Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baltimore's Freddie Gray Riots: U.S. Thuggishness Comes Home to Roost

There is something that seems not quite right in the explanation of why Baltimore police mustered in force the day of Freddie Gray's funeral. In her front-page story, "Baltimore Enlists National Guard and a Curfew to Fight Riots and Looting," Sheryl Gay Stolberg says the decision was based on rumor and a flyer posted on social media:
The police said early in the day that they had received a “credible threat” that members of various gangs, including the Black Guerrilla Family, Bloods and Crips, had “entered into a partnership to ‘take out’ law enforcement officers.” But officers kept a low profile in the neighborhood during Mr. Gray’s funeral. The police also said that a flier circulated on social media called for a period of violence on Monday afternoon to begin at the Mondawmin Mall and move toward City Hall downtown.
Warned by the police of possible violence, the University of Maryland campus in downtown Baltimore closed early, as did the Mondawmin Mall. The Orioles postponed their home game against the Chicago White Sox. The Baltimore police vowed the authorities would take “appropriate measures” to keep officers and the neighborhood safe. 
“You’re going to see tear gas. You’re going to see pepper balls. We’re going to use appropriate methods to make sure we can preserve the safety of that community,” a spokesman, Capt. J. Eric Kowalczyk, said at a news conference. Fifteen police officers were injured, some with broken bones, and one was unresponsive, according to the department.
Well, the "appropriate methods" -- tear gas, pepper balls -- didn't keep the community safe. Parts of Baltimore burned last night, despite a curfew being declared by the mayor. The National Guard, called out by Maryland's governor, now patrols the streets with rifles drawn (Richard Oppel and Stephen Babcok, "Morning Brings Wail of Fire Engines in Wake of Baltimore Riots").

A display of force in a community by ninja-clad, armor-wearing police firing off tear gas and pepper spray never works to keep the peace. It didn't work in Hong Kong to tamp down the pro-Democracy protests, nor in Kiev on the Maidan. People in charge know it doesn't work to keep the peace. What they know is that it sends a message, and that message is that I am stronger than you are. I am the biggest thug on the block.

Keep that in mind when you hear "thug" thrown around in the wake of the Freddie Gray Baltimore riots. Freddie Gray was murdered in police custody; his neck was broken and his larynx crushed. Yet it is people like Freddie Gray, young men living in the Gilmor Homes of Baltimore, who are labeled "thugs" by the mayor of Baltimore and the governor of Maryland.

As Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes,
Also among the mourners [at the Gray funeral service] were Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and chief of the N.A.A.C.P.; three aides to President Obama; and several family members of others killed by the police in various parts of the country, including Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, a man who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold last year on Staten Island. She said she had come “to stand with the family of Freddie Gray. It’s unfortunate, but I feel we have a connection.” In his eulogy, Mr. Bryant [Pastor Jamal Bryant of the Empowerment Temple] spoke of the plight of poor, young black men like Mr. Gray, living “confined to a box” made up of poor education, lack of job opportunities and racial stereotypes — “the box of thinking all black men are thugs and athletes and rappers.”
Sure enough, at the beginning of Stolberg's article, you have the white Republican governor of Maryland and the black mayor of Baltimore both invoking the talisman-like term "thug" to dismiss the riots yesterday:
In Washington, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, on her first day on the job, briefed President Obama, who in turn called Governor Hogan. Mr. Hogan said the president urged him to have law enforcement officers exercise restraint, and he assured the president they would. “But,” the governor added, “I assured him we weren’t going to stand by and allow our city of Baltimore to be taken over by thugs.”
City officials said schools would be closed on Tuesday for the safety of children. At City Hall, Ms. Rawlings-Blake, sounding exhausted and exasperated after days of appealing for calm, announced that a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew would be imposed for a week beginning on Tuesday. The city already has a curfew for juveniles under age 17.
“Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs,” she said. “I’m at a loss for words. It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city that you’re going to make life better for anybody.” The police said that at least 27 people had been arrested.
But the important takeaway from Stolberg's piece is this: the #Black Lives Matter uprising will not die down anytime soon.
It was the second time in six months that a state called out the National Guard to enforce order in a city shaken by violence after a black man died in an encounter with police. Missouri deployed the guard in Ferguson in August after a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, and then again in November when violence greeted the news that a grand jury had not indicted the officer who shot Mr. Brown.
At a late night news conference, the Baltimore police commissioner, Anthony W. Batts, noted that Ferguson is a much smaller city than Baltimore, which covers 80 square miles. “We were pulled so thin,” he said, adding, “We had opposite ends of the city pulling us at the same time.”
Policing is a bigoted and thuggish profession with an institutional memory that knows nothing but racism and violence.

And that is the United States in a nutshell. From the genocide of the American Indians and the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade to the crimes against humanity in Yemen and the re-militarization of Japan, the United States raison d'etre is first and last to be the biggest thug on the block.

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