Three lessons from the Baltimore rioting, aftermath

AP_FreddieGray_150425_CC_16x9_992

The sight of riots, looting and burning buildings in a major U.S. city, in this case Baltimore, is largely unfamiliar to younger generations of Americans, and a frightening reminder of even-more-troubled times for their parents and grandparents. But if possible, let’s try to move past the more sensational aspects of the case and talk it through:

1.) What’s it all about?

The simple explanation is that this crisis was touched off by the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man who was taken into custody and handcuffed by Baltimore police, but who later died from injuries somehow sustained in a police van. And while we still don’t know how that particular death occurred, we do know that the issue of criminal violence perpetrated by some in law-enforcement is all too real. With the recent string of videotaped, highly questionable and even outrageous police shootings, what was once possible to dismiss has become too well-documented to ignore. Too many such incidents are not fictions invented by enemies of the police; they are real and disturbing.

As we have also learned in recent months, we have no real data on police-related deaths, and thus no good way to judge the severity of the problem.  If it seems to be getting worse, it might be because evidence is only now becoming publicly available. And as they teach MBA candidates in business school, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

In fact, given how data-intensive we have become in every other aspect of our micro-measured lives, you have to wonder whether the reason that we don’t know is because we have chosen not to know.

We do know that in a survey of major police departments by the New York Times, fatal police encounters in Baltimore over the past two decades were double what they have been in other, similar-sized departments. That’s deeply problematic. And last September, a major investigation by the Baltimore Sun revealed a disturbing record of physical abuse by Baltimore police that had cost the city more than $10 million in settlements and legal fees:

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”

The financial toll would have been much higher without a $200,000 per-case limit on damages under Maryland law. And again, charges against the victims of those police beatings were dismissed in almost every case. In other words, these weren’t criminals who were being apprehended, and the evidence in the more than 100 cases in question was so clear-cut that the city either settled the case or lost in a jury trial. That suggests the existence of many other cases where the victim did not dare pursue court action or the evidence wasn’t strong enough to overcome the justice system’s inclination to support law enforcement.

So ask yourself? At what point in your own community would you rise up against such a system? Dr. Martin Luther King abhorred violence, on moral grounds as well as practical. He always counseled to meet violence with non-violence. But he also understood it as a raw form of communication. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as he put it.

2.) Does that in any way excuse the violent behavior of rioters and looters?

No, it does not. The individuals involved should be arrested and prosecuted. Destruction of property and attacks on police officers should not be tolerated. As King also noted, “The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it.” Rioting invites defeat, he said, and while it offers an emotional catharsis, that catharsis “must be followed by a sense of futility.”

Those in Baltimore viewing the smoldering, riot-damaged areas of their city this morning know that “sense of futility” described by King, and they know that whatever the answer, it does not involve arson, assault and other criminal behavior. Community leaders across the spectrum in Baltimore, including the family of Freddie Gray, have united in that message.

It’s important to point out that while we have no head count of those who turned to violence, at this point they would appear to be no more than a few hundred. That’s a considerably smaller number than the thousands who had participated in the previous two weeks in a series of peaceful marches and rallies demanding an answer in the death of Freddie Gray.

And if we are to attribute illegal police violence to the work of rogue officers who do not represent most in their profession — and we should — then we should also be willing to acknowledge that those who rioted and looted represent only a small, tiny fraction of those who live in their communities.

3.) Could such a thing happen here in Atlanta?

We would like to think that the answer is no. We would like to think that this region’s civic, faith-based, law-enforcement and political leadership is strong enough to withstand that kind of challenge. We would like to think that we’ve built the trust and the lines of communication needed to ensure that people can be heard, so that frustration won’t turn into violence. We’d like to believe that the nonviolent legacy of Dr. King still means something here.

Until Saturday night, a lot of people in Baltimore may have told themselves much the same thing.

But drive through some of the poorer sections of metro Atlanta, through areas that are invisible to most of those reading this, and you too may begin to have some doubts. Statistics do nothing to dissuade those doubts. In one recent study, for example, metro Atlanta was ranked highest in the country in income inequality, more than twice the national average; Baltimore wasn’t in the Top Ten.

A separate recent study concludes that the Atlanta metro area ranks last in the country in economic mobility, behind even Detroit. Upward mobility in metro Atlanta — defined as the ability of a child in the lowest-earning 20 percent to rise into the highest-earning bracket — is less than half what it is in cities such as Houston, Boston, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, and it’s low for white as well as black Atlanta residents.

