Larry Hogan’s Error-Laden Memoir Villainized Baltimore, Freddie Gray

larry hogan book

This story was produced in partnership with The Garrison Project, an independent, nonpartisan organization addressing the crisis of mass incarceration and policing.

Maryland’s former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is running for U.S. Senate in a state that’s not just reliably blue, but in a deep blue moment. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Gov. Wes Moore are both Black Democrats who have garnered national media attention and support from President Joe Biden following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, an event that prompted a wave of racist rhetoric thrown their way by some Republicans. 

But Hogan is a never Trumper who left office in early 2023 with high approval ratings. A recent Washington Post/University of Maryland poll has him leading both of his Democratic competitors for a U.S. Senate seat — Rep. David Trone and Prince George’s County executive Angela Alsobrooks — by double digits. A Hogan win would be historic: A Republican hasn’t won a Senate election in Maryland since 1980.

Hogan has long presented himself as a sensible, pragmatic underdog unbound by partisan politics, who gets things done. “I still don’t have any burning desire to be a senator,” he said in a recent CNN interview. “I wasn’t looking for a title. I don’t need a job. But I’m just so frustrated with how broken our political system is.” 

Throughout his career, Hogan has created a cast of villains to fight. Since 2016, he has sometimes cast Trump in that role, but more often, Hogan finds his nemesis in Baltimore, portraying the city, like Trump has, as a symbol of violence, decay, and disorder. In Maryland, Baltimore means Black — the city is more than 60 percent Black — and, in the governor’s race in 2014 and 2018, Hogan found plenty of white Democrats to vote for him. 

Even though it was published in 2020, Hogan’s memoir Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic, and the Toxic Politics that Divide America, is critical to understanding his politics. Political memoirs have long been odd combinations of strange timing and resume fluffers, but Still Standing is a pandemic-era peculiarity with, as its title suggests, a heavy focus on the Baltimore uprising following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody in 2015. 

The first villain in Hogan’s recounting of the protests and riots in Baltimore following Gray’s death in April 2015 is a surprising one — Gray himself. During the morning of April 12, 2015, Baltimore police officers stopped and searched Gray and said they found a knife. They then placed Gray, without a seatbelt, into a police wagon, where he sustained a fatal neck and spinal injury. 

Hogan describes Gray, a 25 year-old Black man, as a “Crips gang-connected, street-level drug dealer with a long criminal rap sheet.” It’s standard victim blaming — Hogan even deploys the racist trope “no choirboy,” writing that “there is no point in confusing Freddie Gray with a singer in the church choir.” 

But there have been no substantive allegations that Gray was a member of the Crips, and Hogan provides no evidence of Gray’s alleged connection to the gang. When local gangs publicized a truce after Gray’s death, not even the Crips, which have a small presence in Baltimore, claimed he was a member. “Freddie’s gone and he can’t defend his character,” Wes Moore said in a 2020 statement. “Governor Hogan either forgets or doesn’t recognize that Freddie was his constituent too.” 

Hogan then quotes former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts as saying that the department’s internal investigation of the officers involved in Gray’s arrest and transport “shows absolutely no wrongdoing whatsoever” on their part. Hogan dates the conversation to April 30. But that was just days after Batts said of Gray at a press conference: “We know he was not buckled in the transportation wagon as he should have been — no excuses for that period. We know our employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner, multiple times.” 

Hogan depicts former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as feckless and ineffective, especially during the uprising. In one scene, he marvels that Rawlings-Blake, a Black woman, could question “the governor who saved her city when she was too overwhelmed, too indecisive, and too frightened to get the job done.” 

Rawlings-Blake, who did not run for reelection after the uprising, told me it was Hogan who was fearful and out of his depth. “It’s comical and predictable that he would look at me and say that he saw fear in my eyes,” Rawlings-Blake said. “He [had] never run a state, county, or even a hamlet. I’d had almost twenty years of public service experience. The only thing I was afraid of [was] having to deal with a governor who didn’t know what was going on. His staff tried to make him understand the role of the National Guard in a state of emergency. And it wasn’t easy. He kept repeating, ‘I’m in charge now.’ I knew I was in for a rough road.”

