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Baltimore Unrest

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Under Fire For 'Space' to Destroy Comment

Did Baltimore's Mayor Send Mixed Messages? 0:38

With her city spiraling out of control, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has two problems: quelling the violence — and clarifying a controversial comment she made over the weekend before it erupted.

"I've made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech," Rawlings-Blake said Saturday as Baltimore roiled following the funeral of Freddie Gray, the black man who died in police custody April 19.

"It's a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well, and we work very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate."

The remarks about giving space to "those who wished to destroy" generated swift, strong criticism amid more than two dozen arrests, at least 15 police officers injured, and looting and arson in the city.

"Incompetent beyond belief," was one of the responses on Twitter. "The mayor of Baltimore should be charged immediately for inciting a riot," was another.

On Monday, Rawlings-Blake posted a clarification on her Facebook page.

"I did not instruct police to give space to protesters who were seeking to create violence or destruction of property," she wrote. "Taken in context, I explained that, in giving peaceful demonstrators room to share their message, unfortunately, those who were seeking to incite violence also had space to operate."

State of emergency declared in Baltimore 3:25

In a news conference Monday night, she faulted the media, saying, "It is very unfortunate that members of your industry decided to mischaracterize my words and try to use it as a way to say that we were inciting violence."

But in the same news conference, mayor set off a fresh firestorm with more comments.

"It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city, you're going to make life better for anybody," she said. "Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who, in a very senseless way, are trying to tear down what so many have fought for."

Her use of the word "thugs" was met by accusations of racism against Rawlings-Blake, a 45-year-old Democrat who has received recognition for her achievements as a minority, including an award for being a trailblazer from the National Congress of Black Women.

Rawlings-Blake has also been criticized for not having sought help from the state until Monday. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday that he couldn't declare a state of emergency allowing him to provide state resources until the mayor sent him a formal request.

"I don't want to second-guess the mayor's decision. I know she was doing the best that she could," Hogan, a Republican, said at a briefing Tuesday.

"What I can assure you is we will put all the resources that we have at our disposal to make sure disturbances don't get out of hand," he said.

Rawlings-Blake has been Baltimore's mayor since February 2010 and has prided herself on improving public safety and public education. After last year's incendiary protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of black teen Michael Brown, Rawlings-Blake was part of a panel that brainstormed ideas for improving ties between police and their communities.

On Tuesday, she requested additional support from the National Guard in taming the unrest in Baltimore and wrote on her Facebook page, "Right now my heart is broken. Yesterday, our home experienced deplorable and cowardly acts of violence. ... We will clean, we will rebuild, and we will heal."

M. Alex Johnson of NBC News contributed to this report.