Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired the city’s Police Commissioner Anthony Batts on Wednesday.
The move comes after the city of Baltimore witnessed a drastic increase in violence since the death of an American-American individual while he was in police custody. The mayor also said that the police department under Batts’ leadership had become distracted with internal politics and was not doing enough to control the violence.
In a late afternoon news conference, Rawlings-Blake said, “This was not an easy decision, but it is one that is in the best interest of Baltimore. The people of Baltimore deserve better. The brave men and women of our department who put their lives on the line to make our cities deserve better.”
She further said, “As we have seen in recent weeks, too many continue to die on our streets,” and that “recent events proved that [Batts’] being here was a distraction.”
Batts’ replacement also comes nearly three months since the death of Freddie Gray, which sparked citywide protests and demonstrations. Gray succumbed to injuries caused while he was in police custody. Subsequently, the six police officers allegedly involved in Gray’s death were charged criminally.
In the first half of the year, Baltimore recorded an astonishing 48 percent increase in homicides during the same period as last year, as reported by NBC News. The statistics reached a 25-year high, with 42 killings in May and 31 in June. Ten cases of homicide – including killing of three people who were shot near the city’s University of Maryland campus – were reported in the first week of July.
The mayor went on to say, “We cannot continue to debate the leadership of the department. We cannot continue to have the level of violence we’ve seen in recent weeks in this city.”
A Fraternal Order of Police report issued Wednesday rebuked the police leadership during the recent riots.
According to the report, the rioting was “preventable” and that the “Baltimore Police Department’s response to the riot was lacking in many areas.”
The report also highlighted the concerns of several civic and religious groups that a change in the leadership was critical.
“Commissioner Batts seeks to divide the BPD rather than unite it,” the report said. The report referred to several statements made by the former commissioner that were “scathing public attacks on the rank and file.”
The report also criticized Rawlings-Blake. Her office issued a statement hours prior to the firing of Batts, saying it was “no more than a trumped up political document full of baseless accusations, finger pointing and personal attacks.”
According to The Baltimore Sun, Batts said, “I’ve been honored to serve the citizens and residents of Baltimore,” he said. “I’ve been proud to be a police officer for this city.” Last September, he was confirmed to a six-year term.
Councilman Brandon M. Scott said, “It’s very clear that the coach has lost the locker room. Once the coach has lost the locker room, it’s up to the manager to the make the decision that either the coach goes or the locker room goes.”
As reported by ABC News, Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., president of the city’s Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, attributes the increase in citywide violence to the delay caused in the termination of the commissioner.
“We have people who died because they delayed,” he said. He had been calling for the mayor to fire Batts since shortly after Gray’s death.
Keonna Stokes, a resident of the housing development where Gray was arrested, hopes that the new commissioner will be successful in keeping a check on the violence.
“The police wouldn’t do the things they do if the commissioner didn’t allow it,” she said.
“He should have been fired. We call the police when we really need them, when people hurt us. But now we don’t call them, because they hurt us. If they didn’t Freddie would still be here.”
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