Running with Scissors, the Baltimore Riots
There has been heated debate over the death of Freddie Gray and the resulting Baltimore tumult. Many have opined that the riots and disturbances were necessary in order to bring a sense of urgency to the problem of the police and African-American males as well as to ensure justice for Freddie. One in particular has argued that violence is a legitimate political tool. http://www.salon.com/2015/04/28/baltimores_violent_protesters_are_right_smashing_police_cars_is_a_legitimate_political_strategy/.
We however are of a different opinion, i.e., that the riots were both unnecessary and counterproductive. And we start the discussion with the following admissions.
First, we take judicial notice of the dire plight of substantial numbers of minority males many of whom are underemployed, uneducated, over incarcerated, hardly loved and shortly lived. We understand their lack of opportunity and their feelings of helplessness, abandonment and alienation. They are indeed targeted by a criminal justice system that converts them from people into commodities.
We further concede the not so benign neglect of Baltimore and other American inner cities and grant the injustice of Mr. Gray’s death. He apparently suffered a broken neck while left shackled at the feet and lying face down in a police van by officers who ignored his pleas as they made their rounds. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/05/01/many-questions-still-remain-in-death-freddie-gray/.
Police officers are sworn to serve and protect. However, this and similar incidents amply demonstrate that some officers are saddled with a callous indifference to and reckless disregard for human life. Regardless of how he died, irrespective of his past, Mr. Gray’s death while in police custody demands both justice and accountability.
Fortunately, those involved have been duly charged, one with murder, three with manslaughter and two with assault. Half of the officers are white, half are black and one is a woman. As the prosecuting attorney correctly stated, “no one is above the law. Id. This also includes the Baltimore rioters, contrary opinions notwithstanding.
Ours is a blind spot, a cultural deficit, an ethical lapse as deep as the Mariana Trench and wide as the Saragossa Sea. It is the notion that our historic mistreatment, our centuries of pain and suffering excuses our worst behavior. It is the tolerance, the acceptance of known criminality within our ranks; the idea that our history and current difficulty permits us to exploit and mistreat one another. And it is the belief that to admit, much less openly discuss this reality makes one a traitor.
This mindset does us no favors. It skews our vision and warps our thinking so that instead of solving problems we merely explain them; rather than work to make things better we assess fault and assign blame, usually if not always to others.
The sad reality is that African American’s are besieged by two non aligned but equally potent forces. The first is what others do to us. The second is what we do to ourselves. This is the unpleasant albeit fundamental truth regarding the black condition. For multiple reasons, regardless the legitimacy of the grievance, rioting, looting, vandalizing and arson diminish us and damage our cause.
This and similar violent, criminal and inherently dangerous behavior already plagues our communities. Moreover, said behaviors are not examples of power and resolve. They are instead signs of impotence and weakness.
The images of blacks rampaging through the city confirm the worst stereotypes about our people, thereby harming all African-Americans. And it provided yet another opportunity to criticize black leadership, e.g., President Obama (for allegedly worsening race relations), Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (for being too slow to quell the violence) and Maryland State Representative Catherine Pugh (for daring to hug a protestor).
Worse, the riots changed the entire Freddie Gray narrative and not for the better. When the story originally broke, ours was the moral high ground. But once the rioting started; as soon as the images of residents looting and vandalizing stores were broadcast the moral advantage was lost. Public perception and sympathy immediately shifted from the beleaguered community to “the courageous valiant police struggling to maintain law and order against the rampaging horde.”
Advocating violence even if initially directed at inanimate objects like police cars is playing with dynamite. Once the fuse is lit the resulting eruption can neither be controlled nor contained. It will instead explode in ways that are terrible and unintended with collateral damage that is often irreversible. You cannot un-shot an innocent bystander. You cannot bring a victim of arson back to life.
What is most ironic is that the rioting was completely unnecessary. Due in large part to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Walter Scott, Eric Harris and others, we were already winning the “police versus us” public relations war. And like the Walter Scott matter, given what we already know, the offending officers would have been charged in Mr. Gray’s demise absent the carnage.
In conclusion, for many African-Americans, ours is a state of survival, the first rule of which is to do nothing which makes your condition worse. The second rule of survival is to do all that you can to improve your situation.
We did not win the Civil Rights Movement with violence and violence will not prevail now. What is instead required is the type of love and courage exhibited by the mother who recognized her masked child amongst the protestors and chastised him appropriately and the son for having the good sense to neither disagree with nor raise his hand to his mother. If only other Baltimore parents and their children had followed suit.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum