Martin O'Malley on #BlackLivesMatter, Freddie Gray & David Simon's Criticism of His Baltimore Record

September 10, 2015


Martin O'Malley

former governor of Maryland and former mayor of Baltimore. He is running for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2016 election.

Speaking on Democracy Now! recently, David Simon, a Baltimore resident best known for creating the television series "The Wire," criticized Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley’s policing policies as mayor of Baltimore. "It was almost as if he couldn’t get the reductions in the murder rate that he had promised as a candidate, and the next three or four years were: ’Let’s just throw everybody in the back of a van,’" Simon said. "If you looked at a cop the wrong way in Baltimore in about those three central years when Marty was trying to become governor, you went in the back of a police van, you were taken down to the city jail, you know, held overnight." O’Malley responds to Simon and also discusses the recent disruption of his appearance at the Netroots Nation conference by Black Lives Matter protesters who declared a "state of emergency" over the killings of African Americans. O’Malley also talks about the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor O’Malley, we recently had on one of your toughest critics, David Simon, right, who created The Wire. I know you were on a Acela train ride with him one day and shared a beer.

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Yeah, I’ve known David a long time. We had a symbiotic relationship. He was a police reporter, and I was the leading City Council critic.

AMY GOODMAN: Right, and, of course, after—

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Of crime policies.

AMY GOODMAN: —doing The Baltimore Sun, he did this remarkable series called The Wire. And we asked him about your candidacy and what he thought about your policies in Baltimore.

DAVID SIMON: It was almost as if he couldn’t get the reductions in the murder rate that he had promised as a candidate, and the next three or four years were: "Let’s just throw everybody in the back of a van." And if you think I’m exaggerating, all you have to do is read the ACLU’s suit that the city eventually settled, because it didn’t matter who you were. It didn’t matter if you were somebody sitting on your own stoop or a schoolteacher or somebody coming home from work. If you looked at a cop the wrong way in Baltimore in about those three central years when Marty was trying to become governor, you went in the back of a police van, you were taken down to the city jail, you know, held overnight.

AMY GOODMAN: That was David Simon of The Wire. Your response, Governor O’Malley?

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Yeah, David Simon is a very creative guy, and many of the things that he was saying are actually not true. And the strongest evidence in our short time together that I can cite for it is this: If the things that David says were actually true, I would not have been re-elected with 88 percent of the vote in a majority African-American city, nor would I have received the overwhelming support I received, when I ran for governor, from the poorest parts of our city, who were relieved, frankly, at having what had been a 20-year continued occupation by drug dealers 24/7 in their neighborhoods.

I had been on a constant search in treating this wound that we share as Americans, where the issues of violent crime, gun violence, race and law enforcement are all painfully tied together. And over the course of those 15 years, I have learned what has worked, and I have learned what has not. And the things that have not, we have stopped doing. I repealed the death penalty, restored voting rights to 52,000 people, decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, drove our incarceration rate down to a 20-year low. And during my time as mayor, I actually improved police and community relations, and we recorded what remained three of the four lowest years for use of lethal force by Baltimore City police officers. And the fact of the matter is, even with the heartbreaking setback of a few months ago, after Freddie Gray’s—after the protests after Freddie Gray’s custodial death, the fact of the matter is, in the prior year before that, arrest levels in Baltimore were down to, I think, a 25- or 30-year low. And the arrest levels actually peaked some 12 years ago. So, David’s a—David’s a creative guy, though, and he’s made a lot of money being very creative about the story of Baltimore.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you, speaking of Freddie Gray, that—the Baltimore $6.4 million settlement with the family of Freddie Gray, the African-American man who died in April after being arrested and transported without a seat belt in a police van. His family said his spine was 80 percent severed at the neck. Police said they arrested him for making eye contact with them, then running away. Six Baltimore police officers are currently facing criminal prosecution over his death. As former mayor of Baltimore, what are your thoughts on the settlement and the case?

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Yeah, I have not—I had not read—I do not have all of the facts that the city solicitor would have had in settling that case, and I don’t think it’s really my place to talk about the—you know, the merits of the settlement. I mean, obviously, the city thought it was—it merited that settlement.

And I can say this, though, that policing is one of the most difficult and dangerous professions in our country. And it is important when we have incidents, when we have incidents that result in the loss of life, that we are forthright and that we address it very, very directly and that justice is done. That’s what I learned to do as mayor. We used to do a hundred reverse integrity stings a year in order to safeguard the integrity of our force. We constantly strived to improve training. Our goal should be that for all of the tragedies that we are now seeing on our video cellphone technology, there are things that actually work that can move our departments to become more open and transparent, among them, body cameras, requiring all departments to report their excessive force, discourtesy, lethal use of force, custodial deaths, so we can see whether we’re doing better this year than we were last year. And that’s what I’ve laid out.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor O’Malley, did you agree with the indictment of the six police officers?

