Monday, April 27, 2015

On Priviledge: The Baltimore Riots

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 realPolice 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.


  1. Wow, Elizabeth. Thank you SO much for writing this. It is hard for me to put my thoughts about it into words. I very much empathize with the protesters. And while Seattle is fairly progressive, we have had some questionable police activity here too. I sometimes find it hard to feel like I have a voice being a white, middle class, Seattlite. It's not that I don't know racism exists...its more than I grew up in a fairly White/Asian middle class suburb. I wasn't (and am still not) exposed to a lot of the racism that goes on around here. Some people could call me naive, but that's just my experience - good or bad, it is what it is. I was talking to my friend who grew up in Indiana and I told her that sometimes its not quite like I feel like I have white privilege (which I do), but more that I have Seattle Privilege. Seattle is not a perfect city, but it is a far cry from Baltimore. Anyways, I'm not even sure what I am trying to say. But I'm glad you wrote this post.

  2. You beautiful brilliant soul you. I Tumblred, Tweeted and Facebooked this post. Brava!

  3. It's been tough both because of everything that's been going on here, but also because of how the (oh I am going to hate myself for using this phrase) "mainstream media" has been portraying things. They've been taking a lot of glee in how things went down on Monday and continuously focus on the few outside incidents where things weren't peaceful instead of what these protests area about. And let's be real - yes these protests are absolutely about what happened with Freddie Gray, but they are also very much about the living situation for a lot of (most?) Baltimoreans. It's complicated because yes, it is a race thing...but mostly it's a poverty thing. It's kind of hard to explain...I'm going to have to see if I can find some posts that describe it in the right terms for my links this weekend. But it's been so disheartening with some news outlets publishing straight up lies and others focusing on the looting and damage to buildings - and not what these protests are about.

    And Seattle is definitely a totally different feel! (For many reasons, obviously) In fact, thinking back on it I'm pretty sure 99% (if not all) of the homeless people I saw there were white. Actually so's the population (I'm sure it is at least partly because of where my friend lives and there might be more races elsewhere) but almost everyone we saw was White/Asian. But police activity across the board in America is sketchy, and while I don't believe most policemen are bad there clearly needs to be some legislative changes and higher accountability within the American police forces.

  4. Thank you so much! It's been weird having so much national attention here, but it's also made me hopeful that having the attention will motivate people to check out local bloggers/news since things are quite different from what I've been seeing on the big news channels. (Admittedly I stopped watching anything from them a couple days ago in utter disgust haha)

  5. Never trust the media.

    South Seattle is where you see a larger majority of black people, but again, Seattle in general is very much white and Asian. And interestingly I was thinking about my work. I think we maybe have 2-3 black people working in the department. But I would say nearly half are Asian...mostly Chinese. And that's in Environmental Health/Toxicology

  6. Another young book blogger from Baltimore, whom I used to follow regularly (but not after this), shocked me with her sensationalized social media posts. She had people believing that the entire city was burning to the ground! Her replys to people asking about her safety on Twitter seemed to he clouded with some underlying racism, too, even though she is a frequent shouter of "we need more diversity in YA!" Therefore, it was especially important to me to circulate your post.

  7. I am an entire world away from Baltimore, but I feel like tumblr has been a better news source than our media. The coverage here has been largely revolting (think Fox News style) but social media really does come into its own in situations like this.

    Someone gave an interview...I can't remember who...and he was asked about the riots. And he said something like (I'm paraphrasing like whoa) "think of it like this: if your boat had run aground on a deserted island and you were waiting to be rescued - you waved at planes and other boats going by, but no one came. You wrote SOS in the sand, but no one came. So then eventually, after trying and waiting and trying some more, you set fire to the boat...and everyone comes. And they say 'why did you set fire to the boat'? and you say 'so you'd finally notice us'". IMO that's what the rioters are doing. And while I don't agree with looting, I believe (I could be wrong) it is also law in Maryland that shops MUST be insured, otherwise they cannot operate. So as awful as it is, everyone should be covered for their losses. Even the little operators.

    Our news also let off a statistic the other day, more people have been killed by police in the past month than have been killed in the UK in the past century. If it's true, that's pretty gross. There is something very broken with the system over there, and I really hope they can fix it.

    Our police here aren't perfect, but when they do wrong they are always charged, and occasionally jailed if it warrants it. As they should be. Mind you, they also are not allowed to carry guns for the most part (just tasers and batons). And if they are carrying guns, every single bullet fired is investigated. Even to blow out tyres. Every. Single. Bullet. I'm not sure what happens there, but it seems to be 'let's just wait until someone notices and then we'll say cover our asses' :/

  8. I think it's crazy that it's come to that. I 100% don't trust legit news stations and papers anymore. How can I? Even the BIG news people constantly misreport things before really verifying them. So I'm getting a lot of my news these days (if I feel like looking for news at all) from smaller sources that I ALSO don't know whether or not they are reporting accurately. It's very frustrating and honestly has me feeling kind of paranoid. And it makes me question everything I've gleaned from the news - like what was it really like in Ferguson? And don't even get me started on trying to get information from international news.

    Wow! I knew a lot of Asians live on the west coast, but down in SoCal it's mostly a lot of Pacific Islanders. (Outside of LA which has a pretty big Chinese and Korean population)

  9. I mean, I don't want to downplay what happened on Monday because that WAS terrifying. My windows are to the back yard (which is probably a good thing) so I couldn't tell what was going on - I just heard lots of helicopters and sirens, so I was glued to the tv...til I wised up that the big news stations are USELESS and started finding live blogger streams instead. But outside of Monday, things were definitely not that bad - even Saturday wasn't that bad over all. It was a break off group, whereas Monday was definitely lots of different groups all over the city.

