Friday, August 26, 2016

Baltimore on edge after riots

What happened
A force of 3,000 National Guard troops and
state and local police imposed a tense peace
on Baltimore this week, after riots erupted
over the death of Freddie Gray—a 25-yearold
black man who suffered a severed spine
while in police custody. Just hours after
Gray’s funeral, rioters in West Baltimore set
ablaze a CVS store, looted businesses, and
hurled bricks at police, prompting Maryland
Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency.
At least 235 people were arrested, including
dozens of high school students. The
violence waned as gang members joined hands with community
leaders to form a barrier between protesters and police, but fear
of renewed violence led the Baltimore Orioles to take the unprecedented
step of closing a major league baseball game to the public.
President Obama condemned the rioters as “criminals and thugs”
but—in some of his most candid remarks on police brutality—he
also said Gray’s death was part of a “slow-rolling crisis that has
been going on for a long time.”
Baltimore’s police department suspended six officers pending an investigation
into Gray’s death, and the Justice Department opened
its own civil rights inquiry. The original police report claimed Gray
was “arrested without force or incident” on April 12 after running
away from police in an area known for drug activity. He was put
into a police van, unbelted, and fell into a coma an hour later. This
has prompted speculation that Gray was injured during a “rough
ride,” in which officers throw handcuffed suspects into police wagons
and subject them to high-speed stops and starts.
What the editorials said
At this stage, it’s impossible to know how or why Gray died,
said The New York Times. The same can’t be said of Baltimore’s
eruption—the roots of which were laid out in a damning 2014
Baltimore Sun investigation that found the city had paid out
$5.7 million to settle police abuse claims since 2011. Victims included
a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, and an 87-year-old
grandmother. That culture of police brutality “set the stage for
just this kind of unrest.”
“None of that excuses the knuckleheaded rioters
who laid waste to neighborhoods where
they live,” said The Washington Post. Perhaps
real progress would be made in Baltimore if
more residents were like the angry mother
who was caught on camera giving her son a
beating for joining the mayhem. Instead, teens
were allowed to run wild, said The Baltimore
Sun. The community may have real grievances
against the police, but all these rioters
did is confirm “the ugly stereotypes that underlie
the very injustices the demonstrators are
trying to protest.”
What the columnists said
Baltimore is very different from Ferguson—the last scene of antipolice
riots, said Matthew Loftus in TheAmericanConservative
.com. Its mayor is black, its city council has a black majority, and
many of its police officers are black. Yet just as in the Missouri
suburb, stories abound of residents being “pulled over, roughed
up,” and arrested for no reason. When one Baltimore officer tried
to report the abuse, “he found a dead rat on his car.”
It’s far too late for politicians and officials to call for calm, said
Ta-Nehisi Coates in “There was no official appeal
for calm” when Gray was arrested and had his spine severed,
or when scores of other black victims of Baltimore’s police
had their bodies beaten and bones broken. Why should Baltimore
residents agree to be nonviolent “halfway through the war”—
when the state has spent years doling out “heaps of violence to
its citizens”?
But “this rioting will do nothing but harm the very people rioting,”
said Jack Millman in It’s not just city officials
who have condemned the violence, but community leaders
who have spent years trying to revive Baltimore—a city where a
quarter of the residents live below the poverty line. Wealthy owners
of burned businesses will be fine; “they have insurance, and
those who live in the city can leave.” The people who’ll suffer the
most from the riots will be Baltimore’s poor and minority citizens,
who will remain trapped in ravaged, jobless neighborhoods.


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