Years of campaigning by Black Lives Matter activists prompted the city’s politicians to withdraw police presence from black neighborhoods—a move that has led to record-high murder rates.
Following the riots, city officials scaled back police presence on the Baltimore’s black neighborhoods in response to complaints from Black Lives Matter leaders and residents.
Black residents in the city’s most crime-ridden areas are blaming the lack of police presence on spiraling crime. Baltimore is now experiencing higher murder rates for three years in a row following riots and Black Lives Matter-sponsored protests gripped the city following the death of Freddie Gray, a suspect who died in police custody early in 2015.
The surge in homicides has resulted in 343 killings in 2017, bringing the city’s annual homicide rate to its highest ever—56 murders per 100,000 people. Prior to 2015, Baltimore’s murder rate was on the decline.
“Not only is it disheartening, it’s painful,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said to the Associated Press in late December.
Reverend Kinji Scott, a Baltimore activist, blames city hall for leaving the city’s black neighborhoods unprotected.
“We wanted the police there,” Scott said on NPR. “We wanted them engaged in the community. We didn’t want them beating the hell out of us, we didn’t want that.”
Despite demands from Black Lives Matter leaders and other social justice warriors to “abolish the police,” Scott is among a group of activists who believe that the police are necessary. He is calling for police reform to reduce violence in Baltimore and other high-crime cities across the United States, and admits that communities “need front line police officers.”
“We need the front line police officers and we need the heart of the black community to step to the forefront of this discussion,” he said. “And that’s when we’re going to see a decrease in crime.”
Scott told NPR that it’s only progressive activists who wanted to abolish policing.
No. That represented our progressives, our activists, our liberal journalists, our politicians, but it did not represent the overall community. Because we know for a fact that around the time Freddie Gray was killed, we start to see homicides increase. We had five homicides in that neighborhood while we were protesting.
What I wanted to see happen was that people would be able to trust the relationship with our police department so that they would feel more comfortable. We’d have conversations with the police about crime in their neighborhood because they would feel safer. So we wanted the police there. We wanted them engaged in the community. We didn’t want them beating the hell out of us, we didn’t want that.
Scott also pointed a finger at Baltimore’s city hall for failing to foster a community atmosphere between police and residents.
The primary thrust nationwide is what President Obama wanted to do: focus on building relationships with police departments and major cities where there had been a history of conflict. That hasn’t happened. We don’t see that. I don’t know a city—Baltimore for certain—we’ve not seen any changes in those relationships. What we have seen is that the police has distanced themselves, and the community has distanced themselves even further. So the divide has really intensified, it hasn’t decreased.
And of course we want to delineate the whole culture of bad policing that exists—nobody denies that—but as a result of this, we don’t see the level of policing we need in our community to keep the crime down in our cities that we are seeing bleed to death.
The reverend’s remarks contradict the demands set forth by Black Lives Matter activists, who demanded that police be banned from entering certain neighborhoods and buildings, which they designated as “safe spaces” from police.
Photographs courtesy of Baltimore Sun, Associated Press.