantime, as Gray was mistreated and mishandled on his way to the police station, which undoubtedly caused his fatal injuries, the six police officers who took him into custody will now face charges of second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and assault.

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