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Links: In, around, and about Baltimore (Updated 5/1)

[Content note for police violence]

Update: Today, Baltimore chief prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced that Freddie Gray’s death has been ruled a homicide and his detention and arrest ruled illegal. The six officers involved in his arrest are charged with (assortedly) offenses including involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter (gross and criminal), second degree assault, false imprisonment, misconduct in office, and, for the driver of the van, second degree depraved heart murder. Warrants have been issued for all.

Previously: In the wake of Freddie Gray’s death from injuries mysteriously sustained while in police custody two weeks ago, and following his funeral yesterday, people in Baltimore have protested — some of it peaceful, much of it, as of Monday afternoon, violent, and with staggering consequence. Now, as the community comes back out into their neighborhoods, peaceful protesters continue to gather to voice their frustrations, and a lot of other people have things to say, too.

At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about calls for calm in the protests in Baltimore.

What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?

The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.”)

Edward Bowser writes for about the Martin Luther King quote frequently repeated in the past couple of days, that “riot is the language of the unheard.”

The quote was lifted from a CBS interview with Mike Wallace on Sept. 27, 1966, in which King discussed a vocal minority of protesters who saw violence as the only means to battle civil unrest. King empathized with their pain, explaining to America that a riot is, indeed, the language of those without a voice.

Fifty years later, the unheard are speaking out again.

For decades, Baltimore has been a deeply segregated city, with much of the rioting confined to a neighborhood where a third of families live in poverty. They’ve struggled in silence. The family and supporters of Freddie Gray can relate to that frustration – for weeks, they’ve patiently waited for answers in Gray’s death.

No indictment. No explanation. Seemingly no compassion from law enforcement. Nothing but silence.

True to King’s words, the unheard are now speaking in brutal fashion.

But there’s much more to King’s 1966 interview, which begins with these words:

“I will never change in my basic idea that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.”

The Huffington Post’s Julia Craven talks with WGN radio about her observations from the ground. At HuffPo, she recounts how the rioting started in Baltimore, and continues to give a view from the community in Baltimore via Twitter.

6 thoughts on Links: In, around, and about Baltimore (Updated 5/1)

  1. I live here.

    What most in the media seems to have managed to completely miss is that the rioters and the protesters are two separate groups, and that a lot of the rioters are opportunistic. The protesters consist of people of all ages whose grievance is the desire for justice for Freddie Gray. The protesters have been non-violent except when provoked — the violence on Saturday was entirely due to drunk white baseball fans coming out of the bars after an Orioles game and starting up racist shit with the protesters. The rioters are a group of teenagers who organized over Instagram. My daughter knew the riot was coming before the cops did, because she is a teenager and saw this shit being planned on social media that, being a teenager in Baltimore, she is subscribed to. None of her friends were involved and in fact they all think it’s stupid (white and black friends — about half my daughter’s friends are black, because she went to a middle school where she was one of 8 white kids in the whole school), but they knew it was going to happen. My daughter warned me, and I didn’t believe her because there was no evidence in any other media and kids talk big, but as it turned out… she was right, and I was wrong.

    Some of the rioters may be motivated by Freddie Gray. Certainly the ones smashing cop cars were. But they have attacked a shopping mall that primarily serves the black community, and threatened two others, one that serves low-income whites and one that serves primarily blacks. They have attacked black neighborhoods. They have attacked businesses, many of them black-owned, that serve low-income people in general and are centrally located on the outskirts of downtown, so they’re used by both black and white people. They have not gone after police headquarters, political targets, or tourist locations. They have left my neighborhood, which is primarily white, almost entirely without incident.

    And some of the random violence is known to be committed by white kids. A well-dressed white boy smashed the windows of a historical, restored movie theater called the Senator, in a commercial district in the north of the city which serves more whites than blacks. So this narrative of racial violence seems to me completely wrong. Black teens are attacking black neighborhoods and black-owned businesses; white teens are getting involved and attacking white-owned businesses. I think a great deal of it is teenage rage in a city where the school system has gone drastically downhill, the bureaucracy screws over even the smart kids, and teenagers of both races are assumed to be up to no good. They’re not lashing out as a coordinated political statement; they’re attacking their own neighborhoods because it’s adult authority they’re rebelling against, with Freddie Gray serving as a thin excuse. Or, in the case of several of them, they’re just using the opportunity to steal things.

