Remarks as prepared
Delivered on Thursday, June 22, 2023
Good afternoon! It’s great to be with each and every one of you.
As Eileen mentioned, I deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11, and it was one of the greatest honors and greatest challenges of my life.
But even in Afghanistan, I never had to give a speech to a room full of journalists! It seems my greatest challenge was still to come.
But I’m excited to be here, and I am so grateful for you and your work, as members of the National Press Club.
Our country needs a free press – because for America to prosper, we must be a nation of truth, not a nation of myth.
You debunk myths every day: Myths about our economy; myths about our elections; myths about our education system.
But I fear one myth has gone unnoticed and misunderstood.
We know that since the 1990’s, incidents of violent crime have gone down across America:
But today, the fear of violence seems more widespread than ever.
That constant fear has given birth to – and been fueled by – false narratives…
The false narrative of some politicians, who says every urban area is a city in crisis;
The false narrative of some in the media, who say violence is everywhere at all times, never-ending and unabating;
And the false narrative of some in the public, who have come to believe that violence is an inescapable part of American life.
As chief executive of Maryland – as a combat veteran – as a father – and as a citizen, there is nothing more important to me than the safety of our neighborhoods;
And I believe we can’t truly address the reality of violence unless we simultaneously deal with the false narratives of violence – and that’s what I want to talk about today.
The first myth we need to confront is the false narrative of the politician.
Since there doesn’t ever seem to be an off-year from elections, we are now entering another season of competitive races!
And candidates are leaning on violence to scare people into supporting them.
These candidates don’t have a plan to reduce violence, but they do have a playbook:
Three weeks ago, someone running for office claimed that children have a better chance of getting shot than getting a first-class education in Baltimore.
And the problem isn’t just that his claim was untrue;
It’s that those kinds of comments dishonor the pride, courage, and promise of the people that live in our cities –
And they perpetuate a fear that doesn’t only accelerate disinvestment, but also causes psychological damage to the people that call those communities home.
And trust me: Nobody wants to address violent crime more than the people that actually live in communities suffering from violence!
Yet we've politicized this issue to a point where we believe it's us against them.
Let’s come together on this – and focus on the realities of violence instead of emphasizing the deficiencies of certain communities.
Violence touches people in our cities AND in our suburbs AND in our rural towns;
Violent crime isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, it’s an issue facing all of our communities – governed by folks across the political spectrum.
So we need to be serious – we need to depoliticize this – we need to work together – and we need to stop the political blame game while people die.
The second myth is the false narrative of the media.
I want to be very clear about this point – because it’s important to my message, and I want to be invited back here!
Look: Journalists do important work. You hold yourselves to high standards. You tackle big issues with a commitment to truth.
But I also have a commitment to truth – and let’s be real: Not all of your peers share the same standards.
There are those in the press who build entire business models designed to sensationalize tragedy and violence.
I don’t mean to say that’s true of all outlets – or even most.
But when truth and integrity give way to ratings and readership, some press boardrooms will decide that playing into fear is good for business.
The most watched cable news network in the United States has mentioned crime twice as often as its competitors since Joe Biden was inaugurated.
It’s not because crime is suddenly twice as bad. It’s because crime drives ratings.
And the networks that sensationalize violence miss the full story:
You won’t hear them talk about bad policies that limit opportunity and increase violence in our neighborhoods;
You won’t hear them talk about pipelines from poverty to prison;
You won’t hear them talk about the breakage in the system that allows so many of our young people to fall through the cracks.
You also won’t hear them talk about solutions.
In my first 100 days as Governor of Maryland, we raised wages;
We boosted resources for mental health services;
We secured historic funding for public schools;
And we launched the most aggressive assault on child poverty in Maryland history!
Those investments are going to help us improve public safety, because when people have more opportunity, they are more likely to contribute to our communities – instead of resorting to crime as a way to survive.
But that perspective is too often missing in the stories told by too many news outlets.
Elected officials can underinvest in housing and pull the plug on mass transit projects – but because they enhance sentencing, they’re called champions for public safety in the news!
