Notes on Baltimore

by Damon Mitchell

On Monday, the Baltimore riots that originated out of the death of Freddie Gray - who died after suffering from a severed spinal cord injury while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department - covered local, national and international news. Ironically, the people labeling Baltimore's looters and rioters as criminals and thugs have no problem praising Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims as heroes. You can't celebrate Christopher Columbus Day and condemn riots. You can't praise the Boston Tea Party and condemn the looting of exploitative liquor and check cashing stores. And you certainly can't light fireworks on the Fourth of July and criminalize Baltimoreans for uprising against the absence of justice. To understand looting is to understand the actions that led to the genocide of Native Americans. To understand rioting is to understand the Red Summer of 1919, and the 1921 Greenwood bombing in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  

The situation in Baltimore isn't an "unjustifiable" riot. It is an uprising against the social order of white supremacy. Exiting the Mayflower and lashing out against Native Americans through rape, torture, murder, culture degradation and destruction is what you could call an unjustifiable riot. An unjustifiable riot would be burning down neighborhoods to celebrate your school's NCAA championship win. It's important for Baltimore officials to understand that you cannot make a suggestion of the riots being "unjustifiable" without also questioning the dysfunctional behavior of the Baltimore Police Department. 

Yes, on Monday, there were riots in Baltimore. But to say that the Baltimore riots don't reflect the patriotism and inherent ideology of America is obscure. It's important to know that there is a difference between what happened in Baltimore and what happened in 1919, in Washington DC. Baltimore protesters were not lashing out in ignorance, jealousy or hate. Rather, they were acting out a desperate plea for sanity. The city of Baltimore isn't innocent. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts are just as responsible for the looting and riots as the looters and rioters. There would be no riots if Freddie Gray had not been killed. There would be no riots if the Baltimore Police Department had a history of serving their community, instead of their history of stop-and-frisk, extrajudicial killings, overall injustice, and the criminalization of Black men

Overnight, it seems that the media has found a better story in the erupting anger in Baltimore than the murder of Freddie Gray. The attention to the negligence of the Baltimore Police Department has shifted to what remains immaterial. Given the circumstances, Baltimore's reaction to the death of Freddie Gray isn't at all unfathomable. Gray isn't the first unarmed Black man to be buried after coming into contact with the Baltimore police and, if the status quo remains, he won't be the last. Baltimore is the ghost of Ferguson. The two cities are one in the same. Both are occupied by a social order that criminalizes Black men and women. And both have been met with resistance from depressed, fed-up and vulnerable communities. 

It is correct to say that rioting won't bring back Freddie Gray, but neither will protesting in peace. The death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray is a tragedy, and to criminalize the victims of state-sponsored terrorism is incomprehensible. As for the rioters and looters, I cannot applaud what was done. But, when you have suffered inequality from birth - prolonged injustice will pull you over the brink. America doesn't have an issue with rioting or looting. Instead, America has a problem with Black people seeking justice. After all, it is America who celebrates the looting of Native American lands during Thanksgiving parades. And it is America who rewarded the rioting and looting campaigns of Christopher Columbus with a national holiday. What has happened in Baltimore is nothing more than what this country has historically done abroad - and on its own soil.