Affirmation is narcotic. Having your thoughts cosigned by like-minded people sparks a warmth inside that can’t be replicated. Not even with the cheapest bourbon on the shelf.
This must be why the majority of commentary on the Ferguson riots last year and the Baltimore riots this year sounds so uniform to me. It feels like I’m hearing two distinct voices coming from millions of people. All those beautiful snowflakes in the world, and they’re beginning to sound like each other.
The coverage on both Ferguson and Baltimore is more of an indictment against our mainstream media, especially our major news outlets that operate on 24-hour cycles and pander to the lowest common denominator. I can’t trust every alternative news outlet either, because who knows how drunk they are on their own personal agendas and beliefs. When it feels like both CNN and MSNBC are coming from one echo chamber, and Fox News and Breitbart are coming from the other, It’s extremely hard to get reliable information on the ground.
I’ve only found a few commentators who are coming from a place of sanity. David Simon is one. Ta-Nehisi Coates is another. They’re not prophets scribing down gospels, but they take more care to consider the other side and present honest arguments in an event where spitting passion sells more ad space than nuance.
Behind all the slapfighting and bar noise of the punditry on Baltimore, there are only a handful of truths I’ve managed to boil down*.
(*Disclaimer: I’m no more qualified to speak on this matter than anybody else. I’m a functioning alcoholic in San Francisco who’s never visited Baltimore and grew up in a middle class suburb in Silicon Valley.)
1. Freddie Gray died in police custody. He was arrested over a “humble,” which is Baltimore parlance for a minor charge that others would recognize as a citation. In this case, this “humble” was running from a police officer after he made eye contact with him*.
(*I know it’s natural to fall back on the argument of “But why did he run? Of course they’d chase him down and arrested him if he ran.” All Gray had on him was a pocketknife, and there isn’t a shred of evidence or testimony that says he was doing anything suspicious or illegal outside of running away from a cop. I think that says more about the current state of affairs between Baltimore’s inner city and the Baltimore Police Department.)
2. In the last few years, the Baltimore Police Department has paid out over $5.3 million dollars in settlements towards complainants of police brutality. Another truth is that this number is not definitive of the entire scope of police misconduct in Baltimore during the same period.
3. The BPD (and for that matter, the Ferguson and St. Louis County Police) is not wholly representative of every police department in this country. On the same note, the actions of the rioting minority are not representative of Baltimore’s inner city. You can paint with a broad brush in any color, but if you only use that broad brush, you’re going to come out with a shitty picture.
4. Despite all the documented injuries against Baltimore’s inner city by the BPD, there is absolutely no justification for angry protestors to devolve into looting rioters. It’s understandable that there is rage. I too have read MLK’s quote that’s being bandied around, where “riots are the language of the unheard.” But that doesn’t excuse ruining the lives of innocent people to get a message across. That also doesn’t excuse the damage being done in the name of their neighbors and their community. I understand why the riots have happened, but they’re still a crime that deserves investigation and prosecution, the same way that Freddie Gray’s death deserves*.
(*Spare me the cynicism of “Well Freddie Gray will never get justice.” Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that points to the contrary, justice is blind. If we accept the skewed rules of American justice that are currently in place, then we’ll never return to the actual standard of American justice we should be abiding by.)
I understand that the deep underlying issues behind this mess will require extremely dedicated and passionate people to fix. The riots were definitely unfortunate, at the same time they’re an unmistakeable signal that things have been broken for a very, very long time. Like every riot before this one*.
(*If Baltimore needs a template for reconstruction, look no further than LA’s Korean population. They just celebrated 23 years since the Rodney King riots leveled their neighborhood. Visit LA’s Koreatown now, and you’ll see that it’s become a hipster destination.)
We’re decades away from the kind of social progress that can end riots like these forever. But it’s my hope that Baltimore can rebuild itself and lead the way for the rest of us.
That’d be a story that I’d like to see on my Facebook feed.