    1. Because the new template cut me off:

      The protesters are not looting or smashing, and generally are not being violent unless they are attacked; the rioters do not appear to particularly care about Freddie Gray, justice, or even race relations, given that the areas attacked have mostly been black neighborhoods or businesses.

      The media is continually conflating these groups, but then, the media probably did not ask a Baltimore teenager what was going on. My daughter reported to me that the message going around on Instagram said “We’re going to purge all the way from Mondawmin” (Mondawmin is the mall that primarily serves black customers, that was attacked on Monday, and is notable for having one of the stops of our kind of pathetic rail transit system, so it’s very accessible to teens; “purge” was interpreted by my daughter, and most teens, as referring to the movie The Purge). Threats were made against high schools as well, which makes no sense if you’re protesting Freddie Gray’s death and makes total sense if you’re a teenager violently acting out against authority.

  2. I’m somewhat reminded of 1968. But there are 2 major differences now, that being that the Mayor of Baltimore is a black woman and the Chief of Police a black man and they control the behavior of the police.

    1. they control the behavior of the police.

      But do they?
      Here in NYC, Bloomberg tried to weigh in on the Eric Garner case and was basically forced by pressure from the NYPD union to recant. The police here are very good at resisting any attempts to change the culture (not that there have been many attempts to do so.)
      Also, the police are only the most visible part of an entire power structure that is set up to make sure by any means necessary that segments of society, such as African-Americans, are kept down. Politicians, judges, prosecutors, etc., are also part of the system, as are statutes and the legal system, and the system is supported by the majority of white people. They (the whites) may be disturbed by police violence, but if they feel they are forced to choose between supporting police violence and allowing black people to walk around freely like human beings, they’ll choose the police every time. As we have seen.

    2. My daughter went to a middle school that was 99% black, for 2 years (she is white). Because my son was going to a middle school that was approximately 50/50, I could see a very interesting contrast. Both schools held a program for the gifted, so you’d have thought they’d be close to parity products. The primarily black school is next door to an art college and situated in a beautiful-looking neighborhood of large old townhomes that are well-kept.

      But the administration of the school — which was black — treated the kids as if they were thugs-to-be. Boys could be suspended for not wearing a belt. Girls were sent home to change when, in freezing weather, they wore red stockings with their uniform skirt (in Baltimore there are school uniforms for the middle and high public schools, which frankly I think should be illegal), because the correct color is burgundy. There were many more potential infractions to be committed than in my son’s school, where half the kids were white, and much harsher punishments for them.

      I believe that many, many black adults have internalized racism to the point where they genuinely believe that black children will become thugs unless they are disciplined tightly and harshly, and that young black men are potentially dangerous. A lot of the cops in Baltimore are black. It doesn’t change the way the cops in general behave.

      The problem won’t be solved simply by putting black people in positions of power. That’s a necessary condition, I think, but not a sufficient one. Accountability to the public by enforcing the use of bodycams would certainly help, but there are other reforms that need to be made. In Baltimore, the police were encouraged to make quality-of-life arrests — a guy who dropped his french fries wrapper on the ground could be arrested for it. They get booked into our hellish Central Booking system, and 24 – 48 hours later they get out, but in the meantime they may have lost a job, they may have failed to meet obligations to their children (hard to pick up your kids from day care if you just got arrested for littering)… they act like arresting a person and then letting them go 2 days later has no consequences, but the consequences can be profound.

      They should not be able to arrest a guy for running away from the cops and having a pocket knife on his person. They should not be able to arrest people for littering (at least not without first advising them that they need to pick it up, and giving them a warning). They should only be able to arrest if there is a serious suspicion of a crime that warrants arrest. If a guy just runs away from you, that proves absolutely nothing. Maybe he’s afraid you’re going to serve him papers for a civil suit (cops actually do that here). Maybe he was brutally beaten by the cops for no good reason once. If you treat everyone like they are criminals, they will be scared of you. That should go without saying.

      1. Yes, I believe you have explained this well. The reaction to the #baltimoremom is indicative. The black community does think that you can protect people/solve problems by handing out harsh and rigid discipline. The problem we know authoritarian discipline doesn’t work well partly because it encourages aggression.

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