Vargas: Legitimate concerns of peaceful protesters lost in chaos of riot


What started as a peaceful demonstration regarding the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody quickly deteriorated into a full-scale riot.

As I watched the images of the rioting in Baltimore, I was frustrated. Thugs wantonly and, without consequence, vandalized vehicles, burned property and assaulted police officers.

There will be a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking regarding how the police department deployed personnel, and what role politics had in the response. Leaders will need to stand tall and be held accountable for their decision-making.

One of the critical functions of police in this country is the role of maintaining order. When they are unable to maintain order, the mob takes over. Anarchy follows.

This is true whether the rioters are on a resort-city beach or on urban city streets.

What we’re witnessing in Baltimore is not protest. It is not a demonstration. It is a leaderless mob bent on taking advantage of a situation to commit crime under the cloak of anonymity.

This is no doubt a difficult situation for police. Mobile roving bands of rioters are a logistical and deployment challenge.

Officers stood the line and endured an onslaught of debris being hurled at them. They watched as rioters vandalized and burned patrol cars. They watched as part of their city went up in flames.

The officers demonstrated great restraint.

In this case, it was too much restraint.

The appropriate response to the type of lawlessness that occurred Tuesday night: return order with overwhelming force. It takes aggressive action to restore order when anarchy sets in.

Rioters will be shot with pepper balls and rubber bullets. They will be tear-gassed. They will be hit with batons. People will be arrested and go to jail. It’s not pretty, but it is necessary.

Did politics dictate the limited police response? Did the concern for how it looked supersede the practicality of preparing for the worst?

I have a lot of sympathy for the officers on the front lines. They have been heavily criticized, and they are now being asked to walk into danger to serve people who were vilifying them hours before.

I am certain the frustration they are feeling is far more intense than what we experienced from the relative safety of our living rooms.

But that’s part of the job of being a police officer. It takes great courage – and the ability to protect and serve all members of the community, even those who may not like you.

Those who participated in the riot should be ashamed. They have embarrassed their city, their families and have created more problems for an already troubled community.

In the midst of the chaos, the legitimate concerns of the peaceful demonstrators over police accountability and use of force have now been lost.

The real lesson here is the thin blue line between anarchy and order is real.

The men and women in uniform who stood on the front lines in the wee hours of the morning are to be lauded for their bravery.

In the end, the residents of Baltimore should be thankful they were there.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at