Why did Baltimore explode the way it did?
Baltimore has a long and challenging history with issues of trust or mistrust between the community and the police department. You layer that on to an in-custody death. You layer on opportunists who are looking to co-opt the raw emotion of a community for their own benefit. It makes Baltimore vulnerable and so many other places around the country vulnerable.
How would you say you’ve handled this crisis?
I have to focus on running my city, and that’s what I’m doing. When I look in the mirror, I’m very comfortable with who I see. I’m comfortable with how we’ve responded in very, very challenging times.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said he activated the National Guard “30 seconds” after you requested them. Did you get the sense that he was waiting on you?
I got the sense that the governor didn’t have a full understanding of all things that were being put in place. When we are in the midst of dealing with an issue, you have to be very judicious about the use of the National Guard. They’re viewed by the community as a sign of militarization. They’re viewed by many as a sign of escalation of an incident.
Has being a black mayor working alongside a black police commissioner made dealing with this situation any easier?
Do I look like I’m having an easy time? I think it would be hard to take a look at the week that I’ve had to suggest that it’s easier. I can say, for somebody that has grown up in Baltimore and has experienced the pain of loss from the violence that we’ve seen in our streets and has been concerned about my brother and his friends being profiled negatively because they were young black men, I get it.
You found your brother after he was stabbed in a carjacking years ago. Do you see parallels between what happened to him and what happened in the riots?
The kids that did this were the same age of the kids that you saw out there, 15 and 16. And you just–it’s so important that we get this right for our kids that they don’t continue to make these types of devastating mistakes in their life.
But you made comments about “thugs” looting the city and “giving those who wished to destroy space to do that.” Do you regret saying those things now?
I wish I could say that I was a person that never made any mistakes. But I’m not. I’m human. And in the heat of the moment, I said something. I joked and said it was my anger interpreter that was speaking over my shoulder.
But like I said, I’m human. I make mistakes. Hopefully people see that I’m big enough to own ’em. I tried to explain the situation and how–calling the people thugs on that–but on the other thing, I tried to explain a situation and clearly did a poor job. Most of the people sitting in the room understood very clearly what I meant. But sometimes you can have the best of intentions, and I feel pretty decent, like I’m a pretty decent communicator. But you never know how those things–for the people who aren’t in the room, you don’t know how they’re going to be received. And the words that I chose didn’t really reflect my heart and what I meant to say. I would never give space for people to destroy our community.
Read next: The Roots of Baltimore’s Riot
This appears in the May 11, 2015 issue of TIME.