Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Riots are by definition ugly and, unless they are part of some centrally directed "regime change" operation like in Chile in 1973 or (apparently) Ukraine in 2014, their effects politically are diffuse and hard if not impossible to measure.

Still, the Republican Party since 1968 has made one of its central appeals, "Scary black people! Scary black people! Aiii-eeee!!!" And any riot situation like in Baltimore they will be happy to spin along that line.

So people who aren't interested in promoting white racism have an interest in promoting a realistic view of such situations. Remembering that such events don't take place in a vacuum is an important part of that. The Baltimore Sun last recounted several cases vetted through the court system of unjustified violence by city police against black people: Mark Puente, Undue Force 09/28/2014.

The Sun reported on recent events in Baltimore descends into chaos, violence, looting 04/28/2015:

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ... blamed the mayhem on "thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city." She joined a chorus of officials and residents — some of whom fought off rioters to defend their homes and businesses.

"Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who, in a very senseless way, are trying to tear down what so many have fought for," Rawlings-Blake said. "It's idiotic to think that by destroying your city, you're going to make life better for anybody."
I watched some of the coverage on MSNBC from Rachel Maddow and Chris Hays Monday evening. I saw a couple of statements from the mayor that seemed to be along the same lines.

I was surprised from the two statements I heard on TV in that she seemed to exclusively exclusively the need for "order" and simply referring to rioters and looters as "criminals" and "thugs."

I would have thought she would have included some appeals to the demonstrators, some of whom appear to be high-school age and even middle-school age kids, to calm down and trust her to see that the police misconduct would be handled right. Maybe she did in other statements. But she sounded to me like someone more interested in running for higher office based on a tough-on-rioters mayoral record than a mayor trying to calm the city down. I'm not sure closing on the schools for Tuesday was necessarily the best move, either, if you want to minimize angry teenagers venting against police.

Also, for those of us who remember COINTELPRO, you can bet that some of those rioters and looters were police provocateurs, though we won't see the evidence for years, unless maybe Wikileaks focuses on it. (Or maybe our Quality Press - sorry, I shouldn't make jokes about something so serious.)

Ritual good-citizen disclaimer: I'm sure most police are good people and serious public servants. It would help things a lot if they would start enforcing the law diligently against the "few bad apple" cops who murder unarmed black people.

As of now (morning of 04/28/2015), the mayor's recent tweets from yesterday and today include these (my emphasis in bold):

Too many people have invested in building up this city to allow thugs to tear it down.
We will not let these deplorable and cowardly acts of violence ruin #OurCity.
Thank you to all law enforcement, emergency management personnel, and medical professionals who continue to bravely respond to the situation
We are already seeing volunteers from across Baltimore joining together to clean up damage.
It will take all of us working in partnership. We will do whatever it takes. Despite the evil we see tonight, this is our home.
Returning to the Sun news article:

At least 15 police officers were injured — six seriously — in the clashes.

Police Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said all were going to recover from their injuries.

Kowalczyk simmered with frustration as he described officers facing a hail of rocks as they tried to bring calm.

"A group of outrageous criminals attacked our officers," Kowalczyk said. "This is not OK." [my emphasis]
Obviously, it's the job of the police chief to defend his officers from real threats. But given the history behind this, I have to wonder if anyone heard anything like this kind of passion from the police chief about guy who neck was mysteriously, fatally broken while he was in police custody.

Church leaders took to the streets to intervene in the violence, to call for calm and pray for peace. Later Monday, more than 75 ministers met with gang members — Bloods and Crips — and representatives of the Nation of Islam leaders to talk about ways to end the violence. ...

Looters casually loaded merchandise into cars and SUVs.
I'll be curious to see what these ministers and other community leaders have to say about the nature of the mayor's response.

Like most people, I know nothing to speak of about Baltimore's gang scene. But I'm guessing that to the extent that the looting is organized, organized gangs are taking advantage of a tense and disorderly situation. But it's also easy to believe that other people got caught up in the moment and just decided to take stuff.

The snippet above about residents who "fought off rioters to defend their homes and businesses" (my emphasis) will play well with the FOXists. White rightwingers love stories about Owners defending their property against black rioters. Although the Sun story specifies several businesses that were targeted for looting, it has no other references to residences being directly targeted by rioters or looters.

I hope people who want to see progress against white racism and for police reform don't succumb to the temptation to join the Republicans in being stuck in the fears of 1969 over the current moment in the US. Two bloggers with whom I'm normally in agreement worry me a bit in that regard. Steve M (Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming No More Mister Nice Blog 04/27/2015):

It's clear that we're just going to keep going through this awful cycle -- an appalling and clearly unjustified black man's death at the hands of cops, followed by publicity and outrage, then a local response in which the rage boils over, blood flows and property gets destroyed. Nobody wins, nothing improves, repeat ad infinitum. Baltimore now; who knows where next.

But to bring this back to the sort of thing I usually write about: Sooner or later, this is going to influence national politics -- and not for the better. Sooner or later, right-wing politicians are going to rediscover the language of "law and order" that elected Richard Nixon twice and that gave us racially divisive politicians, of both parties, such as Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani in my city and Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia. And the new round of "get-tough" pols might be worse than the ones from my younger days -- many of those guys, at least, had some lingering fondness for the New Deal or the Kennedys. The new crop will probably combine "get-tough" attitudes and Koch economics. It's not going to be pleasant.

In fact, I think it's likely that somebody in the 2016 Republican presidential field is going to rediscover the old "law and order" language. It was always politically effective -- but then crime declined dramatically in he last twenty years. It can come back with a vengeance, though, if white Americans regularly turns on the news and sees shop windows smashed and cop cars burning.
Charlie Pierce, who certainly takes the problems of white racism and police violence very seriously (Baltimore Burning: A Bad Night Ahead Esquire Politics Blog 04/27/2015):

Freddie Gray should not be dead. He didn't do anything before his arrest for which he should have been killed. He didn't do anything during his arrest for which he should have been killed. He didn't do anything after his arrest for which he should have been killed. Very few of us live in a place where you can be killed for how you are riding your bicycle or walking down the street. Very few of us understand the frustration of living in a place like that, day after day, petty insult after petty insult. Very few of us understand.

That said, the footage looks like something as savage and mindless as the earthquake in Nepal and the avalanche on Everest. The Panthers used to say that spontaneity is the art of fools. This is fairly organized spontaneity, but it is still foolish. The footage now is a mass surge into a liquor store. Night is falling.

Christ, why doesn't this country ever learn? Nothing good will come of this. [my emphasis]
I would say that both good and bad things will come of this. What the proportion will be depends a lot of the response of voters, activists and the political parties. But Steve M is obviously correct that the Republican Party's response will not be a responsible one. The party is already far too deeply committed to its current segregation program for that.

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