Town in the Dumps

AP

AP

Sam Jacobsen, Reporter

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“Good morning Baltimore

Every day’s like an open door

Every night is a fantasy

Every sound like a symphony”

-Tracy Turnblad, Hairspray

It’s a warm night, the stars are desperately trying to peel through the heavy smog.  In the distance the sounds of police sirens whir on and on; in an alleyway there is the hard punching sound of gunfire, and then nothing but the police sirens.  In many alleyways the impoverished scavenge for food, and many families huddle nervously inside their houses.  In the deeper city, riots swell like a restless ocean.  The ocean is at high tide now.  Looting, beating, and crying.  Looting, beating, and crying.  It’s a terrifying rhythm played out on the endless drum of American history.  Looting, beating, and crying.  Looting, beating, and crying.

Sunday, April 19, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland: a 25-year old man named Freddie Gray died in police custody from damage taken to the spine.  The week that came after brought with it waves of violent chaos upon the city.  The protests started on April 18 in reaction to news of Gray, an African-American Baltimorean, having sustained major spinal injuries in whilst in the custody of police officers; the injuries were assumed to be linked to police brutality.  At first the protests were peaceful, and they remained that way for another few days until around April 25 when protests morphed to be more destructive–things would only get worse from then on.

On Monday, April 27 the funeral of Freddie Gray was to take place, and it was on this day that the city really took a turn for the worse.  Like a pot of water that has been let boil for too long, the tensions polluting the Baltimore’s air exploded.  Earlier that day a high schooler posted this:

baltimore_purge

What followed would shock the nation, and keep the people of the U.S. on the edge of their seats for the rest of the week.  Cars were lit on fire, children were beat, and hate was thrown around as if it was some sort of child play thing.

As the long week dragged on the riots continued, and Baltimore turned into the world from the movie The Purge.  Many people tried to quell the monsoon of violence, but the damage had already been done.  Things became so bad in fact that at one point the notorious gangs The Crips, and The Bloods joined forces to target police officers in response to the riots.  A curfew was placed on Baltimore to try and get the city under control, but the curfew did not work well.

As the riots began to wind down, six police officers were charged with the murder of Freddie Gray, and the D.A. of Baltimore told the public that Gray had most likely not even committed the crime that had landed him in police custody.  Then, a few days after the riots had slowed down, an African-American man was shot dead.  It was believed by many that the shooting had been an intentional act by the police and related to race.  However, on closer examination it was revealed that the incident was most likely a complete accident.  The controversy that surrounds this incident is concerning due to its large ties with racial tensions.

Baltimore is no stranger to racial riots, and the riots of 2015 are not the worst the city has seen in the last 100 years.  In the spring of 1968, Baltimore erupted in racial riots along with many other places in the country in response to the assassination MLK.

BaltimoreRiots1968-AP6804080239_250

Baltimore had been seeing a large shift in its population ever since WWII.  During this shift the primarily-white Baltimore saw an influx of African-Americans.  And, for a city located in the South, this caused racial tensions to rise.  At the time of this growth, most of America was bending under the weight of some form of racial tension, but in the Southern states it was worse.  This already tense situation mixed with the poverty and crime that appears in any major city and created something terrible.

The city is Maryland’s largest and with its size comes increased amounts of poverty.  And, sadly, non Anglo-Americans are often forced into impoverished situations by racism.  Racism has splattered America’s history with countless stains of blood.  The most common examples of this tension is of course America’s slave-powered past and its outcomes (i.e. The U.S. Civil War), but there have been countless less illustrated aspects of racism in the U.S. that need to be realized in order for the Baltimore riots to be understood.

First off, it is important to note that riots have been happening ever since there has been government.  The basic jist is that people are not always treated as they want to be treated, and often when people are mistreated they react with violence.  Think of this as when a child throws a temper tantrum.  And like a temper tantrum, riots are often irrational, and often times there is not reasonable justification for them.  What is even more important to understand is that race riots have been happening for quite a long time as well.  The zoot suit riots are a prime example of race riots in the U.S.  These riots were sparked by the mistreatment of Latino peoples in the L.A. area.  The zoot suit riots happened because people were being seriously mistreated, and this makes it more just than if a riot started because a Walmart wasn’t selling a certain type of cheese and people really wanted that type of cheese..

In order to understand riots, and especially the race riots, it is important to understand that racism has never been eradicated from the U.S.  There are many people in this modern day that believe that racism no longer exists in the U.S, THIS IS NOT TRUE. Racism is powerful, and just because de jure segregation (segregation by law) has been made illegal, de facto segregation (segregation that happens despite law) certainly hasn’t disappeared.  More importantly though, it needs to be understood that de jure segregation was only deemed unconstitutional a few decades ago.  For example, segregation in schools was not made a federally enforced law until the 60s.  That means that there are still people alive who lived through such racism.  There are still people alive that weren’t allowed to go to school because of the hue of their skin, and that is something worth holding a grudge over.

Finally it is important to understand the nature of Freddie Gray’s death. Freddie Gray was arrested for being in possession of a switch blade that was deemed illegal by the police who apprehended him.  As stated by Baltimore’s D.A., the crime Gray was accused of was not an actual crime. Next, it is important to know that Gray was indeed African-American, and that at least two of his apprehenders were white.  It is important to note that the police have been charged with second degree murder, and lastly that both civilians and police officers were hurt in the riots.

With this information we can strive for an answer to the questions surrounding the riots.  Were the riots race riots, or is that just an excuse to justify the riots?  And, are the riots justifiable?  If you have an answer leave a comment below.

 

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