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by Peter Moskos

August 29, 2017

The Consequences of Bad Leadership: the Baltimore Riots of 2015

Last post I talked about what didn't cause the 2015 riots in Baltimore. Well, what did? Macro theory too often assumes happenings and history are per-ordained, that leadership decisions don't have consequences, and that individuals have no free will. But what if the buses kept running? What if police continued to disperse crowds in the street instead of retreating? What if Gregory Lee Butler hadn't cut (or been able to cut) a fire hose outside the burning CVS? What if police had arrested him on the spot? These things matter. If they don't, I don't know why we bother to try at all.

The riots were not inevitable. Systemic problems matter, but they're a constant. As important as they are, poverty and segregation and drug addiction and broken families and violence are nothing new in Baltimore. And they certain were not worse in 2015 than they were in the preceding decade. Why on April 27, 2017 and not on April 25 or 26? Or why not in 2003, when police arrested 312 people a day, many for minor zero-tolerance bullshit reasons? By 2014, the arrest rate had dropped by two-thirds and violence was down. God did not ordain Baltimore would burn a week after the death of Freddie Gray. It didn't have to happen.

Bad leadership caused the Baltimore riot of April 27, 2015. Effective leadership and tactics can be the difference between a protest or even a violent disturbance and a riot. The latter happens not just because people are pissed off. People are always pissed off, sometimes for good reason. Now this is a weird point to make, but Freddie Gray wasn't the first guy to die in the back of a police van; sadly, since the city still hasn't procured safe transport vehicles, he probably won't be the last. Angry people are a necessary but insufficient cause of rioting. Poor decisions in planning, message, and tactics let a bad situation spiral out of control.

Bad leadership has consequences. If not, why seek good leadership? Actions and inaction matter. Only on April 26, 2015, for instance, did the mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, defended a "measured" police response to protests by saying: "We also gave those who wish to destroy space to do that as well." The riots started the next day.

At the time, in 2015, many said the mayor's words didn't matter. And also that she didn't mean what she said, which may be true, but those were the words she said and the words people repeated. Also, now it's 2017. Does anybody still believe that the words from a chief elected executive have no impact? That they can't incite violence?

But it took many more bad decisions before the riots started. Somebody (and oddly, we still don't know who) made horrible transit and crowd control decisions at Mondawmin Mall on April 27. School kids were stranded en masse because the transit system was stupidly shut down. Kids couldn't get home. It was bad, but the city still wasn't in riot mode.

Ultimately the riots started because when things got rough, and cops received orders to pull back. The fear at the top, the mayor and Commissioner Batts, was that was police would be criticized for over-reacting. (And truth be told, they probably would have been.) But good leadership is willing to face criticism.

This video shows where and when the riot started, at the corner or North and Pennsylvania Avenues. (And just a block from the aptly named Retreat St). The looting began at 4:37pm. A line of cops was present near the CVS at 4:41pm. Even after looting began, cops didn't act. For more than hour cops stood by while the store was set on fire. A fire hose was cut within steps of officers who followed orders and did not engage. Police didn’t move till 6pm, and even then it took 50 minutes to regain control of the corner. By then it was too late. "Hold the line," police officers were ordered, and they did. And while waiting for orders to act, the "Thin Blue Line" (that ever-trite but here apt cliché) broke down, and the city burned out of control.

August 27, 2017

"A small price to pay"?

Last post I presented the depressing fact that at current level of violence, the chance for a man in Baltimore's Western District to live to age of 35 without being murdered is just 83 percent. Yes, more than 17 percent of black men in the Western District will be murdered unless Baltimore can get a grip on violence. It hasn't always been so bad.

Before the riots and failed "reform," there were about 217 murders a year in Baltimore (2010-2014). That's not great, mind you. Not at all. Police Commission Davis said:
They [celebrated] when they got to a certain artificial number of murders. As if 200 murders is acceptable for a city of 600,000 people.
You know, darn it, at some level he’s right. Two-hundred murders is not acceptable. But... but... the chutzpah. Last year 318 people were murdered in Baltimore. 344 were murdered in 2015. In 2011 murders dropped to 197, the first time in decades murders were below 200. And the current police commissioner has the nerve to disparage city leaders who took a brief celebratory lap? The nerve.

Right now, for Baltimore, 200 murders wouldn't just be "acceptable," it would be a dream. 229 people have been killed this year, and we’re not even out of August.

