A Textbook “Don’t”

I started to write a post about the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore City police officers. Gray was an unarmed, 25 year old African American man, who was taken into custody by six white City police officers after a short chase. He suffered a massive neck and spinal cord injury, including three fractured vertebrae, a crushed voice box, and having his spinal cord 80% severed.

I’ve watched the videos, and I’ve followed the protests, and I await the investigation and whatever legal action comes next. Depressingly familiar. As an attorney with over 20 years’ experience in criminal trials and appeals, I come with my own set of preconceived opinions, but for now at least, I’ll refrain from offering them, because I really don’t know - in the legal sense, at least - what happened.

But developments within the past day compel me to write about one aspect of the case. You would think that after Ferguson, and Staten Island, and South Carolina, that police would have developed appropriate procedures for how to handle the public relations side of protests over the death of yet another young, unarmed African-American man following an encounter with police.

In the case of Baltimore City FOP Lodge 3, you would be wrong. Yesterday, the union issued a statement about the Gray incident, and astoundingly, accused the protesters of “look[ing] and sound[ing] like a lynch mob.” A more clueless and ignorant statement, I cannot imagine. Just Google “lynch mob” if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.

I’ve attached to this post the entirety of the FOP statement so you can see it in its full context. There is a great deal of it that I would question as a matter of public relations - but the “lynch mob” reference is beyond the pale.

Given the chance to walk it back at the ensuing press conference, union president Gene Ryan declined to do so.

[Ryan] said he is not concerned about the tone of the comparison. “I was quite offended by some of the things being said.”

I understand the desire of a union president to protect his officers, but to do so utilizing rhetoric that is either profoundly ignorant - if not deliberately calculated to inflame racial tension in majority minority Baltimore City - is simply irresponsible. I can’t imagine that city officials all the way up to and including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake are very happy with Mr. Ryan right now. And in this case at least, they would be right, and he is wrong.