    It's a shame that that's apparently brought some things she might not have even known she thought up to the surface though :-/

  10. The news in America hasn't been any better. I have completely lost all trust in all big media stations. It was dwindling to begin with, but after this there's just no way I will be trusting news if they are the source. The local news stations did a really good job though, which both surprised me and made me really proud of them, because they easily could have done what CNN and Fox were doing and just repeating images of a burning car over and over.

    That's exactly it! I hate that everyone is like ...why is this happening? as if it were a rhetorical question. It's NOT a rhetorical question. There's an actual answer out there, which protesters have been trying to speak out about over and over again, despite the mainstream media's (god I hate that phrase) every attempt to focus only on the looting. And I don't want to brush off the looting like that isn't bad and doesn't mean anything, but I think it's's SO understandable! And I have a hard time understanding why it's so hard for other people to understand, because it's not like I'm black and have had to face everything they do!

    I didn't know that - so that's a relief! I think it's sad because worse than being black or white right now - it's the Indian, Asian, and Hispanics who are feeling pretty terrified right now. The rioters specifically targeted small shops owned by those ethnicities :-/. So they're overlooked by the whites, and targeted by the blacks (as generalizations, and I don't want to derail all the good discussions that are going down about race relations and police/community relations right now). But it's not just them deciding to stay and open up their shops I'm worried about (I'm assuming most of them will?)'s the big companies deciding not to rebuild which is REALLY worrisome. They bring in jobs, and Baltimore is already such a huge food desert that we can't afford to have stores like CVS to move away.

    I would not be surprised by that statistic. As of today, we are at 393 deaths by non-military police. (That's not including any "wrongful" vs. "not wrongful" deaths legally speaking). That is five months into the year. Now it's offset by the fact that our country is HUGE...but even with that if we calculated all deaths by police in all of Europe, I'm not sure we'd be seeing close to the same numbers then either. And it's absolutely linked to guns in our country, but with our many, many gangs there's no way making guns illegal is going to happen (let alone the great love my country has for guns. The lobbying for gun rights is just...INCREDIBLE. And I don't mean that in a good way, I mean that in a literally just unbelievable way). I read up a lot on how Australia went about dealing with guns, because there were definite big gun supporters there, and the politicians I think all ended their careers when they made it happen. And I WISH we had politicians like that here. I know that every incident where the gun is fired is investigated, but I don't know how heavily.

  11. I found this article on Seattle's population. The statistics are very interesting. 69% of Seattle considers themselves as white, but 33% consider themselves to be people of color. Interesting how ethnicity and race are two different things. As an anthropology major, I found this fascinating.

  12. I am thankful you are safe, Elizabeth! And applaud you for posting such a thought provoking blog article. I am hoping people's reactions to the other blogger's tweets made her think about things, as she thought the riots and looting were just thugs taking the opportunity to get things they didn't want to work for. I agree that destruction is the wrong way to go about things and that unless we have lived others' lives we must temper our judgements about their reactions.

  13. kirstymariejonesstudioreadsMay 4, 2015 at 9:47 AM

    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. YES.That is exactly the point. There's a similar case that happened in London a few
    years back, can't remember all the details but he was allegedly a drug dealer
    and a gang member (doesn't justify it) and it was ruled as a lawful kill
    (despite the evidence against it) That outlines it better, And you know what? I do agree with rioting over that. I don't agree with rioting at all (mainly because I like to think we shouldn't have to), but there's a reason. So I get it. But like you said, some use it as an opportunity, and those who do, no. It's the reason why it gives everyone against it a reason to be against it. With the riots that started over here with Mark Duggan's got out of control. All over London. To Manchester. To Birmingham. To Bristol. Even rumoured in Cardiff. More people got hurt and people died because of it, Voices don't get heard like that.

    Mark Duggan's family said he wouldn't have wanted that to happen, and that they didn't want that, but they said they didn't want violence. Violence against violence doesn't get you anywhere, and it doesn't, you can riot and protest to make a point, to make voices heard, peacefully without anybody getting hurt, and I'm saying about both ends, rioters and the police, because yeah, of course the police are going to be trying to control it, but to be honest, the police were just as bad as the rioters by pushing back what was controlled.

  14. I had no idea ethnicity and race were two different things! That's really interesting!

  15. Holy crap. I just finished the article - that's intense. And the rioting was definitely worse there than here. I'd completely forgotten that had happened! I'd heard about the riots, but I'm not certain I ever knew the details of why they were happening. That's so crazy though - I think even we have more transparency usually on cases like this - particularly high profile ones like that one. And I can't believe the parents didn't find out how their son was killed until well after the fact! That's just....seriously?? Actually I think I also thought that your police didn't have guns so that surprised me too.

    Let's be honest. In both cases, without the riots would there even be a chance of protocol change? No. Peaceful protests can be powerful...but they don't grab immediate attention the way riots do. And riots break out when everything else has usually taken place - which is why so many riots happen while peaceful protests are going on. And to everyone who asks "why are you doing this, be peaceful please" - who gets outraged when it's the reverse? When it's the police against citizens? (And they're always minority citizens.) There's been a lot of anger in the community to the reactions of what the media was showing and focusing on, because as the rightfully pointed out - where was the media when banks were forcing people out of homes? When the police shot Freddie Gray? It only became news BECAUSE of the rioting. So no, I don't say that rioting is the way,'s more complicated than most people make it out to be.

  16. Oh yes, very much so. The main difference being race is biological, ethnicity is cultural:

    I liked some of these definitions as well :

    Also, google race vs. ethnicity when it comes to Jewish and Hispanic. VERY interesting stuff there.

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