Why? In metro Atlanta, researchers found, poverty tends to be geographically concentrated, and bad traffic and a truncated mass-transit system make it difficult for poor residents to break out of those neighborhoods to reach jobs. And if you think of the problem as an inner-city problem, your perspective on metro Atlanta is badly out of date.

In Cobb County, 45 percent of school children are now eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, up from 16 percent back in 1994. In Gwinnett County, it’s gone from 12.2 percent to 55.7 percent over those same two decades. And in Clayton, it’s doubled from 45 percent to 95 percent.

None of that means that riots are going to break out, either in those communities or elsewhere in metro Atlanta. But what we’ve learned in Ferguson and now Baltimore is that in a volatile situation, all it can take is a spark — even an unjustified spark — to make things explode. And you can never tell where or when that spark might come.

In short, the roots of this problem run deeper than the death of Freddie Gray, and deeper even than police violence. Likewise, the solutions are much more difficult and complex than merely enforcing the law and tossing criminals into prison. That doesn’t mean that such steps aren’t necessary and justified; it means that they won’t be sufficient.

In discussing such issues, Dr. King liked to turn to a quote from Victor Hugo, taken in turn from his novel “Les Miserable”:

“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not merely he who commits the sin but he who causes the darkness.”

 

Reader Comments 0

1569 comments
AimHighVet
AimHighVet

Another BS article by the AJC's king of BS. Once again...jay does what jay does best...placing blame before the facts come out. 


No wonder you are still an opinion writer. Joke's on you again jay. 

ericzundel
ericzundel

I've been following the Mass Incarceration issue for the last few years.   I read this article yesterday and felt that it really did provide a lot more depth than most of the reporting I've read about the events in Baltimore, hopefully opening up more eyes to the fact there really is something to be upset about in the way our people are being treated by the criminal justice system.

sharpie12
sharpie12

We must look beyond the physical evidence of the racism that affects African Americans. I tried for over a year to get your paper to feature the Bean Pie, an extremely popular pastry produced by African American Muslims nationwide. Though I've read about virtually every pastry produced in the world, regardless of how limited it's exposure, the AJC has given them a full exposure in it's Food Section. I was told by the Editor, Ken Riley, that the reason the paper would. It feature the Bean Pie is because it is a regional treat. This after I provided data to show that the Bean Pie is a national treat which crosses racial, and religious lines when it comes to those who enjoy it. Earlier this year I pointed out to the paper (including the editor) that the new Civil and Human Rights Center that opened in downtown Atlanta discriminates against African American an Muslims by essentially writing them out of the history of the struggle for freedom in this country. So the paper seems to take the position that if it doesn't report on something, it really doesn't exist.

Sabir Muhammad

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Plus, I do not need to defend Hillary Clinton's value.  You will find out for yourselves in time.  Just as you will find out Barack Obama's value to our great nation, in time.

BeeJay
BeeJay

@MaryElizabethSings Well, having read this, I now wish I had not bothered to respond to any of your posts. Madam Clinton has no value as an American leader and I cringe at her deviousness and all-out "I'll say anything" in order to get elected as the first female president.  People with goals like hers, with the motives for those goals like hers, are by far the worst we could ever have in power.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I just read the many responses to my various posts below.  My response, here, is to one and all who responded to my posts.  I noticed that you are all men.  I also noticed that you are all full of harsh judgment of others.  If you only had more care for others, you might see with wiser eyes.


If rival gang members joined together to help the police, as they did last evening in Baltimore, to help in causing the potential rioters to go home, as they did, then yes, their actions should be admired.  To continue to condemn them is to see in stereotypes only.  Stereotypical thinking is at the heart of America's problems. Insight and care are the beginnings of finding, together, the solutions to those problems.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@MaryElizabethSings 

"If rival gang members joined together to help the police, as they did last evening, to help in causing the potential rioters to go home, as they did, then yes, their actions should be admired. "

ROFLMAO.  The BLACK gangs directed the BLACK rioters away from BLACK businesses and redirected them toward Asian and Indian owned businesses.

These idiots don't have enough sense to come up with tactics such as this on their own. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lee_CPA2 


That was never mentioned last evening on CNN, only compliments as to how well these gang members had served their communities by taking a positive leadership role in asking those who were deliberately breaking the 10 p.m. curfew to go home.  And, they did go home.  It was a model performance by the police, the National Guard, the community leaders, and the gang members coming together to make a positive statement and stand to support the police within their communities.


