I originally composed the following as a Facebook status on 29 April 2015.
I’m not going to sit here and defend the actions of the rioters in Baltimore, but I will say that I have some understanding as to why the riots have taken place. Baltimore has been a powder-keg for a long time, a once-beautiful, thriving city (“Charm City”) whose identity and prosperity has been bled out for decades through poverty, gentrification, drugs, violence, police misconduct, and municipal negligence. The people in Baltimore are vexed, cold, and hungry, and the controversial death of Freddie Gray while in police custody once again pushed the inner-city over the edge.
To make matters worse, media coverage has focused solely on those rioting in the streets, not the men and women who have engaged in nonviolent, peaceful protest. The media refer to these men and women as “thugs” and chide them for their actions, yet there was nary a condemning quip following the 2014 World Series, when Giants fans engaging in “revelry” (as the San Francisco Chronicle put it) burned couches and vandalized businesses (which resulted in 40 arrests and 2 shootings) or when fans celebrating The Ohio State University’s 2015 National Championship set 90 fires and tore down a goalpost. Apparently, as far as the media is concerned, a “riot” only takes place when a citizenry mobilizes in protest and frustration toward what they consider civil inequity. Though, it’s not as if the media seems to actually care about these injustices, as evident by Geraldo Rivera’s trip to Baltimore where he was called out by one of the citizens for Fox News’ lack of reporting on Baltimore’s economic woes and by Wolf Blitzer, who finds it “hard to believe this is going on in a major American city” and he “never anticipated seeing this in a city like Baltimore” and he doesn’t “remember seeing anything like this in the United States of America in a long time,” even though he was in Ferguson, Missouri a few months ago covering the maelstrom taking place following Mike Brown’s death.
So, we, as surveyors of the bedlam (a lot of us nowhere near it), sit at our computer screens and iPhones and tablets, shaking our fingers like mothers scolding their children — “violence doesn’t solve anything” — and talking among ourselves about how the purveyors of chaos in Baltimore should be ashamed of themselves, or how they are “fucking [period] stupid [period],” or we post redneck memes making light of the situation by stating “if a black cop shoots a white kid… I’m looting the hell out of Bass Pro.” Historically, violence has solved a lot, especially in the United States. As unfortunate as it is, the truth is the truth. Our revolution was not solely diplomatic — tens of thousands died for a cause many of us champion devoid of any form of criticism. Slavery was not abolished before 850,000 lost their lives in a civil war the institution assisted in causing. As a personal observation, I do not feel that Martin Luther King, Jr. and his philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience tilted civil rights for African-Americans on its own, as I firmly believe Malcolm X’s militant approach was necessary to achieve the goal.
Furthermore, despite our impressionable eyes glued to television screens and partisan click-bait, race riots in the United States occur with regularity. Ferguson in 2014. St. Petersburg in 1996. Los Angeles in 1992. Miami in 1980. Augusta in 1970. DC, Chicago, and Baltimore in 1968. Detroit in 1967. Watts in 1965. Men and women burning cars and looting businesses and getting in the face of police is nothing new, so it’s appalling and confounding that we, as a brazen populous observing reactions and aftermaths to problems of which we have no part, have the audacity to sit comfortably and criticize a population’s reaction to their own decades-long suffering. How impudent of us. How about, instead of rolling our eyes, clicking our tongues, shrugging, and making arrogant, condescending commentary about the riots, we have an actual conversation about the systemic and historical disenfranchisement African-American communities have faced in this country, instead of only paying attention to these parts of urban America when someone decides to torch a CVS.