Bullet Points On The Baltimore Riots

Ken AshfordCrime, Race, Racial HomicidesLeave a Comment

The catalyst, ostensibly, was the death of Freddie Gray — who died of a spinal cord injury sustained while in police custody.  His funeral service was yesterday morning.  There were peaceful protests throughout the day, but as high school kids left school, the protests became violent.  15 officers were injured — six seriously — from thrown bottles, rocks and bricks, as well as dozens of businesses, homes and cars damaged or destroyed by looting or arson. It is not known how many protesters were injured.  The police also reported that two people had been shot, each in the leg, in separate incidents overnight. One victim, a woman, was shot on Fulton Avenue near where some of the worst rioting and looting had occurred hours earlier. The other victim, a man, was shot about two miles west of the Mondawmin Mall.  144 vehicles were set on fire; 15 buildings were set on fire; almost 200 people arrested.

The National Guard was called up began to deploy in the city just after daybreak today.

Anyway. some thoughts:

* The media coverage was horrible and remains so this morning.  Breathless and sensationalist words like “violence erupts” and a “city in chaos“.  Parts of the city — in fact, well over 95% of it, were just fine.  But you put the camera on the worst part and use incendiary language like that, and of course it seems bigger.  I’m not sure the media hype actually helped the situation

* Clean up today:

* The media also struggled as to what to call the “rioters”.  Clearly, they weren’t protesters.  I think one of the most telling pieces of information came when a reporter asked a looter why he was doing what he was doing.  “Because nobody was stopping us” was the answer.  I really don’t think what happened in Baltimore had much to do with Freddie Gray, but rather, pent up anger at the general treatment of that area — not only by police but society in general.

*Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: “I understand anger, but what we’re seeing isn’t anger. It’s disruption of a community. The same community they say they care about, they’re destroying. You can’t have it both ways.”  I like the mayor, but no, I don’t think she understands anger.  Anger isn’t rational and doesn’t always manifest itself in constructive ways.  Usually, it manifests itself in counterproductive ways.  Not to excuse the rioting, but to explain the anger underlying it, I turn to the COO of the Baltimore Orioles, John Angelos:

Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy, investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible.

That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

* Many times last night, I heard the news say that the riots were the worst in Baltimore since 1968 and in fact, “many areas burnt down in 1968 were in this very neighborhood and have yet to be rebuilt”.  I think that also explains a lot of the anger.

* Black officers make up 54% of the Baltimore police dept. This has not noticeably changed police behavior. Diversity is not enough.  Actually, I think the crux of this problem isn’t race, but class.  See, e.g., income inequality.

* If you’re a gangbanging rioter, it has to be embarrassing for your mom to scold you on national television:

* There is already criticism directed at Baltimore’s mayor for not having police (and even National Guard) there yesterday in the areas were looting occurred and fires were set.  Yes, it was disturbing to see a line of policemen in riot gear standing in a line one block away from a street where a CVS was being looted, and not moving there for nearly two hours and only when the CVS was on fire.  But I don’t fault the mayor on this.  For one thing, the police were outnumbered.  They also might have incited even more violence. You hate to say it, but sometimes you just have to let the looting play out.  Also, we know this morning that the high school kids who planned this yesterday through social media encouraged rioters to spread out all over the city, thus weakening the number of police who could be present at any single place or neighborhood.  My Baltimore correspondent writes:

Baltimore is approximately 80 square miles; that’s a lot of turf for law enforcement to cover.   TV coverage may have given the appearance of chaos but more accurately, what you saw was fluid law enforcement on the move to the areas where damage was occurring.

True dat.  These are all tough considerations when you are mayor and I don’t fault her or the police chief for making the choices they did.  Hindsight, by the way, is 20/20.

* In fact, many Baltimore police officers deserve to be lauded for the courage they showed yesterday: They met hostile crowds and I think they stopped them from destroying more businesses, burning more churches, and harming more people.

* Kudos to the clergy, particularly the Nation of Islam:

* Other groups keeping the peace: the Crips, the Bloods.  Thumbs down to CNN for reporting all afternoon that the Crips and the Bloods had formed a pact to create trouble.  In fact, the pact was to keep the peace.