Baltimore, Maryland, saw severe rioting yesterday as the family of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black American citizen who died in police custody, held a funeral for their loved one. Several police officers were hurt, many civilians were hurt as well and about two dozen were arrested. Looting and arson were part of the mix, and the governor has called out the National Guard. The only surprise in all of this is that some people are acting surprised.
Save for details of time, place and participants, the story is the same as Ferguson, Missouri’s unrest. Mr. Gray was arrested, while in custody, his spinal chord was severed (hardly the kind of injury to be self-inflicted), and he died seven days later. Local resentment of the police tactics used in various neighborhoods finally boiled over. The police, not knowing how to deal with the situation, and a political establishment that has failed the city botched their response from the moment Mr. Gray was pronounced dead. The arrival of the National Guard was inevitable.
Governor Larry Hogan (a Republican) explained, “I did not make this decision lightly. The National Guard represents a last resort in order to restore order. People have the right to protest and express their frustration, but Baltimore City families deserve peace and safety in their communities, and these acts of violence and destruction of property canot and will not be tolerated.”
Major General Linda Singh, who is head of the Guard in the state, said the governor, “has access to our full compliment that’s here within the state, which means up to about 5,000 troops that can be put onto the streets to protect property and people. I would highly recommend that we all go in and take cover for the night and actually go to sleep and get some rest and let things settle down so that we can restore order to the city.” She went on to deny that this meant the city was under martial law. As a legal matter, that might be true, but the city is now de facto occupied. The Humphrey Appleby Rule from “Yes, Minister” applies; “never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”
Baltimore has always been a rough town, like all ports. Shipping is a tough business for tough people, and towns like that don’t necessarily worry about wearing white after Labor Day and which fork to use for the fish course. For fifty years, at least, jobs and the income that goes with them have been leaving Baltimore and places like it. Some people, those with skills, have left for greener pastures, leaving behind a large population with little hope.
Racial tensions always increase as economic prospects decline. Let economic prospects decline for a lifetime, and it’s no surprise that there is racial tension in Baltimore. One black man dying in police custody from an injury he couldn’t easily do to himself, and violence was almost guaranteed.
Rioting is, of course, completely useless at best and counterproductive at worst. That it is understandable does not make it excusable. By the same token, recent history shows that the media and the country doesn’t pay much attention to peaceful protests. Former Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t go to Ferguson until there was violence. No one paid much attention to Freddie Gray’s death outside of Baltimore until yesterday’s rioting. Sometimes one party to a dispute doesn’t realize there even is a dispute until it gets hit with a brick.
Clearly, there is a problem in America with the way policing is done. People shouldn’t die in police custody. Civilians shouldn’t fear an encounter with the police could end in death. The police shouldn’t be afraid of the people they are to serve and protect. Yet, people do die and both sides fear the other.
That is the crux of the matter — “both sides.” There should only be one side. In an ideal situation, the police and the population would work hand in hand to reduce crime, fix social problems and protect each other and the rights and property of all. This journal isn’t entirely sure of where to begin, but the problem is there for all to see. Now, all must admit that the problem exists. Only then is there a hope of a solution.