The mayor of Baltimore found herself in a war of words with the media Monday night after news outlets, particularly those within the conservative blogosphere, hammered her for saying that officials “gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.”
Pockets of protesters became violent Saturday outside a Baltimore Orioles baseball game at Camden Yards, smashing car windows and storefronts and injuring six police officers. In a subsequent news conference, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) said that officials sought to strike a “balance” between protecting police and allowing protesters to conduct demonstrations.
“I’ve made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure the protesters could exercise their right to free speech,” she said.
“It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we tried to make sure that [the police] were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well,” she added. “We worked very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate” (Watch below around the seven minute mark).
A minute later, the mayor praised peaceful protesters who tried to “calm the crowd and tried to make sure that nothing was destroyed.” Brandon Scott, a Baltimore city councilman, soon stepped in to say that local organizers believe people from outside the city incited the turmoil.
So in the context of the full news conference, it doesn’t seem like Rawlings-Blake was saying the city had sanctioned the violence at Camden Yards. But conservative media homed in on a poorly worded comment that they felt suggested otherwise.
The Daily Caller described it as a “stunning admission” on the mayor’s part. In an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, Baltimore native Montel Williams said the city lacked leadership and called Rawlings-Blake’s comment “absolutely ignorant.”
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh even invoked the Benghazi terror attacks, accusing Rawlings-Blake of giving the city “the Ambassador Stevens treatment.”
“Baltimore, like our ambassador in Libya, was left unprotected and undefended,” Limbaugh said Monday on his radio show. “Those who wished to destroy were given space to do it ‘on balance.’”
Limbaugh cautioned early on that he couldn’t be inside the mayor’s head. But he said he felt comfortable speculating about her intentions anyway because she was “a lib” — as such, Limbaugh said she must be “angry” and “probably a racist.”
Dr. Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s who appears on Fox News from time to time, contrasted Rawlings-Blake’s response to violence with her late uncle’s in an open letter titled “Baltimore’s Mayor Should Resign Over Killing.”
“Your invitation to ‘give space for those who want to destroy’ is unbelievable,” King wrote in the letter, which was published on Newsmax.com. “This interpretation of rights to free speech is dangerous ma’am. In 1963, my father Rev. A.D. King, after the firebombing of our home in Birmingham, Ala. urged hostile protestors to abandon violence and turn to God in prayer instead.”
The mayor’s director of strategic planning and policy, Howard Litbit, eventually released a statement explaining that Rawlings-Blake was saying that giving peaceful protesters the space to exercise their First Amendment rights “unfortunately” meant that violent individuals also had space in which to operate.
“The mayor is not saying that she asked police to give space to people who sought to create violence,” the statement read. “Any suggestion otherwise would be a misinterpretation of her statement.”
Breitbart News noted that clarification and still found fault with Rawlings-Blake’s response.
“Even reading the Mayor’s statement in the context she desires does not excuse her from responsibility for the decisions she made,” an article on the mayor’s comments concluded. “Looking at the daytime riots taking place in Baltimore today, where at least 7 police officers have been injured thus far, it’s reasonable to ask if the Mayor struck the right balance between freedom to protest and community safety.”
The mayor hit back at the media for twisting her remarks in a Monday night press conference, but that only gave her critics more ammunition.
A hyperbolic Howard Kurtz wrote Tuesday in a Fox News column that Rawlings-Blake’s comment might be “one of the dumbest political remarks ever made.”
“Space to destroy? Rather than express regret for a terrible choice of words, the mayor lashed out at the media for misinterpreting her comments,” he wrote, calling it an insult to reporters’ intelligence.