OK, let’s talk about the Baltimore riots


Three people have written to me over the past 24 hours requesting that I start a thread on the riots that are currently raging in Baltimore. This post is for them. If not for their notes, I don’t think I would have mentioned it here. It’s not that I don’t care that Freddy Gray was killed in police custody, or that the city has since erupted in violent protest. I do. I just don’t know what I could possibly say that hasn’t already been said… Everyone’s already quoted Martin Luther King about riots being “the language of the unheard.” And everyone’s already drawn the comparison with 1968, when riots last raged in Baltimore. [At that time, as you might recall, President Johnson said, “What did you expect? I don’t know why we’re so surprised. When you put your foot on a man’s neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what’s he going to do? He’s going to knock your block off.”] From my perspective, there really isn’t much more to say… Violence is terrible, but, in some instances, it’s understandable.

As long as we’ve broached the subject, though, here’s another interesting perspective to consider. Baltimore Oriels COO John Angelos just recently took to Twitter to provide context for the riots. Over the past four decades, Angelos said, “(the) 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.” It may be something of a oversimplification, as it doesn’t touch at all on race, or, for that matter, the culture of violence within the Baltimore police department that set off these most recent riots, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that events like these are more likely to happen in places where the middle class is more quickly disappearing, and where the opportunities to escape poverty are becoming more scarce by the day.

As for whether or not rioting is a legitimate and effective strategy for bringing about societal change, I’m somewhat conflicted. On one hand, I would agree that riots can be an efficient means of bringing attention to an issue and forcing dialogue. Furthermore, I don’t disagree that such outbursts can in fact healthy for our democracy. On the other hand, however, I believe it’s also true that riots can be used to discredit movements, divert attention away from the problems at hand, and justify the use of even more brutal police tactics. I suspect, as is often the case, the truth is somewhere in between these two extremes. [Limited property destruction without loss of life.] I also think, for what it’s worth, that it’s probably time for these current riots to end, or at least gravitate back toward non-violent protest, before more people get hurt. [If there was a time that rioting made strategic sense, I suspect that time has now passed in Baltimore.]

Here, with a local appeal to Baltimore’s rioters, is David Simon, creator of The Wire, and outspoken critic of an America that has been “disassembling (its) middle class slowly by degrees”.

“But now — in this moment — the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease,” Simon said yesterday on his website. “There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a [diminution] of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death. If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.”

As for where we go from here, I’m not sure…

I just know that, if something meaningful isn’t done to curb police violence, increase educational opportunities for the poor, and give people hope, it’s going to be a hot and violent summer. And powder kegs will continue to ignite.

[This post was brought to you by Baltimore’s Michael Jackson.]

update: Closer to home, there will be a March for Justice in Ann Arbor on May 1, followed by a benefit show at the Neutral Zone for the family of Aura Rosser, who was shot and killed by the Ann Arbor Police on November 9, 2014.

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  1. Posted April 28, 2015 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    The image above, in case it’s not clear, is from the 1968, when Baltimore last erupted in violence.

  2. Steven
    Posted April 28, 2015 at 9:24 pm | Permalink



  3. Posted April 29, 2015 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    China is not a “third world dictatorship.” The “third world” is an antiquated term only applicable during the Cold War, when some countries were aligned with the US (first world), some countries were aligned with the Soviets (second world) and some were aligned with neither (third world). As for “dictatorship,” though China has a one party system (as do many Asian countries), it should be obvious that it is not. John Angelos’ ignorance undermines his credibility to be taken seriously on anything at all outside of baseball.

    And it is odd that a COO of a large money making sports team, which can’t exist outside a capitalist context, would be advocating (I assume) for protectionist policies more in line with communist China than the United States.

    I think that it is pretty myopic to view the problems in Baltimore through a lens of globalization. Baltimore, and cities like it, have to be viewed through a general lens of racism, exclusion, irresponsibility, indifference and repression.

  4. Eel
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    According to Fox News, any legitimate issues the poor black people of Baltimore might have are invalidated by the fact that someone stole toilet paper from a CVS.

  5. Lynne
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    All I know is that it is total and utter BS that we still have these issues in our country. I am not sure of the solution though other than more protests. While I don’t advocate violence, I think the protests need to be as disruptive as possible. Prevent people from going about their business so they’ll be motivated by that to change. Decency and treating your fellow man humanely are apparently not enough motivation for some people who would rather cling to their privilege by any means possible. Enough is enough!

  6. KKT
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Will Detroit burn by the end of the summer?

  7. Meta
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Another explanation for the riots from Rand Paul.

    As one of a growing number of GOP 2016 wannabes, Sen. Rand Paul has tried to sell himself as the best Republican candidate to reach out to African-American voters. He’s talked about the need for criminal justice reform. During the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, he called for demilitarizing police forces. Yet his response to the riots in Baltimore show that he has a long way to go. During an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Tuesday, the Kentucky senator blamed the turmoil not on the police brutality that resulted in the death of Freddie Gray, but on absentee fathers and a breakdown in families.

    “It’s depressing, it’s sad, it’s scary. I came through the train on Baltimore last night, I’m glad the train didn’t stop,” Paul said, laughing at his own unfunny joke. He then pontificated of the unrest: “The thing is that really there’s so many things we can talk about, it’s something we talk about not in the immediate aftermath but over time: the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society. And this isn’t just a racial thing, it goes across racial boundaries, but we do have problems in our country.”

    By the way, a week ago, Paul’s 22-year-old son William was cited for driving while intoxicated after he was in a car crash.

