Nothing New in Baltimore

A first glimpse into the Baltimore riots illuminate what may seem like another convoluted episode of the abstruse nature of violence in America. To the laymen, people just get worked up over a perceived injustice and overreact. Yet, blaming quick-tempered civilians is lessening an issue that has had more to do with historical injustice than with recent turmoil.

But, who’s the culprit?

Speculation and accusations have been hurled by the Baltimore Police Department who released a statement implicating the Bloods and the Crips, who were attempting to “take out” police officers; likewise, the Baltimore Sun reported that outsiders have been instigating the violence.

It remains to be seen what the pervasive criminal element in Baltimore would gain from a virulent confrontation with police, but in the initial moments of media frenzy it’s hard to plead logic.

According to CNN, the gangland threats have no source and it is difficult to discern whether they have anything to do with the recent death of Freddie Gray, who suffered an unknown spinal cord injury while in the hands of police. Gray’s death ignited peaceful protests across the city; yet, Baltimore’s storied history was bound to foreshorten the amiable protests.

Like fire to gunpowder the Baltimore Police Department’s presence caused a response: the violent outbursts were met with tear gas, riot gear, reports of antagonistic behavior, and 1,500 National Guard soldiers.

As reported by NPR: “The National Guard represents a last resort in order to restore order,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Furthermore, NPR reported a comment from peaceful protester Mo Jackson who is convinced racial hostilities have existed for decades and that a slow build to this tumultuous confrontation has been inevitable.

But what of these past hostilities?

After African-American Lawyer W. Ashbie Hawkins purchased a three-story rowhouse in 1834, restrictive covenants were put in place to retain property values against Black intruders. Historical evidence relating to housing concerns have long been a point of reference to underline racial disparity in cities across America, and indicate long-standing feelings of racial segregation in a city attempting to shake off its past.

What’s more is that recent riots in Baltimore aren’t even the first in a history of perennial tensions. In 1968, during the Baltimore Riots sparked by Martin Luther King jr.’s assassination, the National Guard was deployed alongside 400 state police officers and 1,200 city cops. In the end, there were 70 injured, 100 arrested, multiple fires and a plea from Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew to the White House for assistance—his cry for help saw the proliferation of 5,000 U.S. soldiers in Baltimore overnight.

The outburst of ’68 was in response to the murder of a public figure, and while Freddie Gray may not have been the influential figure that King jr. was, his death was the catalyst for a city tired of lamenting to the deaf.

These facts are pertinent considering the rampant speculation and utter disbelief from media and talking-heads alike who seem confused that such an action could occur in a city marred by a history of bigotry and racism. Obviously, the acts of angry civilians can’t be vindicated, but it should be noted that it is in clear response to a fire that has been growing since the last massive civil upheaval in the ’60s

And, while peaceful protests often garner encomiums from commentators, it’s obvious that these riots are bringing attention to a controversial subject that has been hidden under a city trying to maintain a healthy image. Yet, with a minute bit of research, it becomes clear that Baltimore residents have seen through the tough exterior of their home city and have become inconsolable after years of isolation, separation and abuse at the hands of leaders and officers who’s interest should be vested in repairing the neighborhoods and impoverished slums that have bred such hate and violence.