THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"UNREST IN BALTIMORE"
The beautiful city of Baltimore, Maryland
Rioting and looting in Baltimore, coming in the wake of the suspicious death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, gave many of us a feeling of deja vu. We've seen these kinds of images many times before over the decades, most recently in Ferguson, Missouri. The question being asked around water coolers, on Facebook, and all over talk radio is, “Why does this keep happening?” There's a lot of shock and outrage about the fact that a small subset of aggressive protestors have torn apart their own community. They burned a CVS and, apparently, a senior center. Stores and a shopping mall have been looted.
Of course, there have thankfully been peaceful protests in Baltimore, too. But the looters have gotten the lion's share of the focus. Some have described them as merely “thugs and criminals,” which seems hypocritical given that no one said that about these people. Perhaps the most appalling sentiment, though, is the oft-repeated refrain that the most destructive of protestors “don't even know what they're protesting against.” This implies that young, mostly African-American people aren't smart enough to think for themselves, that they are – as actor Kevin Sorbo thought about the Ferguson protestors - animals acting purely on instinct to cause trouble and create destruction. That's flat-out racist.
The looters and rioters know full well what they're protesting, and until we acknowledge that, problems like this will continue to occur. People riot when they are outraged. If we want to understand what's really happening in Baltimore (and places where similar things have occurred), we need to ask one fundamental question: What are the people in this community so angry about?
The Baltimore Sun may have shed some light on the issue. They recently ran a lengthy article detailing abuses of authority by the city police department, which has paid out $5.7 million in legal settlements since 2011. The victims of these abuses weren't just “thugs,” either. According to the piece, they included “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 woman aiding her wounded grandson.” That last woman, Venus Green, was shoved against a wall and then to the floor when she declined to let police enter her basement without a warrant; she was afraid the two dogs down there would be frightened and attack. The officer told her, “Bitch, you ain't no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”
Now, we all know that most cops are good. They heroically risk their own safety on a daily basis to protect ours. But it's not news that, as in any field, there are some bad apples. So imagine that you live in Baltimore and you're African-American. (As per the Sun article, most of the victims of these abuses were black.) You've seen such things happen to your friends, your family members, your loved ones. Maybe it's happened to you. You've seen police taking a needlessly harsh approach time and again. Then, one day, someone dies because of it. How are you going to respond? It's like dropping a match near a gas pump.
So why destroy your own neighborhood? You have to remember that people in this community likely already felt powerless against the authority of the police. If they had a way of taking on the abusive cops, they would have. (Again according to the Sun, despite payouts in a few instances, Baltimore courts dismissed charges against victims “in almost every case.") They already feel they're being oppressed by a system fundamentally designed to oppress them. Basic psychology says that when people feel they can't direct their anger toward whomever/whatever they're angry at, they direct such anger inward. To put it into a more everyday context, it's the same principle behind a child who breaks his own toy or trashes his bedroom when he's angry at his parents, or smacks himself in the head repeatedly because they won't buy him something at the store. It's a way of saying, I can't hurt you directly, so I'm going to hurt you by hurting myself.
And that's exactly what the aggressive protestors in Baltimore have done. They've created shock, horror, outrage, and sadness. They have hurt us all by hurting themselves. They need us to pay attention to their anger.
This is not my approval of looting and burning, nor is it a suggestion that such things are okay. Obviously, destroying the businesses of individuals who had nothing to do with Freddie Gray's death (or Michael Brown's, for that matter) is wrong. It is, however, an attempt to understand why this has happened before, why it's happening again now, and why it will happen again in the future if we as a society don't stop searching for easy answers and start taking a good, hard look at the root causes of America's race problem.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!