Baltimore Is Burning - Again
April 29, 2015
One of the greatest ironies of the riot in Baltimore is the cry of many city officials and dignitaries that “outside agitators” were responsible for turning peaceful demonstrations into violent confrontations with the police. “Outside agitators” was the clarion call used by white officials in the sixties to deny the existence of problems in their communities and the willingness of their citizens to attack those problems. When Freedom Riders came to Birmingham to register voters in 1962, for example, Bull Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety concluded that the “trouble” was due to “outside meddlers” rather than due to the damaged hopes and desires of the Birmingham’s black residents.
Now as then, the facts contradicted this narrative. First, it is not clear what the boundaries are inside of which people are trespassing. Philadelphia, for example, may not be inside the city limits of Baltimore, but it is within the United States and its citizens are freely permitted to visit, travel through, and relocate to Baltimore. Second, as eyewitness accounts now make clear, some of the “agitators” were high school students who were annoyed that the police had irresponsibly and amateurishly cut off local transportation and stranded students far from their homes. Frustrated and trapped, these young people reacted in less than appropriate ways.
Still, why did the a riot occur during demonstrations for information about and redress of Freddie Gray’s death, when similar deaths involving police actions did not lead to the public outcry? Part of it is surely due to the circumstances as so many now know them. These circumstances include the arrest of someone for no known crime and his death by what must have been a horrifically painful severed spine. A video recording captured his limp body being dragged into the van and allowed us to see and hear his agony. One cannot have seen and heard that video without feeling pain yourself.
The demonstrators recognize that if Freddie Gray could die under such circumstances, then they could face a similar fate. The death of Freddie Gray has awakened a sense of brotherhood in the hearts of all those demonstrating for justice. Another irony is that snatched from the sixties was the sense that all blacks were in the same boat and subject to the same deprivations and threats.
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