Slammed, beaten and bruised: Baltimore riots bite back
“B----, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black b----es I have locked up.” So said a white police officer to Venus Green, an 87-year-old grandmother and resident of Baltimore, Maryland. She was a former schoolteacher with two college degrees. She called the cops to help her grandson after he was shot. Instead, she was pushed around her house, got her arms twisted and thrown to the ground.
In a 2014 report, the Baltimore Sun’s Mark Puente found that the city paid $5.7 million since 2011 to more than 100 mostly African-American victims of police violence. These victims include pregnant Starr Brown, who was slammed down onto the ground. And then there’s Jarriel Lyles, who was just out picking up take-out but was then stopped, frisked and punched into getting a bloody nose when he stood up for himself. And then there’s the “rough rides,” or when the cops arrest people and throw them into their vans without seatbelts. This left Dondi Johnson Sr. paraplegic in 2005 and Jeffrey Alston paralyzed from the neck down, according to the Baltimore Sun. It was this same practice that left Freddie Gray with 80 percent of his spine severed, all after being “folded,” according to one witness of his arrest on April 12 and beaten with batons according to another.
Here then, is a government that systematically beats, locks up and kills its own citizens, the victims being disproportionately poor and of African descent. Indeed, Baltimore is like too many of our cities: Segregated, stratified, broken and abandoned. And its politicians self-proclaimed some $17 million as reported in the Baltimore Sun. Money that could’ve gone to textbooks, playgrounds, affordable housing units, you name it. Riding the politically lucrative waves of white resentment after the riots and rebellions of the 1960s, President Nixon launched the "War on Drugs," unleashing a campaign of terror and repression on poor communities of color reeling from deindustrialization and white flight. This war, along with the post-9/11 militarization of policing, has erected a bloated, predatory and overwhelmingly powerful state.
A study by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, found that teens in Baltimore were worse off than their counterparts in New Delhi and Ibadan, Nigeria despite them living in a city with the nineteenth highest GDP among all cities in the world’s wealthiest country. There are 16,000 vacant houses in Baltimore, according to city, and about 30,000 residents will experience homelessness at some point in a year — 3,000 on any given night. In a report last spring, the Urban Institute estimated that Baltimore had 29 affordable units for every 100 extremely low-income households. Despite the slow and uneven economic recovery under Obama, the city’s unemployment rate remains almost twice the national average: 8.4 percent vs. 5.5 percent. Yet, in Gray’s own neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park, unemployment is a staggering 24.2 percent in a hyper-segregated district that’s 97 percent black. These stats should make sense however, when you know that from 1950 to 1990, the city lost two-thirds of its manufacturing jobs as whites moved out of the city. In recent years, wealthier whites have begun to move back into the city’s trendier neighborhoods in the south or along the newly renovated Inner Harbor, but despite the gentrification, or even because of it, there remains a chasm separating the life chances of white and black Baltimoreans. If anything, gentrification has exacerbated those tensions, driving up the prices of formerly affordable homes, pushing more people onto the streets.
After riots broke out after Freddie Gray’s death, President Obama denounced the rioters as “criminals,” and Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a black woman Democrat mind you, called them “thugs.” They played the liberal two-step of condemning the violence and looting while reminding us of the city’s socioeconomic issues. Issues they’ve done little to help. And yes, as Dr. King said, riots are indeed, “the language of the unheard.” But they’re more than that: Rioting is a rational political strategy. The youth and others in Baltimore, Ferguson and elsewhere are trying desperately to force their grievances unto the political agenda when other avenues are shutting down. In an America in which billions are spent on to buy politicians who cater to the richest and thus whitest among us, the black poor see few other opportunities available to them. And black faces in high places, like the Obamas, still haven’t changed the fact that, according to the FBI’s rather meager data and ProPublica, black teens are 21 times more likely to be killed by the police than white teens, despite their much smaller numbers. Faced against living under a government that routinely and systematically kills, incarcerates and impoverishes so many millions of people, hell, I feel like throwing a riot sometime soon myself. And I, José Sanchez, may be fairly middle-class, educated, “articulate” and all, but ... will I be next?
José Sanchez is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and political science.