The Roman Emperor Nero is famously reported to have fiddled while the city of Rome burned to the ground in July of 64 A.D. The story is likely fiction, but the image is powerful, conjuring up as it does the idea of a ruler oblivious to the suffering of his people and lost in a world of self-delusion and indulgence.
Nero is long dead, but the problem of "leaders" out of touch with reality and the people they are supposedly serving persists. We need look no further than Baltimore, its Mayor Catherine Pugh and her claims of declining violence in Charm City.
Mayor Pugh, perhaps the worst big-city mayor in the United States, is no stranger to bizarre comments. Only weeks ago, during a walking tour of portions of West Baltimore she explained to anyone within earshot her theory that Baltimore's ungodly murder rate, per capita one of the highest in the nation, was the result of convenience store owners keeping their establishments open too late
in the evening. Max McGuire in his article at Our Community Now writes:
As Pugh was touring a convenience store on Pennsylvania Avenue, however, she asked the cashier an interesting question.
“What time do you-all close?” Pugh asked.
“11:30,” he replied.
“Isn’t that late?” Pugh responded. “That’s a little late. It keeps the crowds around here. Nine o’clock is nice. We need you all to close at 9 o’clock at night.”
How the sale of potato chips, energy drinks and cigarettes fuels rampant gun violence was left unspecified. The Mayor, protected by a small army of bodyguards, gatekeepers and police officers, was whisked away before she could explain the exact causality at work.
Still, even for Mayor Pugh, her comments of last week were remarkable. Speaking on the occasion of the resignation of Baltimore's Police Commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, who was recently charged by federal authorities for failing to file personal income tax returns, Mayor Pugh thanked the outgoing and disgraced Commissioner for his hard work and his contribution to achieving a decline in violence in Baltimore under his watch. A decline in violence?
Last year there were 343 homicides in Baltimore City. That made 2017, per capita, the deadliest year in the history of the city. So far, this year there have been 107 homicides. That is slightly off pace from last year, but the long hot summer that always pushes murder rates in the city higher lies ahead of us. Large portions of West and East Baltimore remain shooting galleries where the walls of crumbling buildings are scrawled with graffiti reading alternately "Bodymore" or "No Shooting Zone". Kids as young as three and four in these areas are diagnosed with PTSD due to prolonged exposure to intense violence.
The reality is that the Mayor and her administration have been a disaster in terms of public safety. Prior to 2015 when six police officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, killings in the city had been in decline for years. The Mayor came to office in December of 2016 and made clear from the outset of her administration that she considered the police to be "the problem" when it came to violence in the city. Since then, as the Mayor and her city hall have waged war on the police, killings have spiraled out of control.
The Baltimore City Police Department is effectively under siege, abandoned by a mayor devoid of leadership skills and divorced from reality. Arrest rates in the city have plummeted as officers, understanding they will receive no support from this administration, elect to avoid taking action for fear of the consequences for them personally. Morale has collapsed.
Numbers too have tanked. Police officers are leaving, and they are not being replaced at anything close to the required rate. Baltimore not so long ago had 3300 police officers in uniform. Current manning tables call for an end strength of 2800. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1900 officers actually on the payroll.
In 2017 numbers were so low that at points all leave had to be cancelled. Patrol officers on numerous occasions were mandated to work 12-hour shifts. Officers typically working desk jobs were put out on the street. All of this was done in order to ensure that the city could field the bare minimum number of police officers to maintain order.
Baltimore faces a host of problems. Its economy, once based on manufacturing has collapsed. Jobs have gone elsewhere. Decades of Democratic mayors dedicated to higher taxes and increased regulation have killed off any chance of a business resurgence.
Education in the city is a disaster. Maryland has some of the best schools in the country. Baltimore has some of the worst. Standardized test scores for city schools show that even those students who somehow survive the violence and stay in class graduate with skills so rudimentary as to make them all but unemployable in a modern economy.
On a daily basis, however, it is the catastrophic failure of Mayor Pugh and her administration to address the spiraling violence in the city, which is most catastrophic. Drug gangs are tearing the city apart and making it effectively impossible for decent, law-abiding citizens to carry on with their lives in large portions of the city. An entire generation of young, black men is being gunned down in the streets.
The Mayor remains oblivious. As the city burns she has moved on to her latest obsession, reducing police overtime. For the life of her she cannot understand why officers are putting in so many hours on the street.