People are rioting in Baltimore – a city in Maryland, one of the states in the U.S.
Of course, rioting isn’t the real problem. As Martin Luther King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” and these riots are only the symptom of a dangerous disease. 50 years ago, riots erupted within this very same city, in the name of the aforementioned man after his tragic assassination. This time, events are hauntingly parallel, where the riots have come merely days after the death and funeral of Freddie Gray, a young 25-year-old black man.
Here are some basic facts. Freddie Gray is an African-American with a record of some minor crimes and drug-related offenses, eulogized as “loving, caring and respectful.” He was arrested on the 12th of April, Sunday. That morning around 8.45 a.m, police lieutenant Brian W. Rice caught sight of him on a street. At that moment, Gray turned and ran from the senior police officer. No one knows why he ran, but like dogs running after a fleeing rabbit, the senior officer and his fellow policemen gave chase to the young man. Gray was arrested for allegedly possessing a switchblade of a type that was illegal in Maryland; police officers say they glimpsed it after chasing him down.
Gray was then handcuffed and restrained in a hold where his legs where folded backwards behind him. From video recordings, Gray is seen to be shouting while being dragged into the police van. He was not buckled into the van, nor was he given medical help despite him requesting it twice, violating police protocol. His legs were then shackled. After a 45 minute ride to the police station, Gray was discovered to have lost consciousness and entered a state of cardiac arrest – there was damage to his spinal cord at the neck area as well as his vocal chords. He was resuscitated but was left in a coma that he never recovered from. He passed away a week later on the 19th of April.
At this point, we have to understand that people, especially young black men (who seem to make up the majority of the rioters and protesters), believe with some justification that Freddie Gray’s death fell into a pattern of young black Americans dying at the hands of police brutality – a problem which uncomfortably reminds many people about subtle racism that still exists in American society. The case of Freddie Gray is strikingly similar to the cases of other notable young black men, such as Michael Brown and Walter Scott, both of whom died at the hands of the police. Michael Brown’s death caused riots and protests in Ferguson as well – the recent events after the Freddie Gray incident comes perhaps as no big surprise.
Protests and demonstrations began right after the 19th when Gray passed away – but the real violence only started on the 25th of April, Saturday. Protesters threw bricks and stones at police officers, causing injuries to 15 of them. It only got worse on the next Monday, when Gray’s funeral amassed a massive group of people 2000 strong, and emotions in the city ran high. Rumours of a “purge” (referring to the film The Purge) drove young protesters to go out onto the streets, where they arrived at a shopping mall to meet with lines of riot police. More students who happened to be at the mall stopped to join the growing crowd.
The standoff between young student protesters and riot police became confrontational midway through the afternoon – and like a spark in a heap of dry wood, violence exploded. Some of the more notorious incidents include a CVS drugstore burnt down and looted (see picture), and protesters sabotaging a hose used by firemen by poking a hole in the rubber tubing. Protesters once again were hurling stones and bottles at police, and rioters in other parts of the city set fire to cars and looted departmental stores. The mayor of the city imposed a curfew sometime that night that was to take effect from Tuesday onwards, and the National Guard arrives in Baltimore in an attempt to restore peace. The next day, public schools were closed.
Aftermath – and some opinions
The past week, 6 police officers have been found guilty. Charges include second-degree depraved-heart murder, manslaughter, and false imprisonment.
People cheered when this was announced by the state attorney – and there are a number of reasons why. First of all, the officers are already clearly in the wrong, having violated protocols that are essential for the basic well-being of the arrested – requests for medical help, for example, should really never be ignored in any circumstance. Second, almost unbelievably and most infuriatingly of all, the “switchblade” that Gray held in his possession turned out not to be a switchblade at all; it was confirmed in court to be an ordinary pocketknife. The arrest was never warranted. Finally, the simply heart-wrenching image of Gray being forcefully thrown into the back of a police van has evoked strong feelings from everyone about the unnecessary use of force from the police. Given the strong evidence in favour of these officers having done wrong, the state attorney’s announcement comes as no surprise.
The curfew has continued, however, despite calls for it to be removed, considering the peace that has fallen over the city the past four days. Perhaps it should be. But we must remember that this peace only hides a larger problem that has gone unsolved.
The problem of police brutality will be difficult to solve because both sides of the story have their sympathetic and unsympathetic features. The police probably are more violent in America than in any other country (think about the recent case of Sweden police peacefully resolving a conflict without any guns); yet innocent, hard-working and well-intentioned officers are harmed too by riots and protests, which are clearly going out of hand. These rioters should not be burning cars and looting stores and otherwise causing completely unnecessary damage to public property – yet we must try to comprehend the problems of these young black men, and recognise the possibility that they have been marginalised and sidelined by society. Either way, compromise will be difficult. America must step up its efforts to solve this growing problem festering in its cities.
Sources and Further Reading:
Featured Image: https://tribktla.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/471137480.jpg
CVS Drugstore: http://www.tampabay.com/resources/images/dti/rendered/2015/04/baltimore6_15112961_8col.jpg