In another scene, Hogan claims Rawlings-Blake told him that gang leaders were angry about the curfew established on April 28: ‘Did you just say the gang-leaders are angry?’ I thundered at the Mayor. ‘So what?… I don’t care if the gangs or drug dealers are upset because their drug sales are down … You tell them to go ahead and make my day.’

But Rawlings-Blake said none of that happened: “It’s unfortunate that his lies have been able to go, you know, unchecked.” 

Rawlings-Blake said that when she suggested lifting the curfew so that bars and restaurants could start making money again, Hogan looked at her and said: “So you want the anarchists to win?”

“I’m talking about trying to, you know, lift the curfew so we can get business back,” she said. “And he’s talking about anarchists.” 

Hogan’s account of the protests seems intended to justify — and turn into a hero’s tale — his decision to call in the Maryland National Guard after the riot of April 27, where he claims “organized gangs were backing up trucks to a rear door” of drugstores and “cleaning out the pharmacy of all manner of drugs.” 

Drug stores were looted during the uprising, but Hogan’s portrayal of organized gangs with trucks and a “joint venture agreement, dividing up the yet to be looted drug stores among themselves” is fiction. It was not an organized effort; instead, there was a chaotic rush to steal drugs. 

Perhaps the most organized effort around looted pharmaceuticals came from the police. A witness in the Gun Trace Task Force police corruption trial who said Sgt. Wayne Jenkins came to his home with trash bags full of looted prescription drugs from the riots. “I just got people coming out of these pharmacies,” Jenkins told drug dealer and bailbondsman Donald Stepp. “I’ve got an entire pharmacy. In 2018, Jenkins was sentenced to 25 years in prison on a slew of federal charges including racketeering, robberies and planting evidence. Jenkins admitted that he stole drugs from detainees and arrestees and had people sell those drugs for him.

The Hogan tale about organized pharmacy looting was told years earlier in reporter Kevin Deutsch’s much criticized 2017 book Pill City. The Wire creator David Simon called it a “farce,” and said of the widespread condemnation of the book, “a fraud is collapsing.” Simon told Rolling Stone that “nobody is going to fact check poor black people. That’s the bottom line. You can say anything you want about the black underclass, and no one will give a fuck.” The Baltimore Police Department told reporter Will Sommer that they have “no evidence or information that corroborates the claims made” in Pill City

Another problematic account of the uprising in the book is Hogan’s description of a chaotic Orioles game on April 25. According to Hogan, a “group of protesters broke off and headed to Camden Yards, where 36,757 baseball fans… were watching a game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox. Some of the demonstrators tussled with fans outside the stadium. Scattered but ugly, as assaults were described in news reports. Then, some violent protesters flipped over a police car.” Hogan writes that “instead of confronting the law-breakers on the streets, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and police commissioner Anthony Batts chose to lock the law-abiding fans inside the stadium.” 

It’s worth comparing Hogan’s account with Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City by Maryland Gov. Moore and New York Times reporter Erica L. Green. Their 2021 book is the result of deep reporting and follows a number of different people, including former Orioles owner John Angelos, through the uprising. “It wasn’t clear who started it — there were different accounts floating around,” write Moore and Green. “But the story John heard from his team was that protesters began yelling ‘Black Lives Matter’ while a few of the fans angrily yelled back ‘We don’t care.’ Then some of those at the bar started yelling out racial epithets at the protesters.” 

And no one flipped over a police car on April 25 — I was there the entire night and reported extensively on it for the Baltimore City Paper. There were police cars vandalized later that night, but none were turned over. It’s telling that Hogan didn’t examine what damage was actually caused during protests, who started fights outside the stadium, or who used racial slurs against protesters. This version of the story seems to serve Hogan’s overall purpose: justifying his decision to call in the Maryland National Guard.

