When I look at Baltimore I am surprised at how unsurprised I am. Not only by the actual events taking place, but also by the media portrayal and the divided reactions of society. On the one hand you have people ignoring the rioting and looting and saying how dare these protesters be met with riot police and the National Guard. And on the other hand you have people like President Obama and television producer David Simon saying this rioting is appalling and detracting from the legitimate purpose of the protest (not to mention this has been essentially the entirety of the media’s coverage).
To me it is totally unsurprising that this would be society’s and the media’s general reaction.
However, I think that both sides are right to a degree, and that taken together, they tell the full story and indeed the same story.
First, yes it is true that the riots are a relatively small part of the events happening down there; and yes the protests and police brutality deserve the attention of the media that they are not receiving. And yes, the riots and violence are detracting from the media’s focus and in general violence should be condemned.
But here’s the real issue. These riots are the result of perpetual violence and social control. A kind of violence that is almost comparable urban occupation. The area in which Freddy Grey was first picked up was a “high crime area” meaning that on the outset he could be considered a suspect for little more than simply walking in the area. Residents living in neighborhoods such as these are constantly confronted with systematic police targeting and often violent confrontations with police. The slew of videos that we have been seeing in the news of black and Hispanic men and women being beaten, shot, tasered, or killed by police are just the top of a long list of social and systematic injustices that are perpetuated by the justice system.
Frankly, I am surprised that while living under these kinds of conditions that people are able to show the self-discipline to organize and carry out peaceful protests; and at the same time I am not surprised at all that there are a few who are unable to contain their anger and believe that there is no other way to express it other than through destruction. For me this kind of context raises two questions.
First, if we condemn the violence that we are witnessing from the rioting in Baltimore why do we forget to condemn the targeted violence committed daily by police which lead to these events?
And second, in a reality that many perceive as almost de-facto occupation, is it really surprising that some have taken to violence?
Just some food for thought.