The Baltimore riots post-mortems are in, and the results are predictable. Pundits are questioning whether the mayor should have done this, or the police should have done that. And, of course, there is the widespread condemnation. President Obama said there was no excuse for the rioting and that it was not helpful. The new Attorney General Loretta Lynch condemned it. Those are appropriate responses from national leaders who are responsible for keeping law and order. And Obama may be correct that it is not helpful, but surely we can find a reason, if not an excuse for the anger. And it really doesn’t take much digging in order to find it.
Just as with the Ferguson riots – and all riots – there has been a lot of criticism from people who could, if they really wanted to, take a step back and ask why people are rioting in their own neighborhoods.
How about this? Instead of demanding an excuse, why don’t we look for a rationale? Maybe that’s too much for sensation-seeking cable news to accomplish.
Fortunately, some people are exploring the issue with some insight.
Baltimore Orioles team executive John Angelos, sent out a flurry of tweets that defended the violence as a reaction to long-term economic hardship and the diminishment of civil liberty protections.
Deadspin transcribed Angelos’ tweet-blizzard:
That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.
Let’s put this another way. When you talk about the Boston Tea Party, you never think to ask “why are they destroying their own tea?” Remember September 11, yes. But let’s not pick at old wounds like slavery and Jim Crow. Let’s not talk about what is going on today.
Ta-Nehesi Coates, a candidate for U.S. Senator from Maryland, put it this way:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
The media doesn’t deserve all of the blame. A big part of the problem is that Americans, specifically white Americans, are deeply uncomfortable talking about race. Even when we do talk about it, we talk with judgment, safe in our rhetorical bunkers, sure in our opinion about what those people are doing, and why. Seldom do facts enter the equation.
Let’s talk about separate and unequal. According to a recently-released Pew Research Center analysis of Federal Reserve data, white households had a median net worth 13 times greater than black households in 2013, compared with eight times greater in 2010. From 2010 to 2013, while white wealth increased 2.4 percent, from $138,600 to $141,900, black household wealth declined of 33.7 percent, from $16,600 to $11,000.
When it comes to our perceptions of social justice, blacks and whites could not be more different. In a 2009 study by Lawrence D. Bobo and Alicia Simons, 61% of Caucasians felt that African Americans have already achieved equality. Only 17% of African Americans agreed.
Long-roiling grievances are out in the open. But mainstream America is shocked at what’s going on. Peaceful protest also went on for days in Baltimore. But that wasn’t covered much. Who cares? Much better to cover, wall-to-wall, the correspondents’ dinner and Obama’s funny monologue with his Angry (Black Man) translator.
President Obama is right. It is time for Americans to do “some soul searching.” Our country has faced a “slow-rolling crisis” over race for too long. If the mainstream media – and mainstream America – really wants to know why such anger is bubbling over into violence, they might try asking some tough questions. And they shouldn’t be afraid to hear the answers.