UPDATE: Other commentary I like:
- 'The Great Society' Meets its Waterloo in Baltimore – Michael Hurd, LIVING RESOURCES
- The Mayor of Baltimore’s Not-So-Freudian Slip – Michael Hurd, CAPITALISM MAGAZINE
- Baltimore's Long History of Failed Development and Urban Renewal – Nick Gillespie, HIT & RUN
Let me say at the outset I am in favour of the rule of law. As is this mother giving her son “the smackdown of his life” for throwing rocks at Baltimore police. (No, beating your kid in public isn't good parenting. But ringing them up in such a way that they don't feel the need to go burning down buildings in the first place surely is....*)
Chris Campbell from Laissez Faire Today, who lives in burning Baltimore, files this report on the rioting city, and argues there may be more going on than you realise …
- Baltimore City is on Fire: Upon writing, rioters are making glass repairmen rich beyond their wildest imaginations…
- From Inside the Protests: The protests were, for the most part, peaceful. What’s happening now isn’t a protest…
- Why Baltimore is Under Attack: Look beyond the surface, and it’s no surprise that riots are happening… again… in Baltimore…
- A Classic Case of Blowback: It’s easy to be dismissive of the underlying issues. But the riots are only a symptom of a much larger problem…
As I write today’s missive to you, rioters are running up and down the city on a mission to make Baltimore’s glass repair business owners the richest men in Babylon.
By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard the news of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died of a severe spinal cord injury after police arrested him. And the news about protests and riots since…
I say protests and riots to note the distinction between the two. Most news sources aren’t making this distinction, but I think it’s important.
I observed the protests on Saturday. Over 2,000 protesters -- from all walks of life -- marched to speak out against rampant police brutality in Baltimore. It’s a message that’s easy to resonate with everywhere in the United States. Many American police are overstepping their bounds. And the militarisation of domestic police officers on top of it is setting a dangerous precedent.
The protest began in an area of Baltimore I, admittedly, up until Saturday had never seen. It’s a part on the West side that has been ravaged by decades of de-industrialization, loss of population, drugs, the War on Drugs, police raids and harassment, and gang violence. Whole blocks are boarded up, with the backs ripped out of many of the rowhouses and trash strewn all over the still fenced-in backyards.
It’s something you see in pictures of the third-world. Not something you would expect to be in your backyard. It’s an eerie sight.
The protest was, by itself, peaceful. This is despite much antagonism from the police and other external forces. For example, many protesters were stopped, given random “verbal warning” tickets, and checked for warrants. For protesting.
And in another bizarre example, one man with a camera seemed hell-bent on getting punched by a protester. He repeatedly ran up to random people in the crowd, stuck his camera in their faces, followed them, rattled off meaningless questions, and then repeated the process with someone else. It was bizarre. After seeing him antagonize several people, I shot the following picture. Note the reactions of the bystanders.
Despite setbacks, the protest felt productive. The mood was constructive. Unlike in many of the Occupy Wall Street protests, everyone understood why they were there. And the message was lost of all ambiguity:
Yes. Baltimore is angry.
Baltimore’s black community, which makes up two-thirds of the city’s population, has been angry about rampant police abuse -- and, of course, living in what could easily be mistaken for third-world conditions -- for a while now.
Baltimore’s public schools are oversized toilets. Baltimore’s government is deeply corrupted -- and has been for decades. And racial tension, despite some people believing it’s no longer a thing, is as real as the burning building I’m looking at outside my window.
But none of this is a secret within the confines of Baltimore city. It’s just not given much attention. But now, as the chaos closes in… and as it starts to hit a little too close to home for many people normally unaffected by such things… Baltimoreans have no choice but to pay heed.
In fact, now the whole world is watching.
Unfortunately, the world will see mostly the deconstructive aspects of the anger expressed…
The mainstream media latched onto one event in particular on Saturday. And then they let it ride. Here’s what went down:
I left Saturday’s protest about 30 minutes prior to the crowd making their appearance downtown. When the crowd entered the downtown area, a group of drunken Orioles fans at one bar, named Pickles Pub, decided to try to drown out the noise with a chant of their own: “We don’t care.” And some of the more idiotic of the bunch allegedly started another classy diddy: “F*ck Freddie Gray.”
This, predictably, upset a few people and they stuck around to throw things at the instigators. A few of them fistfought outside of the bar. Some looters got in on the action and stole bottles of liquor. One man even tried for a young girl’s purse.
Not an earmark of a civilised society -- no matter which side you’re standing on. But we strive to remember what really irks us. Well, now there are two things: idiotic people of any colour and police brutality. Both are incessant. But police brutality is much easier to hide than idiocy. So we must remain focused…
If Eric Harris is caught on tape yelling, “Oh man, I can’t breathe,” and the officer, who, by pure chance, has his knee pinned down on his oesophagus replies: “Fuck your breath!”... you can assume that this happens more than is uploaded on YouTube.
And if another cop, this time in Sacramento County, is given paid vacation only after a video surfaces of him stomping a man’s face, beating him with a flashlight, and tasering him… we’re dealing with more than just a few isolated incidents. Especially provided the man’s only offense was asking the police officer to move his car so he could get through.
And if a few other cops can enter West Baltimore, take Freddie Gray on a joyride that, somehow, severed his spinal cord from his neck and killed him… and have no explanation as to how Gray ended up that way… I think we have a problem.
“None of the officers,” Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said, “describe any use of force against Mr. Gray.”
That’s simply not true. Gray was writhing in pain and could barely walk when they stuck him in the wagon. There are videos to prove that. Many witnesses saw him folded up like origami on the sidewalk.
