William Stewart, a friend of Freddie Gray, protests outside City Hall in Baltimore, Monday, April 20, 2015. Baltimore's top police officials, mayor and prosecutor sought to calm a "community on edge" Monday while investigating how Gray suffered a fatal spine injury while under arrest. Six officers have been suspended, but investigators say they still don't know how it happened. (Amy Davis/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
A woman walks past shuttered stores on North Avenue, Wednesday, April 29, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

N.D.B. Connolly, THE NEW YORK TIMES

BALTIMORE (The New York Times) — In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., commentators noted the absence of black representatives among Ferguson’s elected officials and its police leadership. A Department of Justice report highlighted how Ferguson’s mostly white City Council and its courts spurred on explicitly racist policing, in part to harvest fines from black residents.

Then came Baltimore. The death of Freddie Gray, like those of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Rekia Boyd and so many other unarmed African-Americans, at first seemed to fit the all-too-familiar template — white cops, black suspect, black corpse.

But unlike New York, Chicago and other cities with white leaders, Baltimore has a black mayor, a black police commissioner and a majority-black City Council. Yet the city still has one of the most stained records of police brutality in recent years.

In the absence of a perceptible “white power structure,” the discussion around Baltimore has quickly turned to one about the failings of black culture. This confuses even those who sympathize with black hardship. When people took to the streets and destroyed property, most observers did not see an understandable social response to apparent state inaction. They saw, in the words of Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, “thugs,” or in the words of President Obama, “criminals and thugs.”

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