The world is now comparing Baltimore to Ferguson, and there are legitimate comparisons to be made. But first, one has to be aware of the differences.
Baltimore had an opportunity – however shortlived – to be the example that Ferguson couldn’t be. By most accounts, the protests were based on a legitimate complaint regarding the police department’s failure to get appropriate medical care for Freddie Gray while he was in custody. And for nearly two days, protests and demonstrations were carried out peacefully.
Already, that sets Baltimore apart from Ferguson. The entire protest in Ferguson was predicated on a lie, the lie that Michael Brown was either running from police or surrendering to them when he was killed. And the violence and looting in Ferguson began within a day of Brown being killed.
The reason that Baltimore protests turned violent when they did is not a mystery, as organizers – namely DeRay McKesson - who were on the ground in Ferguson last fall have been spotted among protesters this past weekend in Baltimore.
The most terrifying difference between Ferguson and Baltimore, however, is volume. Ferguson is a suburb of approximately 21,000 residents. Even if it were to annex its municipal neighbor Dellwood, which was the site of several fires and instances of looting as well, the population would hardly reach 30,000. Baltimore boasts a population of nearly three quarters of a million people. A lit fuse in Baltimore could make the riots and destruction in Ferguson look like a slightly rough game of musical chairs.
But what of the similarities?
In both cases, the mayors and the governors were involved – although the roles were somewhat reversed. In Ferguson, Mayor Knowles called for help repeatedly, only to have his calls to Governor Jay Nixon’s office go unanswered. In Baltimore, Governor Larry Hogan’s repeated offers to help were ignored by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In both cases, the one call made by the unresponsive party during the time they could not be reached was to the White House. And in both cases, the cities were allowed to burn unchecked for hours prior to the deployment of the National Guard.
In both cases, protesters claimed that the deaths at the hands of police were racially motivated and facilitated by a system that kept minorities out of power. While many elected officials in Ferguson are white, the Baltimore City Council has nearly half of its seats – as well as the position of Mayor - filled by minorities. The one thing that they have in common is their political affiliation: Democrat.
And in both cases, protesters claimed that they were on the streets because it was clear that there was no justice. On that point, they are absolutely correct. Justice has not been served – and likely will not be served – in either case.
Justice would be Michael Brown going to court and serving time for strong-armed robbery and the assault of a police officer.
Justice would be Darren Wilson being able to finish his career as a police officer without fear for his own safety or the knowledge that he was forced to kill a man.
Justice would be Freddie Gray surviving his arrest to have his day in court.
And it is sad that Michael Brown’s own actions demanded a different form of justice. It is sad that, due to the unfortunate circumstances of Freddie Gray’s arrest, justice will never be seen in his case. But the larger problem is that those are not the only - or the greatest - injustices involved.
Justice would be the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of every criminal and thug who took to the streets in both Ferguson and Baltimore, valuing their agenda or their perceived entitlements over the property and lives/livelihoods of others.
Justice would be families who didn’t have to be afraid to send their children to school, to leave a baseball game, or to go out for an ice cream cone.
Justice would be residents who didn’t have to wonder where their property values would finally bottom out – too scared to stay, but financially unable to move.
Justice would be business owners who could open their doors in the morning without fearing for their livelihoods or even their lives.
Justice would be citizens who could once again trust that America is a nation of laws, not a series of barely contained episodes of lawlessness.