This week’s uprising in Baltimore is symptomatic of much larger problems that afflict our whole nation. Right now, the most visible aspect of these problems is the brutal style of policing that has long been inflicted in poor black communities. As the Black Lives Matter movement has made clear over the last year, this brutality has its roots deep in American history and deep in the psyches of millions of Americans who have been conditioned to fear and dehumanize black men.
In the midst of an uprising against historic injustice, as Ta – Nehisi Coates wrote in the Atlantic this week, calls for calm and non-violence seem hypocritical:
“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.”
Coates is clear that: “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… . Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.”
Another insightful and widely reported analysis of the problem came from an unexpected source, Baltimore Orioles COO John Angelos, son of the owner of the baseball team that has played in an empty stadium since “civil disturbance” started on Monday.
Responding to media figures and their knee jerk condemnation of protestors, Angelo said that his own, “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 [plunging] 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.”
That is a pretty succinct and devastating description of our common condition. In 2012 the Mexican Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity stopped for two nights in Baltimore. We worked with many of the same organizations that are stepping up to defend their communities today to make the case against the drug war, police militarization, mass incarceration, and the economic marginalization that has been especially devastating in Black and Latino communities.
The uprising in Baltimore this week underlines the need to continue struggling for justice locally, nationally, and internationally. It underscores the importance of organizing to end the war on drugs, prioritizing human services over militarization, and standing for human rights globally and nationally as key tenets of a movement for justice and peace.