Paul Waldman asks a very good question (boldface mine):
…police officers getting charged with murder and manslaughter is an extremely rare occurrence, and it forces us to ask a difficult question:
Would this have happened if the protests in Baltimore hadn’t turned violent? Is that what it takes to get accountability when someone dies at the hands of police?
Before I go any farther, let me make it clear that I’m not arguing in favor of rioting. The destruction that occurred Monday night in Baltimore had real victims, including not only the store owners whose businesses were damaged but also the residents of the affected neighborhoods. But it’s hard to argue that it didn’t have an impact.
We have no way of knowing whether Mosby would have pursued these charges had no one outside of Freddie Gray’s friends and family ever heard of him. But it would be foolish to deny that she was under enormous pressure to make a case against the officers involved.
You may have seen the video from Tuesday of a woman named Danielle Williams, who said to MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts:
“When we were out here protesting all last week for six days straight peacefully, there were no news cameras, there were no helicopters, there was no riot gear, and nobody heard us. So now that we’ve burned down buildings and set businesses on fire and looted buildings, now all of the sudden everybody wants to hear us.”
She was absolutely right. The violence led to a huge increase in media attention, and even if much of that coverage was sensationalistic, there was also a lot of attention paid to the substantive issues involved. Those included the Baltimore police’s record in dealing with the public generally, and in particular the use of “rough rides” as a method of abusing suspects, which is a likely explanation for how Freddie Gray came to have his spine broken in the back of a police ban.
All that national attention put every public official under pressure to not only bring calm but also to confront the issues that have the people of Baltimore so angry…
I agree with Waldman: the riots succeeded–perhaps accidentally since they weren’t planned–in that attention was drawn and pressure was brought to bear. But it shouldn’t have had to come to that.