Violent protests in Baltimore are putting the city’s former mayor Martin O’Malley on the defensive just weeks before a potential presidential campaign launch.
The death of Freddie Grey, an unarmed black man who suffered a mortal injury while in police custody, is reviving old questions about O’Malley’s “zero-tolerance” crackdown on violent crime during his tenure as mayor, which alienated segments of the community and led many to mistrust law enforcement.
O’Malley, who later served as the governor of Maryland, is gearing up for a possible announcement next month. Amid the crisis, O’Malley cancelled a series of paid speeches he was scheduled to make in Ireland in order to return to the city he led from 1999 until 2007.
Some critics are already pointing fingers at O’Malley’s tough stance on crime during his time in the mayor’s office. In a Washington Post article on Sunday, several local political figures and activists said that O’Malley shares part of the blame for promoting tough-on-crime policies that unfairly affected young black men.
“We still have men who are suffering from it today,” Marvin Cheathem, former president of the Baltimore NAACP told the Post. “The guy is good at talking, but a lot of us know the real story of the harm he brought to our city.”
The narrative presents a potential challenge for O’Malley, who hopes to use his executive record to appeal to the liberal wing of the Democratic party.
The governor’s aides have been quick to counter claims that the Baltimore Police Department’s actions reflect poorly on the former mayor’s management of the police force, which led to a drastic reduction in violent crime.
In an exchange on Twitter with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith said that policing improved under O’Malley.
O’Malley aides and longtime allies say that critics are unreasonable to blame the former mayor, who left Baltimore in 2007 when he was elected to the governorship.
“Governor O’Malley has been out of office for nearly a decade,” Steve Kearney, O’Malley’s former director of policy said. “He ran pleding to improve policing, better policing of the police and increased drug treatment funding. And the people of Baltimore supported his efforts during his time in office and as he ran for governor several times.”
The governor himself has stayed out of the spat over his mayoral legacy. In a statement on Monday, O’Malley offered his condolences to Grey’s family.
“All of us share a profound feeling of grief for Freddie Grey and his family. We must come together as one City to transform this moment of loss and pain into a safer and more just future for all of Baltimore’s people.”
NOW WATCH: Watch this angry mum in Baltimore confront her son and pull him out of the police protests
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