Ferguson, Missouri is a town of just 21,000. Baltimore is home to more than 622,000 people. Yet the towns share a couple of similarities now.
The cities both became the target of rioting after the deaths of unarmed black men, by police shooting in Ferguson and after being transported by police in Baltimore.
In Missouri, the rioting was based on claims that the shooting victim, Michael Brown, was trying to surrender to a white police officer with his hands in the air when he was gunned down, shot in the back, in cold blood.
Cries of racism immediately permeated the community and the state, fanned by national news reports and interviews that accused the police officer of cold-blooded murder.
Even the Democratic governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, called for a “vigorous prosecution,” before a grand jury heard a word of testimony, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder went to Ferguson to comfort the Brown family.
Brown’s father incited a gathering of protesters with shouts of “burn this b---- down,” an entreaty that was then followed by lawbreakers who took the opportunity to loot businesses and engage in arson that destroyed the personal property of people who had no part in the Brown shooting.
After the grand jury found that witnesses perjured themselves — some admitted to inventing the “Hands up, don’t shoot” claims we had heard nationally — Holder concluded his own investigation that found that Brown initiated the fatal confrontation, that he did not have his hands in the air to surrender, and that he was not shot in the back.
The rush to judgment had proved false, but the damage to Ferguson had already been done.
President Barack Obama did nothing to stop the trouble in his statements, which spent more teleprompter space on the difficulties of police officers in dealing with rampant crime.
“There’s no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully,” said the president as he expressed sympathy with Ferguson residents over police conduct.
While he said violence was not a suitable form of protest, he cited the troublemakers as the minority — ignoring that bad cops are also in the minority — and to this day has never voiced concerns to the business people who lost their livelihood as a result of the rioting.
Fast-forward eight months and move east to Baltimore, where a man named Freddie Gray was apprehended by police and taken in a van to jail, improperly refused early medical attention when he requested it, and eventually reportedly diagnosed with a severe neck injury that caused his death a week later.
Again, the rioters took to the streets. Again, the outside groups led by People’s Power Assembly, another anarchist group claimed under the umbrella of a George Soros-funded entity called Alliance for Global Justice, showed up to cause trouble.
Again, an American city was in flames and police were powerless to do anything but watch when Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is reported to have ordered cops to “Let them loot. It’s only property.”
And again, conclusions have been reached long before the criminal justice system has been able to separate fact from fiction.
The latest stories out of Baltimore now suggest that Freddie Gray might have tried to injure himself in that police van, an account reportedly provided by a fellow prisoner in that vehicle, not by the cops.
Even if that turns out to be true, the damage to Baltimore has been done, and now this same group of rabble rousers from “People’s Power Assembly” has a downtown Detroit rally scheduled to start at noon today.
Not only do they want justice for Freddie Gray, they say they want it for Terrance Kellom, the man with a long police record who was shot by a black federal agent after he reportedly charged the officer with a hammer.
The basis for the Ferguson destruction was wrong, the basis for the Baltimore damage may have been wrong, and today, we can only hope Detroit isn’t added to the list of cities where the same mistakes are repeated.
Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760).