“It’s a baffling conundrum,” The Atlantic writes. (No, Atlantic, it’s not.)
Baltimore’s City Paper, our free weekly, interviewed a few men at the protest who wanted to shed light on their anger toward the police. The men told the reporter that many in the BPD, if they cannot find anything on them, will plant guns and drugs as cause for arrest. If true, this goes beyond just physical brutality: police are fabricating felonies to place on the innocent -- degrading their chances of ever becoming a productive member of society. And further instigating tensions between the black community and the police.
“This might sound unbelievable,” the author of the article, Edward Ericson writes. “But former city cops say they would not put it past some of their former colleagues.”
Take, for example, Malik Jenkins-Bey, a 10-year veteran of the force who left in 2010. He said: “This is a police department that is geared toward Gestapo-type tactics.”
Allow me to invoke the “cockroach effect.”
For every roach you catch in the light, you can safely assume there are hundreds more crawling in the dark. Knock a hole in the wall and behold: Roach city.
Well, here’s a hammer. And here’s what the hole reveals: “In the U.S. in 2013 alone,” Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge points out, “there were a minimum of 458 ‘justifiable homicides’ by firearm committed by the U.S. police.”
Compare that to the last decade in the UK: police have been involved in 23 police shooting fatalities.
And those numbers don’t even scratch the surface of the brutality suffered at the hands of police officers using less-deadly weapons.
If one needs an explanation of how this affects every member of a community, aside from instigating riots that tear down neighbourhoods: Every single officer also gulps down tax dollars with paid leave and other costs whenever they’re caught committing these acts.
And speaking of tax dollars…
Between 2011 and 2014, $5.7 million of Baltimore’s tax dollars were paid out to more than 100 victims of police brutality. That’s money that could have been used productively. Maybe even to help revitalize the war-torn areas -- but instead, it is used to sweep police brutality under the rug by paying the victims off.
And as you think about those 100 victims, consider the question posed in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf: “What tiny percentage of the unjustly beaten win formal legal judgments?”
We’ll venture to guess these 100 people were a small minority. But, before you think it, these aren’t just black 20-somethings that are getting brutalised. Victims of these cases include, the Baltimore Sun reports, “a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.
“Those cases detail a frightful human toll,” says the Sun. “Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones -- jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles -- head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.”
All of these revelations, taken together, certainly beg the question…
How dangerous is it to be a cop in the U.S.?
Must be real dangerous, eh? That’s the only rationale, it would seem, for such excessive use of violence. Forget that most of the deaths by police officer happen while the victim is in a state of complete non-resistance. Forget also that many of those gunned down are unarmed and shot in the back.
One would suspect being a police officer is at least, in the top 10 most dangerous professions. But that’s not true. The death rate for officers, according to data from 2013, is 11.1 per 100,000. Taxi drivers and fishermen have it worse than your average policeman.
I’m not downplaying the profession. There’s dignity in all work -- as long as the work is done with dignity. I show you these statistics only to show that excessive force by a police officer has less to do with self-defence than most people suspect.
Here are the last five police officer deaths in the U.S., according to the Officer Down Memorial Page:
April 20, 2015: Deputy dies when his ATV rolls over on top of him while on patrol.
April 12, 2015: Officer dies of heart attack while working out in department gym.
April 10, 2015: Officer dies in head on crash while transporting prisoner.
April 7, 2015: Officer rolls his car while chasing a traffic violator.
April 6, 2015: Officer accidentally shot and killed on firing range.
Meanwhile, as part of the government’s 1033 military surplus program, 17,000 police departments have, WND reports, “been given $4.2 billion worth of equipment ranging from Blackhawk helicopters and battering rams to explosives, body armor and night vision.”
All for your safety.
Something isn’t right… And I smell smoke.
Oh yeah, that’s right... Baltimore is on fire right outside my window
Once the violence started downtown, and hordes of people realized they could get away with it, there was no stopping it.
The majority of the rioters, we know, are mostly teens and 20-somethings. And they are using Gray’s death as an excuse to loot and tear the city down. Again, these are not protesters exercising their right to free speech. They are simply young, black and angry. Or seem to be having fun. Or both.
And now here we are…
The National Guard has arrived. After Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency. Three of Baltimore’s most notorious gangs -- the Black Guerilla Family, the Bloods, and the Crips -- have reportedly joined arms to take out police officers. Businesses have been shut down all day. The Orioles game was cancelled. I walked toward the troubled areas during the afternoon yesterday, and on the way, the streets were empty and a CVS was on fire.
I just took this photo from my roof of another burning building. Upon writing, I’ve counted four.
It’s about 1a.m. as I write this to you from my apartment in the heart of Mt. Vernon. Helicopters are swarming overhead. There is a building on fire to my right and and another to my left -- each roughly seven to ten blocks away. The sirens are incessant. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
What you’re seeing on the news isn’t the work of a bunch of “animals.” What you’re seeing happening in Baltimore… what’s happening right outside my doorstep... is blowback. To be clear, I'm not condoning the riots in any way, and I think what they are doing is despicable and foolish. But it's a reality. And there's a root cause. Several of them, in fact.
And it might be a long night, dear reader, so I’m getting it all down now.
Before I go, though, check out what John Angelos, son of the billionaire owner of the Orioles team, said yesterday.
“Responding to a local reporter who lamented over the riots on his Twitter feed,” reports Breitbart, “the baseball executive initiated a long series of tweets of his own to explain his position on the matter.”
Here are Angelos’ tweets, assembled by Tom Ley, a blogger at Deadspin:
... 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 honoured 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 militarised 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.”
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today
P.S. I’m starting to get a bit of a sense what a currency collapse -- and social disorder -- would feel like. And how one should prepare.