Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Quit Telling Us To Burn Down Baltimore

Large group of volunteers cleaning up burnt CVS in Baltimore, Photo by J Jouvenal, Baltimore Sun (click to enlarge)

I live in Baltimore. I was one block away from Mondawmin Mall at 3:30 yesterday. I live three blocks from the mayhem that ensued on Greenmount Avenue last night. I know what political activism is. I applaud the peaceful, non-violent protesters and demonstrators in this city, who have been extraordinarily disciplined while still being active. They were active Saturday night. They personally stopped attempted destruction Saturday night. 

The rioters yesterday are not "protesters" or "demonstrators." They are opportunistic jerks who are brutalizing the very neighborhoods that are already routinely brutalized by the police. They are burning and looting the very stores where their parents and neighbors work, and on which they depend for everyday needs. They are handing the racist, authoritarian power structure in this country a gift on a silver platter. 

Yes, there is endemic poverty, outrageous police brutality, deliberate, policy-driven unemployment and injustice in this city and this country. All that is true, as I wrote yesterday. And burning down the city isn't the answer.

Having watched young men -- mostly young men, of all races, colors, and classes -- brawl all my life, over the most stupid shit, I also know that many of them are just looking for an opportunity to fight. So does Brandon Soderberg of City Paper

I won't name the name of a prominent man in this city, someone who represents himself as a civil rights activist, who told me in person that in the 1960s, he and his buddies went downtown to join a riot. They pulled a cop off his horse and beat him up, paralyzing him. This guy's family had money; they settled with the cop, avoiding jail. When I asked him why he did that, how it happened, how what I thought was an accident happened, he replied: "We just wanted to bust some heads." He told me this himself. I'll never forget it.

Look at Detroit. How did the riots of the '60s help that city? Huge swaths there -- and in Baltimore -- have never recovered from those riots. Last night, in one of the most blighted parts of the city, where local investment has finally, finally started to trickle in, an enormous housing structure for seniors was set aflame. It was erected by local black businesspeople who want something better for their community. And rioters burned it to the ground. Then the wind carried the embers from that blaze to nearby rowhouses, thus destroying those people's homes, too. Big accomplishment, huh?

At another fire, rioters cut the goddamn fire hose! They cut the fire hose that firefighters were using, said firefighters risking their lives, I might add, since they're also often attacked in these circumstances. Ask the residents of those neighborhoods if they're on board with their houses being burned down.

The heroes are the Nation of Islam men and black ministers and ordinary citizens who marched into the belly of the beast last night, who put themselves between the looters and businesses, between rioters and cops, and who talked them down. They put themselves in danger. And this morning, all over the city, volunteers are cleaning up the destruction. I watched a mother on TV yesterday slapping and berating her son and telling him to get the hell off the street, to stop his stupid destructive shit. (UPDATE: She has since been identified as Toya Graham.)

The police report is due Friday, May 1st. We're bracing ourselves. The fact that it's taking so long for the cops to square their story tells me they're scrambling for probable cause, and they don't have any. I want to see charges brought against the police who, in my opinion, murdered Freddie Gray. That doesn't mean I want to see the city burn.

Fuck everyone who exhorts others to violence, especially from the comfort and safety of their computers. I want to see you in the streets, with your faces uncovered, throwing cinder blocks into stores, setting fires to your neighbors' businesses, attacking random pedestrians. I live in Charles Village, in the heart of the city. Will it satisfy you to come to my house, and those of my neighbors, and break in? Will that accomplish your goals? 

With your twisted, careless, cowardly rhetoric, you spit on the thousands of hardworking, dedicated, true civil rights leaders and citizens in this city. And you spit on the memory of Freddie Gray. You're disgusting.