Michael Steele Connects Martin O'Malley's Legacy As Baltimore Mayor To Freddie Gray Protests

04/28/2015 11:36 am ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) proudly highlights his record as the mayor of Baltimore in discussing his crime reduction philosophy. But that legacy is coming under scrutiny as critics connect his past "zero-tolerance" approach to the ongoing protests over Freddie Gray's death, and as O'Malley considers seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

The protests erupted following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody on April 19, about a week after he was arrested.

As reporters for The Washington Post pointed out, O’Malley has frequently touted the police crackdown during his tenure as mayor that led to a reduction in homicides and other crimes. But some Baltimore activists and community leaders say the "zero-tolerance" approach O'Malley supported increased the city's racial divide and aggravated a mistrust of law enforcement, as arrests for minor offenses such as loitering and littering increased dramatically.

Michael Steele, a former chair of the Republican National Committee, made that argument in an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Tuesday. (Steele and O'Malley overlapped in office in Maryland, as the former was lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2007 and the latter was mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007, and then governor from 2007 through 2014.)

"This is longstanding and very deep-rooted," Steele said. "This is really sort of the boiling point now around Freddie Gray's death. But you go back to 2005, 2006 when then-Mayor O'Malley had a policy in place where everything was on lock-down. You couldn't sit on your stoop, people were harassed, and so all these tensions have been building and simmering for some time. The trigger, obviously, is the death of Freddie Gray, but there's systemic issues there that touch on poverty, education, jobs and neighborhoods that have been blighted for 30, 40 years. So while people see the flash point in 24 hours or 2 days, know that this has been a longstanding, simmering issue, the political leadership has failed, the business leadership has failed, and the community is frustrated."

When O'Malley was elected mayor, Baltimore had one of the highest rates of violence among American cities. In office, O'Malley coupled his policing strategies with a new civilian review board, and created a police misconduct and ethics division to prosecute misconduct. Excessive force complaints decreased by 35 percent from 2001 to 2006, and police-involved shootings also decreased.

O'Malley, for his part, released a statement Monday saying that the city must "come together" in response to Gray's death.

"I'm saddened that the City I love is in such pain this night. All of us share a profound feeling of grief for Freddie Gray and his family," O'Malley said. "We must come together as one City to transform this moment of loss and pain into a safer and more just future for all of Baltimore's people."

This story was updated to add context about O'Malley's record on crime.

See live updates below:

04/29/2015 12:00 AM EDT

Baltimore Police Commissioner: 'Curfew Is Working'

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts reported 10 arrests since the curfew went into effect at 10 p.m. Two arrests were for looting, one for disorderly conduct, seven for curfew violation, Batts said just before midnight on Tuesday.

"The curfew is working," Batts said.

04/28/2015 11:45 PM EDT

Police: 'Criminals' Started Library Fire

Baltimore police said "criminals" set a fire outside a library. But a reporter said he saw sparks from a tear gas grenade start the blaze.

04/28/2015 11:41 PM EDT

What Happened To This Protester Seems Pretty Sketchy

04/28/2015 11:29 PM EDT

Baltimore City Councilman: 'Just Call Them Niggas'

Is it accurate to call the Baltimore protesters thugs?

City Councilman Carl Stokes doesn't think so -- and he expressed his feelings very explicitly during an on-air interview with CNN's Erin Burnett on Tuesday.

Watch the video from CNN below:

04/28/2015 11:14 PM EDT

Out Past Curfew: Journalists And A 'Handful' Of Protesters

[H/T Washington Post]

04/28/2015 11:05 PM EDT

Protester To Media: 'You Can Support Us, But You Cannot Join Us'

04/28/2015 10:58 PM EDT

Attorney General Loretta Lynch Reiterates Ongoing Probe Of Baltimore

From the White House:

Earlier today, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett hosted a conference call with over 50 local leaders from across the country including Mayors Michael Nutter (Philadelphia, PA), Tom Barrett (Milwaukee, WI), Karen Freeman-Wilson (Gary, IN), and Chairman John Eaves (Fulton County, GA).

During the call, Jarrett noted that her thoughts were with the family of Freddie Gray and expressed appreciation for the heroic efforts of police officers, fire fighters and community leaders joining their fellow Baltimore residents who are helping to clean up the debris and property destruction. She also highlighted the 21st Century Policing Task Force’s constructive recommendations that, if adopted by local law enforcement agencies across the country, would enhance community trust – including recommendations for providing training on bias, properly implementing body-worn camera programs, conducting independent investigations of fatalities, and promoting officer safety and wellness. The Attorney General spoke about DOJ efforts to award grants to local police departments in ways that encourage adoption of the Task Force recommendations. The Attorney General also noted that the Department of Justice has opened an investigation in Baltimore and is working with local enforcement, and emphasized that she looks forward to strengthening the partnership that local officials have with the Department of Justice. The two pledged to stay in touch and keep them updated on the ongoing situation in Baltimore.

Jarrett also remained in regular contact with Mayor Rawlings Blake (Baltimore, MD) and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

-- Jennifer Bendery

04/28/2015 10:56 PM EDT

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04/28/2015 10:39 PM EDT

Confusion After Curfew

04/28/2015 10:34 PM EDT

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