The smearing of Mr. BernsteinPosted by Peter Jensen at 1:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)The right to peaceful public protest is a critically important freedom all Americans enjoy. Since before the time of the American revolution to the modern Civil Rights era and beyond, marches, picketing and other rallies have brought pressure on government leaders and helped shape public policy.But when protestors act irresponsibly, when their criticisms are so patently unfair or their denunciations so clearly unreasonable as to reach the point of absurdity, they dishonor this proud tradition, and, most alarmingly, they hurt the cause of legitimate protest.Such is the case with the two dozen or so people who showed up at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse this week to smear newly-elected Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein. Their complaints settled on two controversial investigations, the recent shooting of an undercover city police officer and last fall’s assault of a black teen in which a 23-year-old member of a citizen patrol group, Shomrim of Baltimore, faces charges.The protestors were angry for any number of reasons, but their primary ire seems to have been aimed at two possibilities. One, that Mr. Bernstein is too closely allied to Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III to consider prosecuting the death of Officer William H. Torbit Jr. (who was African American) as a murder. Two, that his recent decision to drop first-degree assault charges against the Jewish defendant in the Shomrim case was racist.Indeed, charging Mr. Bernstein with racism was one of the major themes that seemed to draw the two protests together. “Arrogant Racist State’s Attorney,” was one of the messages to be found on picket signs waved by those concerned about the police shooting.Obviously, emotions are running high over both incidents. And each raises some troubling possibilities — as we, among others in this community, have pointed out. But neither has yet come before a judge or jury, so neither the protestors nor anyone working at this newspaper — nor anywhere in the blogosphere for that matter — knows all the facts. Mr. Bernstein is ethically (and legally) prohibited from publicly divulging many of them.The state’s attorney has been in office for all of three weeks. If he’s racist, he certainly hasn’t gotten a chance to demonstrate it yet. In the assault case, his office has actually added charges — filing them against suspect Eliyahu Werdesheim’s brother, Avi, who was not initially charged in the November incident, and proceeding with charges of second-degree assault, false imprisonment and the use of a deadly weapon with the intent to injure against Mr. Wedersheim.In light of the protest over Mr. Werdesheim, Mr. Bernstein issued a written explanation: “No factors beyond the facts and the law were considered, nor will any factors outside the facts and the law ever be considered in making charging decisions in any future case.”Would anyone want it differently? Would even the protestors want a state’s attorney to make decisions about criminal prosecutions based on political concerns?By condemning Mr. Bernstein without the facts, and particularly by raising the inflammatory suggestion of racism, the protestors have merely made him look like the only rational person hanging out at the courthouse that particular day. Even those who were more measured in their criticism should not have countenanced such extremist views.Contrast them to the several dozen protestors in Cherry Hill who, on the same day as the absurd protests at the courthouse, marched against violence in their neighborhood. Their losses, including a local football coach and high school basketball star, have been nothing short of devastating to a community long beset by drug-related crime.While one protest smacks of political opportunism and hate speech, the other represents a heartfelt desire to reclaim the streets. This city needs more of the latter, less of the former.
Categories: City talk