BeeJay
BeeJay

@MaryElizabethSings I responded to something you posted and I am not a man. Not sure how you can tell.  Seems to me you might also be suffering from stereotypical thinking.

omh
omh

Could this happen in Atlanta?...seriously, on the anniversary of the last riot that's the question?


http://www.myajc.com/gallery/news/1992-atlantas-rodney-king-riots/gCMtX/

Atlanta saw a violent reaction to the Rodney King verdict, which was announced on April 29, 1992 in Los Angeles. Demonstrators in Atlanta began to assemble that evening, with police first calling in reports at 2 a.m. on April 30. Clashes with police officers heated up later throughout the day in the heart of Atlanta's downtown.

Maggot_Man
Maggot_Man

@omh Anything is possible if there are any QTs & CVSs nearby.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@omh 

I was there, caught in the middle of it.  But it wasn't what I would call a "riot." Downtown businesses and schools closed early.  There was some vandalizing of Underground Atlanta, and some of the Asian-owned groceries around Atlanta U. A parade of shouting students from the Atlanta U. complex marched to downtown and through Five Points. Some white businessmen downtown unlucky enough to walk out of work into it were chased and beaten up. But no widespread looting, no burning. Marta kept running throughout, both buses and trains, and that's how I got home. No, not what I would call a riot.

BeeJay
BeeJay

Could this happen in Atlanta? The mayor says no, because we are lucky to have Andrew Young, John Lewis, and Joseph Lowery.  Now I'm not sure how the presence of three men can stop hundreds who choose to loot and vandalize and assault, particularly three whom I've never heard speak out against some of the recent awful violence.  Silence is usually taken as acquiescence, yes?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Hillary Clinton is right now speaking on the violence regarding race in America, on CNN.

Numbers_R_Us
Numbers_R_Us

I see Donald Trump finally declared President Obama to be African American instead of Kenyan and all it took was a riot to convince him.  Who says you need a birth certificate to convince the Donald.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Yes_Jesus_Can

That is Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States of America, who called them "thugs"

What an original line of argument.

alexander2
alexander2

@Visual_Cortex @Yes_Jesus_Can  Racialization of "thug" is absurd. "Thug" has no racial preference except in the biased mind. We have all met or heard about thugs of all persuations and colors.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Yes_Jesus_Can 

Obama was referring to the looters, not the demonstrators. Big difference. The looters followed the demonstrators.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

 The War on Poverty was doing fine until the new American age of Greed and Self-Centeredness became a way of life in the mid-seventies and then those programs and that national thrust to eliminate poverty, started by LBJ, ceased to exist, thanks to conservative Republicans and their selfish and extreme ideology and the money and power behind that Libertarian ideology.

Mary Elizabeth,

You mean to say that the 70's were the era of "Greed" and "Self-Centeredness".  Really?  It's difficult to take you seriously. 

What were the sixties then, huh?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3Whtv6HqyI

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

No one should be calling them "thugs". Those who engage in that kind of language create the problems of society. They do not solve the problems of society. "Thug" has become the new word for "n*gger," but, as usual, you are just as bad because you want to divide people, not heal people, with your thoughts which are reflected through your language.

Besides, Mary, where is our great healing president in all of this matter showing us how to act, behave and love? 

He healing anybody, as you suggest, or is he taking political advantage of the situation? 

straker
straker

Mary - "those who engage in that kind of language create the problems of society"


So if we stop calling them thugs, will they stop looting and burning?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@straker 


The War on Poverty was doing fine until the new American age of Greed and Self-Centeredness became a way of life in the mid-seventies and then those programs and that national thrust to eliminate poverty, started by LBJ, ceased to exist, thanks to conservative Republicans and their selfish and extreme ideology and the money and power behind that Libertarian ideology.


Now, many are buying into the conservatives' false propaganda about the value of those War on Poverty Programs.  Think for yourself.  There does not have to "always be a permanent underclass" any more than there always had to be slaves or segregated schools.  The choice is ours.  The scary thing is that it is growing, as you stated, through the neglect of our values and moral focus of the last 45 years.  We must start putting care and money back into helping the poor in America, as was started by the people of America under LBJ a half century ago, and was aborted early by the Koch Brothers, corporate heads, ALEC, and all the other forces of conservatism in America in the last decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@straker 


If I had called some of my students "thugs", I would have lost them (and all of the other students in my high school classes) for the school year.  And, my reputation for bias and prejudice would have followed me through word-of-mouth into subsequent years.  I would have lost the impact of everything I had wished to accomplish because the students would know that I judged them negatively, instead of caring about them. (I found that students live up to your expectations of them.)  I would never have seen any student that I had a "thug" no matter how bad his/her behavior.  I would always have called him or her a "student."  The name these rioters should have been called is what they were, without negatively editorializing them: "rioters."  See below, how to solve these problems, not with names but with programs, and programs over and beyond educational improvement, alone.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

@MaryElizabethSings @straker 

Hard to imagine how to do this Mary. 

