Violent protests and their root causes


The city of Baltimore is experiencing violent clashes between members of the public and the symbols of authority such as police and firefighters, accompanied by looting and fires. This has resulted in a state of emergency being declared and a week-long curfew from 10:00pm to 5:00 am imposed. The clashes broke out following the funeral of Freddie Grey, the 25-year old man who died in police custody.

The violence has spawned the usual condemnations by the ruling classes who have said that protests should be channeled through proper, peaceful channels. Police commissioner Anthony Batts said, “This is not protesting, this is not your first amendment rights, this is just criminal activity.” Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake “I am at a loss for words … It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city you’re going to make life better for anybody.”

It is undoubtedly true that setting fire to buildings and destroying your own neighborhood sets back your own community, sometimes by decades. It is also true that there are some individuals who take advantage of these times of unrest to either loot or just create mayhem. But what those who simply condemn violence don’t seem to realize is that these malcontents cannot instigate this level of violence out of nothing. There has to be a pre-existing inflammable situation for a spark to ignite it and one of the constituents of that explosive gas is the belief that peaceful protests achieve nothing, that authorities just wait them out and then continue doing things as before.

The problem is that those who deplore these acts of violence seem to have little problem with violence perpetrated by the police or other agencies of the national security state at home and abroad. The lack of accountability for abuses by the police have been going on for so long, despite many peaceful protests that met the conditions that the ruling class imposes on the powerless, that one should not be surprised that the pent-up frustrations and anger periodically explode. What should surprise them is that they don’t occur more often.

Take the Grey case. Here’s the timeline provided by the police for the arrest of Grey.

Police released a timetable of the events leading up to Gray’s arrest and death. He was seen at about 8:40 a.m. on April 12 on a street northwest of the city’s downtown. The officers approached Gray and he ran. He was caught about two minutes later two blocks away. The officers called for a transport van at about 8:42 p.m. Then, at 8:54 a.m., a block away from where Gray was arrested, the van left for the Western District station “after stopping to place additional restraints on the suspect.” At about 9:24 a.m., an ambulance is called to the Western District station.

So what happened during that short period of time, a mere 12 minutes, when Grey was in the van? No one seems to know.

Six Baltimore police officers have been suspended over the death of a man whose neck was broken after he was arrested and locked in a police van, as it emerged officers had delayed providing him with medical attention despite his requests.

Freddie Gray died from a “significant spinal injury”, police confirmed on Monday, while claiming it remained unknown how he was hurt. Chiefs said Gray appeared to have been injured while locked alone in a compartment of their transportation wagon.

“When Mr Gray was put in that van, he could talk, he was upset. And when he was taken out of that van, he could not talk and he could not breathe,” deputy police commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said at a press conference.

“It’s clear that what happened happened inside the van,” said mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

“We don’t have any procedure that would have an officer riding in the back of the van with the suspect.”

Rodriguez said all officers involved who had been interviewed had denied using force against Gray.

So we see that Grey died while he was in the custody of the police and yet the Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez says that the details of the arrest remain “a bit vague”. How can it be that a person who is in the custody of six police officers for just 12 minutes can have his neck broken and no one knows how it happened? Isn’t that a potent symbol of the impunity with which law enforcement in the US feels that they have when they are dealing with the poor and powerless?

But it may be dawning on some members of the elite that what seems like senseless and unproductive violence is a symptom of something deeper that must be addressed. John Angelos, COO of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team and son of the owner Peter Angelos, was asked about disruptions to the game and he seems to get it.

Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy, investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible.

That said, my greater source of personal concern, 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 like China and others, plunged 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.

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

Are some members of the ruling class beginning to actually read the writing on the wall?

Comments

  1. Chiroptera says

    My rule is that I pretty much dismiss a particular individual’s condemnation of riots and violence unless they also demonstrate an understanding of the social conditions that led to that violence and advocate real changes that will change those conditions to a more just and equitable society.

    Note: I did not say that I approve of riots and violence (nor did i just say that I disapprove of them); I’m saying that I have more respect for those who are actually trying to contribute something constructive to the discussion.

  2. says

    I read a quote from a young man interviewed after taking part in a violent protest. He said basically ‘we were here protesting for three days. But nobody paid any attention until we started throwing rocks’.

    I think that about sums it up right there.

  3. Who Cares says

    They don’t know what happened? Really. Seeing that it has been confirmed that Gray was handcuffed and just thrown in the back without getting him seated (and a seat belt) I put my bet on what others have been calling a nickel ride.

  4. says

    WithinThisMind (#2) –

    I read a quote from a young man interviewed after taking part in a violent protest. He said basically ‘we were here protesting for three days. But nobody paid any attention until we started throwing rocks’.
    I think that about sums it up right there.

    The Palestinians peacefully appealed for help to the UN for twenty years before the PLO ever blew up a bus or shot anybody. Nobody paid any attention or listened until then.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Are some members of the ruling class beginning to actually read the writing on the wall?

    You’d think they’d have already read it in a book. “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind”.

  6. Holms says

    “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.”
    – MLK

  7. Beth says

    It does seem as if the choices are ‘be peaceful and ignored’ or ‘be violent and go to jail’. Where is the option for peaceful change of the system to help the marginalized people in society ? I can’t seem to find the route to get there.

  8. Ash says

    > The problem is that those who deplore these acts of violence seem to have little problem with violence perpetrated by the police or other agencies of the national security state at home and abroad.

    [Citation needed]

  9. abear says

    But what those who simply condemn violence don’t seem to realize is that these malcontents cannot instigate this level of violence out of nothing.

    Bit of a nitpick, but malcontents can instigate violence for no good reason. Sports riots are a good example.
    When a crowd assembles there is a chance for mob mentality to take over and violence can break out even though the apparent cause is as trivial as a team winning or losing.
    Crowds can be manipulated by only a few people and riots can start from an isolated incident. Group psychology shows this behavior can be entirely unjustified and can have trivial beginnings.
    That is not to say that legitimate grievances didn’t figure in the Baltimore events, just saying that riots and looting don’t have to have a reasonable cause to occur.

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    Ash @9:

    [Citation needed]

    Assuming you’re not joking or being disingenuous, try watching Fox News, or read just about any right wing blog, if your stomach is strong enough.

  11. carbonfox says

    It does seem as if the choices are ‘be peaceful and ignored’ or ‘be violent and go to jail’.

    Beth, unfortunately, the reality is more like “be peaceful and quite possibly be jailed” or “be violent and go to jail.” Gray was hardly being violent when he was arrested — and murdered.

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