    Read more:

  8. Anonymous
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    From an old high school friend on Facebook.


  9. Kim
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    From Salon:

    “Baltimore’s violent protesters are right: Smashing police cars is a legitimate political strategy”

    Non-violence is a type of political performance designed to raise awareness and win over sympathy of those with privilege. When those on the outside of struggle—the white, the wealthy, the straight, the able-bodied, the masculine—have demonstrated repeatedly that they do not care, are not invested, are not going to step in the line of fire to defend the oppressed, this is a futile political strategy. It not only fails to meet the needs of the community, but actually puts oppressed people in further danger of violence.


  10. Lynne
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Somehow when Rand Paul talks about a lack of a moral code, I can’t imagine that he means the lack of morality the police demonstrate when they hurt people like that. I can’t imagine that he means decades of white supremacy and racism. He probably doesn’t mean the moral code that allows so many in this country to favor public policy designed to make rich people richer and poor people poorer either. Otherwise, I agree with him that a lack of morals is at the root of this problem.

    Anonymous, I am sorry that your facebook friend is posting such horrible things. Talk about blaming the victim!

  11. Gillian
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Here’s what I need to say about Baltimore (and am avoiding saying on facebook because i don’t want to start shit with conservative whackjob relatives)

    Baltimore is the most absurdly segregated place I’ve ever seen. And I grew up in metro Detroit, so that’s really saying something.

    When I moved to Baltimore in 2003, I was sitting in a cafe looking for an apartment. A nice middle-aged white lady overheard me leaving messages for landlords and came over to my table to ask if I’d just moved here. She proceeded to let me know exactly what areas of the city were “okay” to live in (aka, filled with white people.) She literally drew lines on my map of the city (they were not red, but might as well have been) and drew x’s on the areas that I should “definitely avoid. in fact you might not even want to go walk around there.”

    I moved into an apartment on the third floor of a row house in the mostly-white student neighborhood around Johns Hopkins undergrad campus. There was an older white couple on the first floor. I was running a canvas office for an environmental group, and we’d have our staff members over for pizza on wednesday nights–a calm, quiet, alcohol-free gathering that ended by 9pm. Our downstairs neighbors called the police literally every single time that a black person was included in the group that we invited over.

    I don’t think that either of these people have ever been asked to consider their biases. I don’t think they have ever even though of themselves as being biased. I wish it didn’t take a riot to make these conversations happen, but I have found myself reexamining my own biases a lot lately. If that ends up being a side effect of everything that’s going on, all I can say is, it’s about damn time.

  12. Posted April 29, 2015 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    There was a brief period of time when Linette and I considered living in Baltimore and we spent an afternoon looking at historic old homes with a real estate agent. And I can still remember him telling us that we wouldn’t like “the complexion” of certain neighborhoods.

  13. Jcp2
    Posted April 29, 2015 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    I have mixed feelings about Baltimore. Although I support the protests in abstract, during my years of college there, I was always “not our people” when not around campus. This was in the late eighties when being mistaken for being Korean lead to a lot of belligerence directed towards me, while not being white was a subtle service problem in other parts of town. There was no room for none of the above in race relationships back then.

  14. Meta
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Yet another angle you aren’t likely to hear about on Fox News.

    “Freddie Gray’s life a study in the sad effects of lead paint on poor blacks”

    The house where Freddie Gray’s life changed forever sits at the end of a long line of abandoned row homes in one of this city’s poorest neighborhoods. The interior of that North Carey Street house, cluttered with couches and potted plants, is lacquered in a fresh coat of paint that makes the living room glow.

    But it wasn’t always this way. When Gray lived here between 1992 and 1996, paint chips flaked off the walls and littered the hardwood floor, according to a 2008 lawsuit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The front windowsills shed white strips of paint. It was worst in the front room, Gray recalled years later in a deposition, where he bedded down most nights with his mother.

    “There was a big hole when you go up the steps,” Gray recalled in 2009. “There was a couple of walls that wasn’t painted all the way, peeled. . . . And like the windows, paint was peeling off the windows.”

    Before his controversial death earlier this month while in police custody, which has set this city aflame in rioting, the life of Freddie Gray was defined by failures in the classroom, run-ins with the law, and an inability to focus on anything for very long. Many of those problems began when he was a child and living in this house, according to a 2008 lead poisoning lawsuit filed by Gray and his siblings against the property owner, which resulted in an undisclosed settlement.

    Read more:

  15. Lynne
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Meta, there are a lot of people who attribute the declining crime rate in our country over the last several decades to the banning of lead in gasoline. Unfortunately, it still seems like lead is affecting people, usually poor people.

    There are so many things which we know contribute to criminal behavior. Things like lead. Things like familial stability. Even good nutrition. So it makes me want to bang my head against the wall when people keep trying to deny poor people things like adequate housing (without flaking lead paint), food stamps, or low income housing since all of those things are likely to improve things 20 years from now when the kids born into such environments grow up. Our mean spiritedness regarding the poor, but especially those who are poor and have dark skin, is going to cost us all in the long wrong.

  16. Lynne
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    er, long *run* I always notice typos after I hit post comment. ugh

  17. Mr. X
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here… And for suddenly the biggest problem in the world to be looting is really notable.”

    —Donald Rumsfeld, April 2003


  18. Meta
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    NPR: Charges Against 6 Officers In Freddie Gray’s Death Range From Murder To Assault

    Read more:

  19. Posted May 4, 2015 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Just chiming in on the lead based paint. Yes, I had several students in DPS who had eaten the paint as kids (apparently, it tastes like lemon). One little girl had suffered a seizure at 9 months and went blind, and then ate the paint a year or so later (because when God rains, He motherfucking POURS bitches). Her grandma blamed herself for the lead paint…it broke my heart.

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