“My country is Baltimore and Baltimore is my country”: Martin O’Malley Reflects on Laquan McDonald, Baltimore Riots, and the 2016 Presidential Race

 /  Dec. 6, 2015, 3:30 p.m.


Current Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley spoke at an event sponsored by The University of Chicago Harris School and The Center for Policy and Entrepreneurship on Thursday night. As the former Mayor of Baltimore and former Governor of Maryland, O’Malley sat down with The Gate’s Interviews Editor, Liz Stark, to offer his unique perspective on police transparency in Chicago, the current state of freedom of speech in the United States, and the need for strong political leadership in the Democratic Party.  

The Gate: Given your experience with race relations as the Mayor of Baltimore, what are your thoughts on how the City of Chicago has handled the Laquan McDonald case?

Martin O’Malley: I think there is no aspect of governance where openness and transparency is so required as when it comes to policing in the United States, given the way that race and law enforcement have been intertwined in our nation’s history. So there is a degree of openness, transparency, and accountability that citizens expect. In this age where information is freely shared, where everyone has a cell phone or video cell phone, that means that departments have to up their game. Standard operating practices in the past are not up to what the public is demanding and expecting of departments today. I can’t claim to be intimately familiar with all of the details of this case, but it would certainly appear that an independent investigation is warranted, as citizens wonder why it was that the state’s attorney wouldn’t have returned an indictment when she first saw that video and instead waited until it became public.

Gate: Do you agree with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to fire Superintendent Garry McCarthy?

O’Malley: Well let me say that as a former mayor of a big city with a big, violent crime problem, I had to change leadership several times while I was mayor . . . I’m sure if [Mayor Rahm Emanuel] went to that length, he felt it was something he had to do. Hopefully you all will get to the bottom of this as a people and learn lessons from it as you move forward. No city is immune from setbacks, but it still needs to get to the bottom of it and find a way to move forward and restore confidence between people and their police force.

Gate: As you have seen on the campaign trail, words matter. Recently across college campuses, there have also been debates about free speechthe responsibility to understand students’ concerns for safe spaces, as well as the need to address others who say that freedom of speech needs to be more protected. What is your opinion on the state of freedom of speech in our country?

O’Malley: I’m wondering if I missed something in the news. Are you talking about the people on college campuses telling students what they couldn’t dress as for Halloween costumes?

Gate: Yes, that is one example from Yale. Also, the University of Chicago issued a controversial “Statement on Principles of Free Expression” about protecting free speech and rigorous intellectual inquiry on campus.

O’Malley: Here’s my take. I think there’s a tremendous amount of freedom of speech in our country. What we need is to be more mindful of the responsibilities that attend to those freedoms. Simply because we have freedom of speech doesn’t mean that it’s good or right or proper to insult or offend or hurt others by saying racist things. Even in this presidential campaign, you hear rhetoric from some of the presidential candidates that I think would have shocked the presidential candidates twenty years ago—the hateful stuff that Donald Trump says about all Mexican immigrants or saying that there should be a registry for Americans based on their faiths. These are all things that we have the freedom to push back against too. It is a free society, right? We all have the freedom to speak, but we also have the freedom to be more mindful of the language we use.

Gate: Turning to your campaign, you are polling at about seven percent nationally

O’Malley: Eight percent in New Hampshire! I’m waiting on a new poll to come out in Iowa—not that I live or die by polls—but there’s never been a time when the results on Iowa Caucus night look like what the polls said in November or December beforehand. This might be the first time that happens, but I don’t think it will be.

Gate: —and you also talked today about being relentless during challenging races. My question is, what draws you to these tough races?

O’Malley: I suppose I have been blessed to see that one person can make a difference in politics. I saw that early on in the work I did for other candidates, whether it was [current Senator] Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) or [former Senator and presidential candidate] Gary Hart (D-CO). I saw that in my own service, especially in those seven years as Mayor of Baltimore. It was very, very tough every single day but every day leadership mattered. We made a big difference and saved a lot of lives. When I came up on this race, I couldn’t not try. I have a sense that America is looking for a new leader, and they are going to find that new leader in one party or the other. For my children’s future, I believe it is essential that they find that leadership in the Democratic Party. We are not going to solve the problems with our economy by trying to scrap capitalism for socialism. And we are not going to solve the problems in our divided politics by returning to a polarizing figure. Secretary Clinton said it herself in the debate, when they asked her who she is proudest to have as an enemy, she said Republicans. That is not how you get things done and bring people together. So our country is at a pretty important point in her history—we need to build upon the good things the president has done and bring people back together in order to make our economy work again for all of us. On that night when Baltimore erupted, I realized very plainly that my country is Baltimore and Baltimore is my country. We can go down two paths, and only one of them is good. The essential to that path is leadership—Democratic leadership.

Gate: What issue do you feel deserves more attention on the campaign trail?

O’Malley: Well look, let me say that we have never had a Democratic primary that has had debates as limited as this year’s. This year is the first time that the Party has decided to limit us to just four debates before Iowa and New Hampshire. So none of the issues, in my way of thinking, are getting enough airing. It is easy for people to say, “Yeah but you’re the unknown challenger so of course you want a lot of debates.” Well I think somewhere between four and twenty, there’s a happier medium than this circling of the wagons around the front runner and then cynically scheduling debates on Saturdays when as few people will watch them as possible. I think all of the issues need some more airing and more conversation. Certainly now, I think we are going to have a much fuller conversation about foreign policy, national security, and homeland security, all of which are related to our economy as well. I think none of the issues have gotten as much attention.

I would also like to see a more in-depth discussion on climate change. I think we could do a whole debate on just climate change. I think we could do a whole debate on the changing nature of conflict and America’s role in the world, and how we protect the homeland as well as our freedoms—how we protect our lives as well as our freedoms here in the homeland. I was talking to Rachel Maddow after another clip, and I told her how much people liked that interview format she did where she talked to each of us sequentially but with roughly equal time. She said that maybe we should do something like that on single topics. So maybe that is the way to go—but I don’t make the rules. I offer. Candidates offer, the people decide.

Gate: Because it is finals week here at the University of Chicago, what advice can you offer to students to get through exams?

O’Malley: I said stay out of the Reg [in the beginning of the quarter]. So yeah, stay out of the library again. Stay away from the Reg.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity. The image featured in this article was taken by MD GOTV Martin O'Malley. The original image can be found here

Liz Stark


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