Regarding the violence in Baltimore, I defer to Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. 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. (â€œThe blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.â€) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (â€œBitch, you ainâ€™t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.â€) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (â€œThey slammed me down on my face,â€ Brown added, her voice cracking. â€œThe skin was gone on my face.”)
This is the significant part, for me:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
If history is our guide, no good will come from the violence in Baltimore. The people who will suffer most are those in the burned-out neighborhoods who lack the resources to move out.Â I disagree with this guy, who argues that the violence is a legitimate political strategy. I don’t see strategy; I just see reaction. It’s understandable reaction, but as Coates says, “wisdom isn’t the point tonight.” Violence may be wrong, but maybe non-violence is wrong, too, in a different way. It’s hard to know.
Nonviolence as a tactic works when it creates sympathy for your side, and when people see you being nonviolent in the face of unreasonable oppression and violence. It works when state troopers attack peaceful marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, for example. But when the violence to citizens mostly happens out of sight, nonviolence by itself may be less effective.
Baltimore is not Ferguson and its primary problems are not racial. The mayor, city council president, police chief, top prosecutor, and many other city leaders are black, as is half of Baltimoreâ€™s 3,000-person police force.Â The city has many prominent black churches and a line of black civic leadership extending back to Frederick Douglass.
Yet, the gaping disparities separating the haves and the have nots in Baltimore are as large as they are anywhere. And, as the boys on the street will tell you, black cops can be hell on them, too.
If this is so, where is the remedy? I honestly don’t know.
That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one nightâ€™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 Americanâ€™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.
Something to think about.
What doesn’t have to be thought about is Rand Paul. There was plenty of tone-deaf cluelessness this week, but he may take the prize.
“I came through the train on Baltimore (sic) last night, I’m glad the train didn’t stop,” he said, laughing, during an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.
This guy thinks he ought to be President, remember. He’d be another Dubya.
Railing against what he repeatedly called “thuggery and thievery” in the streets of Baltimore, Paul told Ingraham that talking about “root causes” was not appropriate in the middle of a riot.
“The police have to do what they have to do, and I am very sympathetic to the plight of the police in this,” he said.
As far as root causes, Paul listed some ideas of his own.
“There are so many things we can talk about,” the senator said, “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of a moral code in our society.”
He added that “this isn’t just a racial thing.”
Utter. Abject. Cluelessness. This guy should not only be kept out of the White House; he shouldn’t be in elected office at any level.