An awful lot has been said and written about the current riots in Baltimore. Unfortunately, all too often what's been said comes from a particular perspective, rather than a birds-eye view of the whole very complex situation. Furthermore, much of it has been inflammatory, with the speaker(s) unable or even unwilling to give credence to any viewpoint except his/her/their own. I'd like to try to give a more balanced perspective.
First, let's be absolutely clear that I'm not soft on crime - and crime, not protest, is what we're dealing with here. If anyone wants to burn vehicles, loot stores, stick a knife into firefighters' hoses while they try to do their jobs, throw stones at cops, and so on - deal with him with whatever level of severity is required to make him stop. At the very least, arrest him; if he resists, make him stop resisting by any and all lawful means available; if he won't submit to lawful arrest and poses a danger to arresting officers or to the public in general, use whatever force is required - up to and including lethal force - to end the danger. That's it. No further discussion required. In the same way, if owners of businesses or homes or vehicles or whatever find that police protection is not available - or that a damned fool mayor "gave those who wished to destroy, space to do that" - they should be allowed and encouraged to use legitimate force, up to and including lethal force if necessary, to defend their own property and/or lives and/or families. Again, no further discussion required.
However, let it also be noted for the record that there really aren't many rioters and looters in Baltimore compared to the overall population of its inner city. I'll be surprised if there are more than one to two thousand of them. The real problem is that the others in the inner city don't act to stop them, not because they can't, but because they don't see any point to doing so. The relationship between police and inner-city residents in Baltimore is, to say the least, fraught with tension, distrust and violence, and has been for many years. In that sense, Baltimore is Ferguson writ larger - and more than Ferguson; it's a microcosm of the social and economic ills that have affected this country for the past half-century.
The Executive Vice-President of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, Mr. John Angelos, put out a series of Twitter statements that set out the problem very clearly. CBS put them together into a single text, which I'll quote in full because I think it's important.
... 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, an 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 ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.
Words of wisdom that I can't help but endorse. I believe he's right.
There's also the question of police attitudes towards those they're sworn to "serve and protect". Regrettably, in many cases those attitudes have become negative, hardened and entrenched. I've written about the problem before. The investigation into Mr. Gray's death is still ongoing, but prima facie it looks extremely bad for the Baltimore police. I don't see how they can avoid charges of murder in this case. It appears to be yet another example of police overreach that's become all too common across the country. As fellow blogger Earthbound Misfit puts it:
The Baltimore cops killed a man whose sole crime was not wanting to talk to them. They denied him medical attention, then they not only tuned him up a little in the back of a paddy wagon, they crushed his larynx and snapped his spine.
And people aren't happy with being beaten by the cops and yes, they don't believe that they'll get a fair shake from the justice system. Because they don't. When the cops don't act according to the rule of law, only a fool would expect that the people on the other side of the batons, the tasers, and the guns will respect the rule of law. Too many people, including cops, seem to confuse the meaning of the words "respect" and "fear".
. . .
Yes, a lot of what goes on in any riot is opportunism and hooliganism. Yet, one should not lose sight of how well the ground was prepared for it.
There's more at the link - and again, I can't help but endorse what she says. I think she's right.
More and more voices are making the point that the police function in the United States is broken. It needs to be fixed, otherwise we're going to have more Fergusons, more Baltimores. Here are just a few articles I found today.
... it appears that from the standpoint of the cops it no longer mattered if you ... "arrest" that person under dubious circumstances that the cops will not disclose, shackle that person and throw them in a police van unrestrained (that is, no seat belt), causing in some form or fashion subsequent to arrest an injury so severe that this individual's spinal cord is virtually severed and he dies.
You couldn't get away with treating a dog this way; you'd go to prison for animal cruelty. But it's all ok in this case, right, and only "suspensions" (and paid ones at that) are warranted while what facially looks to be yet another whitewashed "investigation" is conducted. Nobody is sitting in the dock cooling their heels as would be the case if you had committed the same assault upon a dog, never mind that if anyone not in a magical blue costume had done that to another human they'd be facing at least manslaughter charges.
Does this mean that people ought to burn the city to the ground? No. But at what point do the citizens of this country come to the conclusion that this is not an isolated incident or rare thing; it is instead a pattern of intentional contempt for human decency and the protections allegedly afforded under the Constitution, petitioning for redress has failed, suing for money doesn't bring back the dead and the intentional destruction of people without cause, ending in their death by those in magical blue costumes must stop?
These events in Baltimore are not isolated. There is myriad evidence this sort of lawless conduct is not only endemic it facially appears to be formal and national policy.
The American Conservative:
Only a handful of conservatives have much to say about what policing ought to be like (although there is some hope that a Right On Crime approach will continue to find success in practice and support among voters.) Mostly, it seems like conservatives would rather go back to the era of “zero tolerance” policing under Martin O’Malley, when up to 100,000 arrests in a city of 636,000 people were made, precipitating a successful lawsuit from the NAACP and the ACLU. Despite costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives, decades after declaring a War on Drugs, it’s fairly safe to say that drugs are winning or have won. (Baltimore, to its credit, has put great effort into a less punitive drug court system that addresses some of this reality.) Conservatives also generally underestimate the degree to which police brutality is systemic, not anecdotal and have yet to commit to any program that holds police accountable. One of my patients who lives in the neighborhood showed me scars from his encounters with the police and described them as a “necessary evil” to keep drug dealers in check—often through stealing drugs or money from them. Stories of corruption are just frequent enough to make any police encounter a roll of the dice—everyone acknowledges that there are good cops who care about justice and will treat you fairly, but you never know if it’s one of them pulling you over.
From blogger Badtux the Snarky Penguin (language alert - much profanity):
Nonviolence worked for MLK Jr. because he had white allies, white allies who’d seen that apartheid and second class citizenship was wrong, white allies who were plentiful enough to get **** done at the national political level. But the black population of Baltimore — what allies do they got? Not the cops, the cops consider the black population of Baltimore to be porch monkeys, niggers, apes, whatever slur you want to talk about. Not the politicians, they’ve known about “black dog” runs for a long time, the city’s been sued over them dozens of times over the past two decades and paid out millions to people injured this way, the politicians don’t give a ****. What about the voters in Baltimore? You mean the same voters who keep putting those politicians who don’t give a **** into office? Yeah right. What about the Department of Justice? Suuuure, pull the other one, right?
So why *not* burn **** down? Will it distract people from the fact that cops in Baltimore can murder black men with impunity? But ****, people *already* don’t give a **** about the fact that cops in Baltimore can murder black men with impunity, so how can you make them care *less*?
Unless and until we address those realities, we're going to have more Fergusons and more Baltimores. Where will the next one happen? Your guess is as good as mine. I can only hope it won't be in my area, or any area through which I'm passing at the time.