Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake grabbed national headlines this week when she called out rioters for destroying the city in the aftermath of the death of a 25-year-old man whose spine was mysteriously severed while in police custody.
“Too many people have spen[t] generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who, in a very senseless way, are trying to tear down what so many have fought for,” the democratic mayor said, according to Heavy.
The harsh comments came after week-long protests over the death of Freddie Gray turned violent Monday as individuals hurled projectiles at police officers, looted stores, and burned vehicles and businesses. Gray died on April 19, after he received a fatal spinal injury on April 12 while in police custody.
Now, as the national debate over police violence against Blacks takes center stage in Baltimore, anger has turned towards the mayor whose use of “thugs” cuts to the heart of protesters’ complaints about brutal treatment by police and disrespect by elected officials.
The 45-year-old Baltimore native who has been mayor for five years also came under heavy criticism for saying Saturday that police should give “those who wish to destroy space to do that as well.”
An official with the NAACP was slow to defend Rawlings-Blake in the imbroglio, saying it takes the focus away from Gray’s death. The group’s Baltimore branch this week opened a satellite office in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhoods in West Baltimore to collect stories of racial profiling and abuse from residents.
“Right now we’re going through a process of trying to assess everything that has happened,” Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy, told NewsOne when asked about Rawlings-Blake.
“We’ve had a longtime positive relationship with the mayor,” Shelton said. “She is an extraordinary leader and has done a great job for that city up until this point. We have to look at what happened squarely in this particular incident. We have to give it some time for the smoke to clear, but at this point this kind of assessment is not that constructive.”
What is constructive, Shelton says, is determining what happened to Gray, and providing the support that his family needs right now.
“From there an assessment needs to be made of policing activities in that community where the behavior of police has been so problematic that there have been over $6 million in legal settlements because of their misbehavior and mistreatment of African-Americans,” Shelton tells NewOne.
To be sure, Rawlings-Blake professes the same goal, tweeting an apology early Wednesday for the “thug” comment.
I wanted to clarify my comments on “thugs.” When you speak out of frustration and anger, one can say things in a way that you don’t mean.
— Mayor Rawlings-Blake (@MayorSRB) April 29, 2015
She is no stranger to violence and its aftermath, both personally or professionally, which may explain her tough talk.
From 1998 to 2006, she was an attorney with the Baltimore Office of the Public Defender, where she witnessed firsthand the impact of violence on the lives of Baltimore citizens.
In 2010, she told The Baltimore Sun about a 2002 incident in which she found her younger brother, Wendell Rawlings, suffering from cuts to his neck, back and stomach, the report says. Masked men had attacked him with a sword outside her home in the Coldspring, Maryland neighborhood when he stopped by to drop off a laptop, notes the report.
From The Sun:
“He still had his coat on,” she said in the interview. “I grabbed a towel and said, ‘You’ve got to press this against your neck.'” She pressed another towel to his back and told him to lean against the bathroom door to control the bleeding while she called 911.
It appeared he might not survive, she said. The family called Thomas Scalea, the physician-in-chief at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, who rode in an ambulance to transport Rawlings from Sinai Hospital.
Rawlings-Blake, a former public defender who was vice president of the City Council when her brother was attacked, said it furthered her resolve to push for stricter penalties for violent criminals.
- She grew up in Baltimore’s Ashburton neighborhood, where her parents, Howard and Nina Rawlings, inspired her passion for public service.
- She is a 1988 graduate of Baltimore’s Western High School, and in 1992 she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. She received her law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1995.
- Rawlings-Blake served as City Council President from January 2007 to February 2010. She was first elected to the City Council in 1995, at the age of 25—the youngest person ever elected to the Baltimore City Council.
- She was sworn in as Baltimore’s 49th mayor on February 4, 2010 after Sheila Dixon was convicted for embezzlement. In November 2011, she was elected to her first full term as Mayor, receiving 87 percent of the vote in the mayoral general election.
- She lives in Baltimore’s Coldspring neighborhood with her husband Kent Blake and their young daughter Sophia.
- She is the first mayor in a generation to send her child to the City’s public schools.
- Rawlings-Blake is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Epsilon Omega Chapter and a former at-large member of the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys. She also serves as vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and in key USCM leadership positions. In 2010, she was elected by her fellow mayors to the USCM Board of Trustees. She is also a member of the Mayor’s Water Council, and the Criminal and Social Justice Standing Committee.
Amid the detritus of the riots, Rawlings-Blake remains hopeful, saying the city is already on the mend.
“We saw people coming to reclaim our city,” she said Tuesday, according to The Washington Post. “This can be our defining moment and not the darkest days that we saw yesterday.”
For more information on the Freddie Gray protests and uprisings in Baltimore, visit NewsOne’s hub, here.