(Murders in 2011 vs 2015, Baltimore Sun, click to embiggen)

It's not just the violence, it's that Baltimore's leaders blame everybody but themselves.
[Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn] Mosby cited zero-tolerance policing as a "failed strategy" that continued in Baltimore long after it was formally disavowed by the city's leaders. "Those failed policies are what got us to the place we were at in the spring of 2015," she said, referring to the unrest.
Blame O'Malley? He left office ten years ago. Violence went up two years ago.

Davis says:
"There was a price to pay for" the drop below 200 homicides, a price "that manifested itself in April and May of 2015," Davis said, referring to the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray.
Really? So according Davis, years of oppressive policing led to riots. It could be true. (Though I'm shocked to hear Progressives float the idea that repressive policing reduced homicides.) Perhaps the yoke of police oppression led people to rise up righteous indignation?

Between 1994 and 2014, annual arrest numbers in Baltimore varied from a low of 39,654 to a high of 114,075. You think more than 100,000 arrests each year for four years in a row might spark a riot? Well, it didn't. That was 2002 to 2005. Murders went up slightly during those years, to 269. If 114,000 arrests didn’t start a riot, it’s hard to imagine fewer than 40,000 doing so. By 2011, arrests were down 50 percent.
1994 arrests: 77,545 -- 321 murders
1995
: 81,140 -- 325
1996
: 61,403 -- 331
1997
: 77,750 -- 312
1998
: 89,149 -- 313
1999
: 85,029 -- 205
2000
: 86,093 -- 261
2001
: 97,379 -- 256
2002
: 106,117 -- 253
2003
: 114,075 -- 271
2004
: 104,033 -- 278
2005
: 103,837 -- 269
2006
: 93,393 -- 276
2007
: 86,334 -- 282
2008
: 82,656 -- 234
2009
: 79,552 -- 238
2010
: 69,617 -- 224
2011
: 59,877 -- 197
2012
: 55,451 -- 217
2013
: 42,097 -- 235
2014
: 39,654 -- 211
2015
: 27,765 -- 344
2016
: 25,820 -- 318
Look at at 2007 to 2014, a Baltimore miracle happened! Arrests were cut in half while homicides went down 25 percent, from 282 to 211. This was hard work and good policing. Not perfect, mind you. Sometimes not even good. But better, incrementally, year by year.

Davis and Mosby are trying to rewrite history, pretending years of progress never happened. Now it's one thing to be pissed on and be told it's raining, but these two are pissing all over our feet and telling us we're better off with wet shoes.

Go ahead and fix long-term systemic problems. But while you're doing that, in the meantime, let's tell police what we want them to do with criminals today. Violence varies independently of poverty, racism, unemployment, segregation, an family breakdown, the so-called "root causes" of crime. These didn't change in 2015. Policing did. Discouraging proactive legal discretionary policing allowed violent criminals to be more violent. Telling cops not to make legal but discretionary low-level arrests on drug corners was a bad idea.

There's only so much decline a city can take. Baltimore's population is at a 100-year low. And the people leaving, hard-working non-criminal taxpayers, are sick of crime.

Mosby admits Baltimore "is kind of in transition right now." I'm afraid Baltimore is transitioning from a city with failures to a failed city.

August 26, 2017

Too much to bear

Back when I wrote Cop in the Hood, I was horrified to figure out that 11.6 percent of men were being murdered (see the footnote on pp. 219-222). Well it's even worse today.

In 2015 and 2016, 126 people were killed in Baltimore's Western District. Eighty-six were black men age 18 to 34. (By comparison, 64 people were killed in the two preceding years.) Based on a total population of 38,000, there are approximately 4,500 black men aged 18 to 34 in the Western District. So the annual homicide rate for 18-to-34-year-old men in the Western District over the past two-year is 955 per 100,000. (The national homicide rate is now about 6 per 100,000; Baltimore's is 50.)

What does a murder rate of 955 mean? Well, here's a survival function:
1 - (1 - r)^x
r is the death rate and x is number of years. The death rate is 1 in 105 or .009555. The number of years from 18 to 34 is 17. So 1 - (1-.009555)^17 =0.1747.
This means that if homicide levels don't drop, a 17-year-old man in the Western District will have a 17 percent chance of being murdered before he reaches the age of 34. The numbers before 2015 weren’t great. Actually, they were pretty terrible; but they were a hell of lot better.

One-in-five men murdered?! I don't know what else to say.

[I thought of some things to say in my next post.]