Hogan’s most troubled account of the uprising surrounds the arrest of protester Joseph Kent on April 28, the first night of the curfew enforced by police and the National Guard. Near the intersection of Pennsylvania and North Avenues, the center of the riots the previous day, protesters gathered and remained on the streets past curfew. 

Here’s how Hogan describes it: “Around 10:30, some of the demonstrators began throwing rocks and smoke bombs.” 

But it was the police, not protesters, who threw tear gas canisters, causing smoke to float over the streets. Hogan then describes the lines of police in riot gear and, behind them, as “a huge presence of Maryland National Guardsmen, along with their trucks and Humvees.” 

Hogan writes of “one especially significant demonstrator,” who “seemed to be the chief violent instigator… pacing and yelling and throwing things, acting several degrees wilder and more frantic than anyone else on the street.” That protester is Kent.

Then, according to Hogan, comes the decisive moment, the showdown between police and Kent. “The rabble-rouser picked up what looked like a bottle with a rag fuse, a makeshift firebomb, and hurled it toward the officers,” he writes. “It landed a few feet short. He then moved forward, standing almost face to face with the cops in riot gear. Still they did not move.” 

Hogan describes the cops as brave in the face of this monster — he has defended and been photographed in front of thin-blue-line flags, after all — but it’s the Guardsmen, who were extensions of his gubernatorial power, who are his real heroes. 

“Then slowly, without any announcement at all, a Maryland National Guard Humvee inched toward the police line, approaching from behind,” Hogan writes. “At just the right moment, the phalanx of officers methodically parted, creating a small separation just a couple of feet wide,” and “a uniformed guardsman reached out of the vehicle and snatched the man who had thrown the firebomb. In a single, swift movement, the man was lifted off his feet and yanked inside the National Guard Humvee.”

Hogan claims that law enforcement taking Kent into custody solved the problem of the post-curfew protest, which he erroneously says dissipated within minutes. 

“What just happened to that guy?” one of Hogan’s associates asks. 

“He’s just gone,” came the response. 

That part is true. At the time, most observers of the protests were horrified, using words like “kidnapped” and “disappear” to describe what had happened to Kent, who, far from throwing molotov cocktails, was instead walking slowly in front of the police line with his hands up and telling people to disperse. A CBS reporter even wondered if Kent was working with the police. 

I wrote about Kent months before the uprising. When former St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch declined to prosecute officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown in the fall of 2014, Kent regularly placed himself between police and other protesters. “We been peaceful all day and now everyone want to show your ass,” Kent said when protesters became angry at a driver who nearly hit them. “We’re not here for that.” Rev. Heber Brown III, who once served as the senior pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, called Kent “MLK with gold fronts.” 

Hogan’s version of Kent’s arrest is shockingly easy to debunk. Here, for example, is CNN’s description of their 2015 footage capturing Kent’s arrest: “Protester with his hands up arrested by police in Baltimore.”

“That entire passage is complete fiction,” said defense attorney Stephen Patrick Beatty, who represented Kent in his arrest stemming from that night, where he was charged with nothing more than a curfew violation. The charges were ultimately dropped, which would not have happened if he had “firebombed” police, as the harsh penalties faced by others show. Kent told CBS News that Batts, the police commissioner, had recognized him and expedited his release — far from the outcome one would expect if Kent had violently clashed with the police. 


“He wants to demonize yet another Black kid,” Beatty said. “Joseph never picked up anything,” He never stared down police. He didn’t do anything like that. He walked very slowly up and down with his arms in the air. “

When I raised the inconsistencies and errors in Hogan’s book to his campaign’s press secretary, Michael Ricci, he told me “I’ll take a look,” but subsequently stopped responding to follow-up requests for comment. Neither BenBella Books, the publisher of Still Standing, nor the book’s co-author Ellis Henican have responded to requests for comment.

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