Let me start with this: I do not condone rioting or looting or the giant madhouse that this has turned into here. But just because I don't condone it doesn't mean I don't understand why it is happening. When you have felt your entire life like your life is in danger from the people who are supposed to be your protectors, it greatly limits your ability to express yourself peacefully. When you are a majority in a city, but are statistically less likely to be able to even get any stable source of income, it greatly limits your ability to express yourself peacefully. When yet another black man has died in police custody, a black man who had committed no crime, who was pursued by police simply because he was a black man and he ran, it greatly limits your ability to express yourself peacefully. When you feel like you have spent your whole life trying to fight against a system that is stacked against you, when you have spent your whole life trying to explain this injustice and you see it dismissed over and over and over again, all you are left with despair and anger. Or to put it more succinctly: as Martin Luther King* said, "Riot is the language of the unheard."
For those of you who are (understandably) upset about the looting and are asking - Why would you do this to your own city? Your own cause? Why are you damaging everything you are fighting for? I simply point out Martin Luther King's above statement. These people are angry. They feel like there is literally not another way for their pain and anger to be heard. They aren't methodically targeting individual people and places, they are lashing out. So yes, you're right - they are damaging everything the last week of peaceful protests were working towards, but the rioters are beyond believing that any of that will make even a modicum of difference in their lives. It won't change the decades of oppression they have been fighting against, and so they are instead lashing out. (There are also people who are taking advantage of this chaos for their own means and motives. I do not include them in this conversation.) Have you ever been angry enough to hit a wall? (Personally I haven't, but that is because my great fear of pain largely outweighs my frustration or anger at any point). The point here is that everyone knows punching a wall is only going to at best hurt a lot and at worst break your hand. It's not something you do because you think it's going to make anything better. And yet people do it pretty frequently (or maybe I just hang out with a strange number of wall punchers) despite knowing this. They do it because they are completely overwhelmed by their anger and frustration, and it translates into a need to punch that wall. Now compact all of that rage and helplessness and put a lifetime's worth of it into your body. Now multiply it by all the friends and family who are also black, who have also spent their entire lifetime feeling this. Top all of this off by putting people into angry mobs, and you have baked the perfect recipe for a riot.
This issue has so many layers it would simply be impossible to address them all because I couldn't fit it all in one post, am simply not knowledgeable enough on a lot of points, and quite simply because I have lived my entire life with the privilege of being white and financially stable. There's a lot at play here that I simply could not begin to understand, but have tried to make a point to inform myself on (and am thankful for everyone who has helped and will help me on that path along the way). So I am going to do my best to keep from going off on the millions of different points I could lay out here and lay things out straightforwardly simply as it applies to my city (but 99% of these points apply to our whole country):
Racial discrimination in Baltimore is real. Police brutality in Baltimore is real. For those of you who ask - well, why did Freddie Gray run if he hadn't done anything wrong? First - if you're asking this, you aren't asking the right questions, and secondly you likely can't even imagine what it is like to get frisked/pulled over/hassled for no reason - other than that you are black. (You know what else that sounds like? Well if she got raped, why didn't she scream?) Let me ask YOU this: Does his running somehow justify his death? Does it make it ok that 80% of his spine was severed and that his voice box was crushed? Does it make it ok that he was arrested - despite the fact that he had no illegal drugs or weapons - that knife he was carrying? It was of legal size. But more important than whether or not Freddie Gray's arrest was warranted - that is still missing the point: Just because some of the people the police arrest are in fact criminals, doesn't justify police brutality - even if the person being apprehended is a criminal.
That being said, I fully believe in the police force as a whole. I think they are a necessary and important part of our community, and when I heard that the major gangs in Baltimore have made a ceasefire in the interest of killing cops my heart went into my throat.**I am just as worried for every cop out there who is just trying to keep Baltimore and her citizens safe as I am for every child and protestor who is caught out there in the middle of this violence. Not every police man is bad. I don't want to derail the message here, but again as a white woman I relate to this. Not every man harrasses, molests, or rapes. But as a woman, I have to worry about every man. Not every police officer uses excessive force and is motivated to use said force/make arrests because of race. But from what I can understand, it is something every black person has to worry about. Because for either one of us - that one time we miscalculate? It very literally could mean death.
There needs to be a complete overhaul in police oversight. I am a big supporter of body cams, but there also need to be the punishments that are followed through. If the city is paying out money to victims in lawsuits - how can they also exonerate the officers involved? Despite the fact that is one of the biggest main issue that comes up in forums, despite the fact that barrage of incidents like those of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, and most recently Freddie Gray (And those are only the most high profile cases. This is far from new and far from rare.) - it doesn't feel like anything has been enforced to change this from happening.
So instead of disparaging what you see happening in Baltimore, think about why it's happening.
*For those who have been waving MLK as a response to the riots, saying he wouldn't want this happening in Baltimore and that he would condemn what was happening, you are taking his messages out of context. No, he wouldn't want this happening - he would want a city (or really country) that wouldn't have set things up so they would escalate this way. But more importantly he specifically says this in March of 1968 - "It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard." In fact, I recommend you go read that entire speech that is now almost 50 years old. And then look at the economic and social issues we have today and you tell me if we've made progress in the past 50 years
**Edit 4/28: Gang members have spoken up and have denied claims they set up hits on cops. But they have united to help keep the protests peaceful and keep the focus on what these protests are all about. Guys, I hope you are seeing the amazing change in Baltimore today. I hope that the news getting to you is of how the communities are coming together to help clean after the protests, how peaceful all of the protests have been today, how people are using dance and music in the protests, how many races are joining together in these protests. This is the beautiful, vibrant Baltimore that I know and love and wish the rest of the world could see. So if you aren't seeing this side of things - here's a good place to start.