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C. Fraser Smith: Riots produced winners and losers

Saddened and bruised, life in Baltimore goes on.

So let us consider winners and losers from the week that put Baltimore on the expanding map of American cities caught in the turmoil of deep lingering poverty and police-community conflict.

Freddie Gray’s family transcended the loss of their dead son. Baltimore police were implicated, and the Grays might have withdrawn, bitter and angry. But they did everything they could to hold off the violence that came early in the week.

Baltimore, itself, finds itself in both winner and loser columns. The rioting and burning stained the city’s image. The dismal life prospects it offers the poor every day are truly bleak. And all the dire numbers suddenly are on view across the country.

And yet people reacted to the unrest with declarations of love and support for their city. The day-after turnout of shovel and broom brigades was uplifting.

And for the most part, citizens listened to public officials who urged calm and patience. The process takes time; we have to honor process or the guilty may go free.

For people who feel they are often denied due process, the appeal may have seemed nervy. Still, they complied.

The CVS chain was a clear winner. It suffered severe damage – but quickly said it would rebuild and gave $100,000 to aid the recovery.

As for the political players? Where to start?

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake must surely go first. Rightly or wrongly, she suffered the most potential damage. It looked as if she waited too long to seek the emergency declaration from Gov. Larry Hogan that brought in the Maryland National Guard.

Politically, she could not have been happy to be presiding over a city headed out of control – in need of a bailout from Hogan. The governor seemed more comfortable with the command role – and seemed willing to suggest Rawlings-Blake was not.

At Freddie Gary’s funeral, the mayor got polite applause while a potential rival, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, was greeted enthusiastically.

Former Gov. and Mayor Martin O’Malley gets credit for coming back to Baltimore to face criticism for his zero-tolerance policing regime. That campaign, defended by O’Malley as a life-saving effort, was blamed for damaging the lives of black men unnecessarily. Criminal records, difficult to expunge, become life sentences, leaving communities without male heads of household and leadership.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s decision to act quickly may have averted more violence. Just 35, she nevertheless seemed the most confident and affirmative of the available leaders. It is safe to say there were low expectations for her, a relatively inexperienced prosecutor. She easily cleared the low bar.

Her winner status, however, was immediately challenged. Had she filed charges that will be difficult if not impossible to sustain in court? Perhaps. In the short run, though, she wins big time.

The police end up on both columns – sort of. Six officers were charged by Mosby with everything from “depraved heart murder” to false imprisonment. Baltimoreans and the world learned of the department’s practice of giving arrestees “rough rides” to the station house. Rough and life-threatening as it turns out.

Instead of beating arrestees, the story goes, you get a ride rougher than anything you might have encountered at the scene of the alleged crime. When such matters get a nickname you have to believe they are part of the police culture – something that should have been stopped years ago.

It must be said, however, that police operated efficiently and properly during the rioting. They were pelted with rocks among other things.

That said, we have reached a point in Baltimore and elsewhere at which police in riot gear are a provocation – not the second coming of Officer Friendly.

Finally, Mayor Rawlings-Blake gets credit now for asking Washington to conduct a survey of current police practices.

People want to believe the police are truly committed to their motto: serve and protect

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.