‘Humiliate people for long enough and a wildness bursts out’: Why I stand by Baltimore’s rioters
The Independent, by Linda Chavers
A man has been arrested without charge, his spinal cord has been severed, and he’s died – yet our main concern is damaged property
Baltimore, I’m going to tell you what happened, what is happening now and what is going to happen.
In an American city that has been financially devastated and politically corrupt for decades a black man was taken into police custody. This happens fairly often and isn’t deemed newsworthy. Yet in the process of arresting Freddie Gray, so much force was used that his spinal cord was severed, and within a week he died.
Gray made eye contact with the arresting officer: he was not under arrest, no charge had been filed. He was aggressively seized, arrested and searched. This also happens fairly often and isn’t deemed newsworthy. While being placed in handcuffs, a knee was placed on the back of his neck. He was reportedly wrapped up like a pretzel. But such aggression towards us are not at all new, nor are they newsworthy. The cameras don’t come when we get folded up into cars for no reason.
In our age of smartphones and social media the actions of police are now caught and spread rapidly online. So when Gray was in the hospital for a week following his violent arrest, his case was tacked onto the list of other recent acts of police brutality, and broadcast by those who cared.
And, still, nothing was too newsworthy. Not yet. Not for CNN.
Then Freddie went ahead and died, and everything changed.
As the word of protest spread, the Gray family asked for peace.
The people obliged. No news.
There were multiple protests in the immediate aftermath of Gray’s funeral. They’re what have now come to be known as Baltimore’s “peaceful protests.”
Turn the page, and here’s where things become newsworthy. This is the part where you start paying attention.
Because this is when a car was set on fire.
After Sunday we start to see the phrases “peaceful protest” and “riots.” We start to see the word “thugs.” A black mother sees her son protesting and grabs and hits him. She is praised for her motherhood. But this has a footnote. Because if we remove the “riots” and the “peaceful protests,” if we remove the “thuggery” and “criminals” this black woman hitting her child would be called an animal.
To those that have been protesting. And rioting. And destroying. You will be vilified, demonised and blamed for your own destruction. The ruin around you will be cast back among you.
Lives have been lost, but most people are angry about damaged property. How interesting, how curious: to focus on the mourners instead of on the person they mourn.
We shouldn’t be paying attention when property is destroyed. We shouldn’t be paying attention when someone is shot and killed, or arrested and killed or tased and killed or disappeared. You shouldn’t be paying attention because it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. But by then it’s too late.
"Humiliate people for long enough and a wildness bursts out of them," writes Salman Rushdie. And Baltimore’s bursting now. And I stand by the humiliated.