Don’t allow yourselves to get spun!
One of the most powerful public safety tools we have is fighting poverty;
One of the most powerful public safety tools we have is creating pathways to employment and foundations for hope;
But that story isn’t always getting told.
You see: The false narrative of the media isn’t just sensational, it’s selective. And that’s the danger.
Which brings me to the third and final myth I want to discuss: And that’s the false narrative held by the public.
It’s a narrative that says we can’t do anything to stop violence.
For some, it’s a narrative born from the stories they watch on TV and the words they hear from politicians;
For others, it’s a narrative born from real experiences of violence – and a numbing sense that nobody is going to change the systems that perpetuate violence.
It’s the narrative of the single dad who’s seen the faces of the victims in Newtown – and the Pulse NightClub – and Tops Supermarket – and Uvalde on his TV screen;
And it’s the narrative of the young man living in a community where the reality of violence isn’t something you see on the news, it’s something you see in your community every day.
A numbness to violence has gripped our nation – in many places and for many reasons.
But the result is the same: We’ve lost our will to do something about it.
This false narrative has the power to become even more dangerous than the myths of politicians or the myths of reporters: Because when people give up, progress dies.
And when the pain is no longer piercing and it becomes chronic, our apathy in dealing with violence turns us into accessories.
As James Baldwin once said:
“What the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself. You become a collaborator, an accomplice to your own murderers, because you believe the same things they do.”
If we want to build safer communities, we need to take apart each and every one of these false narratives – and collectively do our part to create new destinies.
To my colleagues in government: Our words matter – and it’s time we stopped talking past.
Look: Elected officials should focus on reducing violence, and I’ll be the first to tell you that public safety is my number one priority!
But reducing violence is about more than failing to come up with a real plan – and falling back on partisan talking points that degrade our cities and the people that live there.
While other states pass the blame, Maryland is ready to set the example:
By passing policies that keep our people safe:
By securing funding for law enforcement;
By enacting common-sense gun reform and stemming the flow of illegal guns;
By providing additional resources to the office of our Attorney General to hold violent offenders accountable;
And by supporting the institutions that help root out systemic challenges in our communities – like schools and local organizations.
To the folks in the media who are hopefully still listening:
You are the ones standing between truth and myth in the United States of America.
Cover the stories you need to cover – but always be guided by the entirety of the facts. Because the shock and awe strategy isn’t just irresponsible, it’s inaccurate.
You miss the stories of how violence emerges in the first place – and you miss the stories of people working toward solutions that will help prevent violence before it happens.
Pushing back on violence is about accountability and action, yes – but it’s also about prevention, coordination, and strategy.
Our communities deserve reporting on violence that’s thorough, not theatrical.
And lastly, to the public:
These issues aren’t too big for us to solve.
If you cut through the political ads and 24-hour news cycle, you will see we are making progress.
In Maryland, we’ve taken an all-of-the-above approach to public safety, to support state and local law enforcement, build stronger communities, and coordinate across all parts of government and all parts of society.
And we aren’t just moving fast, we are moving together.
I’ve watched Marylanders reject this false narrative of helplessness – and instead, answer the call to work WITH us to tackle violence.
The parent in West Baltimore who’s providing the guidance her eldest son needs to turn his life around;
The minister in Prince George’s County who’s leading community violence intervention efforts;
The schoolteacher in Mountain Maryland who’s helping at-risk youth find their way.
Now is the time for us to renew our faith in progress and refuse to give up.
Let’s shake ourselves out of the numbness we feel –
Let’s end the myths we’ve been told to believe –
And let’s reclaim our power to make a change.
One of the reasons I decided to run for office two years ago is I believe we can do more than react to crime, we can actually prevent it;
We can do more than make our communities safer, we can actually make our communities better;
We can do more than pass policies that paint over the cracks, we can actually fix the foundation of what’s broken.
The three myths of violence in America have told us that we can’t.
But I say that we can – and I know that we will.
Thank you all so much, and I look forward to your questions.