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Yeah, that was our state’s attorney’s call. And that’s why we elect a state’s attorney. So, given the pendency of it, I will leave that matter to the courts and to the good people of the jury to resolve it. But that was the state’s attorney’s call, and I’m sure she did what she believed was best in the discharge of her duties.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the issue of the Black Lives Matter movement, because that’s—there was a moment where you did get a lot of attention—so did Bernie Sanders—because the members of the movement interrupted you speaking at the Netroots Nation conference in July. I want to go back to that day.


PATRISSE CULLORS: Let me be clear: Every single day folks are dying, not being able to take another breath. We are in a state of emergency. We are in a state of emergency! And if you don’t feel that emergency, you are not human.

AMY GOODMAN: You were standing right there on the stage, because you had been speaking. This is a part of what you said moments later.

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Some of the most important things that we accomplish in life, you know, requires persistence. We did not repeal the death penalty in Maryland the first time we tried or the second time, but we repealed it the third time we tried. Every life matters. And that is why this issue is so important. Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.

AMY GOODMAN: That was you at Netroots Nation. And then you issued an apology. Can you talk about why?

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Sure, because I lost track of the context in which that teaching that I learned through eight years of Catholic school, or more than that, was heard in context by the protesters of Black Lives Matter, who were making the very, very important point. It’s the point I made myself when I ran for mayor of Baltimore in 1999 in a different way, when I said that in our city there’s no such thing as a spare American. We cannot allow two levels of justice, one where we get all bent out of—where we are rightly outraged, in some instances, and yet we shrug our shoulders at the appalling number of homicides that—and the loss of black lives. So, I apologized because I expressed or because I communicated an insensitivity that I did not intend to communicate to the protesters who were making the very valid and important point that black lives matter. And prior to their shutting down of the protest, we actually were having a good talk for about 20 minutes about law enforcement, race. And I think I—I know, Amy, that I bring to this presidential debate more experience on these issues than all the other candidates combined.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, The New York Times today, big story, "Democrats Concerned about Clinton’s Swoon Consider a Big-Name Plan B." And they’re showing, if Hillary goes down, who should be their candidate. Your picture isn’t here. They’re looking at the people who haven’t announced—Bernie Sanders isn’t here either—Al Gore, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, John Kerry. In fact, Joe Biden hasn’t announced, but he is here. He’s going to be having a news conference with Governor Cuomo of New York today to support a $15 minimum wage.


AMY GOODMAN: What’s going on here?

MARTIN O’MALLEY: I know something The New York Times doesn’t know: America is looking for new leadership. Our party always looks to the future. And that’s what’s happening right now. In both parties, people are actually looking for a new leader. The candidates that are attracting the—that are the lightning rods that are attracting the angst we feel, the anger that we feel at our established leaders for letting us down, allowing our economy to become so manipulated that only a few of us are able to get ahead, and indeed it’s the wealthiest among us—people are expressing that anger through the candidates that most represent the—that most say no to the established candidates.

But in the longer course of this race, people are going to be finding a new leader, a leader who can get things done, who’s speaking to where our country is going, not where our country has been. And I offer that, and that’s why we are picking up in Iowa. We moved from 1 percent there to 3 percent to 7 percent a couple of weeks ago. We’ve gotten our name recognition up above 40 percent. Last week I was endorsed by 12 county chairs in Iowa. And many of us remember names like Alan Cranston or Howard Dean, all the rage in the summer before the caucuses, but once people go to caucus, they will be looking for a candidate that has the ability to lead our country and actually do the job of president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: I think a CNN poll says Bernie Sanders could win in Iowa now, not only New Hampshire.

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Yeah, that’s what they say.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you most differ from Bernie Sanders and from Hillary Clinton?

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Fifteen years of executive experience, 15 years of actually waking up every morning, going to bed every night, realizing my number one job is to protect the safety of my people, and during the day actually working to forge a new consensus, bring people together, pass important things. And that’s what you learn being an executive, is how to get things done. And I can point to a record of it, some of which we did earlier in this—in this segment, but things like marriage equality, comprehensive gun safety legislation, Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act. None of those things happened by themselves. They required new leadership and an ability to forge a new consensus. That’s what I can do.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Martin O’Malley, I want to thank you very much for being with us—

MARTIN O’MALLEY: Thank you, Amy. Juan, thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —former governor of Maryland as well as mayor of Baltimore, running for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2016 elections.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by one of the leading environmentalists in this country and around the world, Bill McKibben. Stay with us.

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