It's about money then?  ....and care?

How much money and how much care do we need Mary?  ---because we're spending quite a lot of money now--far more than ever. 

Maybe you know about "CARE" and would be glad to explain it to us. 

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

@straker 

On the contrary.  They were looting before the first pundit called them anything. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Yes_Jesus_Can 


Our taxes and our government programs have been cut to the bone so that we cannot even maintain our bridges and roads, so that we certainly do not have enough money to invest in human beings, our poorer American citizens.  You have simply believed the false propaganda.


One can never have too much care for others.  Care is simply empathy.  If you don't have empathy, you should not be a teacher, and you should not be a public servant, including politicians. Thanks to conservative ideology, America is becoming a nation of cynics (which selfishness produces) instead of becoming a nation of citizens who have empathy for our less fortunate.  But, we can turn this around.

JKLtwo
JKLtwo

@MaryElizabethSings @straker What do every major slum in the US have in common?  Decades of Democrat rule.  Maybe you should try listening to the Republicans instead of following your Democrat unicorns.


The war on poverty has been a failure because socialism has never work, ever, in the history of man.

bu2
bu2

@MaryElizabethSings @straker 

The thugs are already lost.  That is, unless their mama grabs them by the shoulder and straightens them out like that one Baltimore woman did.  I don't think she used real kind words.

ByteMe
ByteMe

So this is devolving into: "To call them thugs or not to call them thugs, that is the question."

Really, how trivial.

ByteMe
ByteMe

@Soothsayer2 'bout damn time.  Where's Eduktr?  he likes to comment on those articles from his glass house.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Here's a CNN video of Erin Burnett and Baltimore City Council member debating the use of the word, "thug," which the City Council member says is equivalent to calling them "n*gg*rs," and a further discussion of the underlying problems that have created the racial/poverty problems in Baltimore.  Only a minute and a half long.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94Unzb42NzI

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@td1234 


No one should be calling them "thugs".  Those who engage in that kind of language create the problems of society.  They do not solve the problems of society. "Thug" has become the new word for "n*gger," but, as usual, you are just as bad because you want to divide people, not heal people, with your thoughts which are reflected through your language.

KUTGF
KUTGF

@td1234 Those people are able to watch these shows and commentary and to become educated.  They don't have to repeat the stupidity of the 1950s and 1960s where leaders regularly used the N word. 


I don't often agree with fake TV doctors but Dr. Phil seems to have gotten this part right: 

They understand that there has been a breakdown of the system, they understand that there is an abuse of power here, they understand that there has been a miscarriage of justice and they are angrily upset and protesting,” the celebrity doctor noted. “There’s all kinds of people out there.”

Kilmeade asserted that it was time for people to stop “uprising” and instead take advantage of the same opportunities that his children had.

“This is like the fourth major inner city uprising, and we keep saying where’s the character, where are the parents, where’s the opportunity, where are the role models?” Kilmeade declared. “How long are we going to keep saying, ‘Where are they and what can be done to change this?’ Because those kids have the same potential as your kids and our kids.”

“I’m not sure that’s true,” McGraw replied. “They may have the same potential, but I’m not sure they have the same opportunities because the fact is the school system is not necessarily the same, the resources are not necessarily the same, the leadership that they have from the parents because of the generational pass-throughs are not the same. There’s no question that they have a steep hill and a tough row to hoe.”

_________________


td, your continued childishness and documented racism does not help but it does continue your "glee"

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

@MaryElizabethSings @td1234 

Mary E,

If you were someone whom I thought would listen to reason I'd tell you that scandal is the only things the left thrives on these days and whatever someone calls you, it is up to you to determine what you think about yourself and what you do.  No one should be under the illusion that they are a victim because someone else has called them a name at some point in their lives.  If we thought this way, we would all be in bed mentally sick and feeling sorry for ourselves. 

td1234
td1234

@MaryElizabethSings Go tell that to the Mayor, police chef and Obama who all used the exact same term to describe the rioters and looters. 

BeeJay
BeeJay

@MaryElizabethSings @td1234 You're wrong, but it helps create more hot hate, more adversity, more division, and lots of people are striving to do just that. Can't wait for Al Sharpton, fake reverend, to weigh in.

popacorn
popacorn

Call em whatever you want, a rose by any other name...

If the shoe fits, wear it. 



bu2
bu2

@BeeJay @MaryElizabethSings @td1234 


Yes.  My immediate image of "thug" is a Chicago mobster from the 30s.  So she links someone promoting hate, adversity and division by claiming its the equivalent of the "N" word.