Baltimore: Nonviolence as Nonviolence
Ta-Nehisi Coates is insightful and eloquent. He's wrong in this instance.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is the most important and eloquent writer on race relations in at least a generation. He has special standing to comment on the horrendous events unfolding in Baltimore:
I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today’s riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution.
I’m a decade older than Coates and, well, white. My only connection to Baltimore is that my girlfriend lives there. She doesn’t live in a housing project. So, certainly, I view the rioting through a different lens. That said, I disagree strongly with the fundamental argument Coates makes in “Nonviolence as Compliance.”
Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.
Gray’s death is both tragic and outrageous. That it’s part of a much larger trend—long understood by inner city residents, particularly those who are poor and black, but only a subject of national discussion since the events of Ferguson—of police brutality is as of yet unproven but certainly a reasonable starting point given the evidence. As Coates summarizes:
The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:
Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include 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 ….
And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims—if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him—a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”
The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build “a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.
There’s no question that the police, under color of authority, hold a privileged position in our legal system. Their actions are presumed correct and those against whom their violence is directed are presumed guilty. Unless the actions take place on video—and sometimes even then—they tend to get away with it. And, of course, there’s a long history of violence against blacks being accorded lower priority.
At the same time, it’s really difficult to bring charges against police officers for violence because their crimes tend not to have witnesses and they tend to have more credibility than their victims. Even in instances where the brutality is so egregious that the city settles a civil suit, the officer is unlikely to be prosecuted. Partly, that’s because the burden of proof is simply higher in a criminal case than in a civil suit. (And most civil suits are simply settled out of court, either to avoid the negative publicity or because the costs of litigation outweigh the costs of settlement.) But juries are extremely reluctant to convict a police officer because they’re presumed to be doing an incredibly dangerous job for the public good.
Regardless, the anger over the constant stream of outrageous cases such as those highlights is understandable. But from that strong foundation, he makes an unsupportable leap:
Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?
We simply don’t know. We have a good basis for conjecture. But the same system that places way too much discretion in the hands of the police in dealing with those suspected of minor crimes places a very high burden of proof in charging those officers with crimes. The only living witnesses, presumably, are the officers who detained Gray.
The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.”)
While powerful rhetoric, this is a non-sequitur. Rioting is taking place in real time in front of news cameras. City officials of course have to call for the rioting to stop. The horrible incidents highlighted—which no doubt represent the mere tip of the iceberg of police brutality in Baltimore—took place in private. City officials couldn’t call for them to stop while they were taking place because they didn’t know they were taking place.
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
But “the aggressor” isn’t “calling time out” here. The mayor hasn’t assaulted anyone. Nor has the governor. Nor, for that matter, have the overwhelming majority of Baltimore’s police officers. Further, acknowledging the “disrespect” demonstrated over decades of inadequate response to police violence against the city’s black citizens, what else is the city leadership supposed to do in response to rioting? If they simply ordered the police out to let those feeling disrespected to vent their frustrations, they’d be rightly condemned as failing to protect those same communities.
Beyond that, as is almost invariably the case, most of the rioting here is using the outrageous incident in question—the subject of legitimate protests—as an excuse for mayhem. They’re not looting and burning Freddie Gray’s community to show respect for Freddie Gray.
Nonviolence and compliance with the law is an insufficient response to what’s ailing Baltimore. But it’s a minimum standard.
That is some grade A, USDA prime bulls**t right there. They may not have known that those specific incidents were taking place, but they knew that the black community was systematically being treated poorly by the police department. Besides community leaders telling them for decades, the payouts for brutality should have been enough to clue them in, yet they did nothing about it. People have known this truth for centuries – it’s so old it’s in the Bible – you reap what you sow.
Need to point out that the overwhelming majority of black citizens are also not rioting or looting.
Look, nonviolence is all well and good and desirable but at some point when the response to nonviolence is constantly nothing, then how else is attention to be sought and how else are solutions to be found?
When the Governor talks about “lawless thugs”, he also needs to be talking about the “lawless thugs” in the police forces. We can’t pretend they are not present, however small minority they may be.
I applaud Coates his efforts to discuss this issue outside the framework of MLK Jr and Gandhi. Non-violent protest is fine in most cases, but sometimes rather than letting the oppressor continue to hit you in the head, you must grab their wrist and forcibly prevent them from striking the blow.
@beth: “That is some grade A, USDA prime bulls**t right there. ”
Seconding this. James, read the article which you are quoting. The police do this day in, day out, and are almost never prosecuted. All of which is quite deliberate. Heck, it’s rare for a police officer to be fired for crimes committed on video.
What we have heard here are some of the same excuses that were put out decades ago in the riots of the ’60’s that systematically swept many cities, riots carried out by well organized and funded extremist, insurrectionist groups that sought to destroy and take over. We were fed the line that these riots were the results of the living conditions in the slum areas, that people were destroying their areas in acts reflecting their hopelessness and desperation: the “abuse excuse” gone to seed.
And the answer to all of this was, of course, more government programs ! Why would people burn and loot their own businesses and homes ?
But look at the problems and in some of the cities today, including Baltimore. Adult illiteracy: people can’t do much if they can’t read. Public education: the federal government has turned schools into testing centers, not places of education. Career bureaucrats, judges, and politicians now run the schools and have tied the hands of teachers and principals to deal with student behavior. Get the federal government out, turn the schools back over to the local districts. Crime: people can’t open a business if there are criminals running wild. Gang members, drug pushers, and career criminals roam the streets. Criminals have their guns, while law abiding citizens are having their gun rights taken away! Soft on crime judges turn them loose time and again. Decriminalize drug possession and you take away the illegal profit motive. Publish pictures and addresses of gang leaders and members: they will leave town and go elsewhere. Put judges in who will keep violent criminals locked up. Organize neighborhood groups who will clean up the area, and watch for criminal activity.
If those things are done, businesses will come in and things will get better. The answer is not more federal government programs.
So it’s the incompetent or stupid defense, is it?
This is quickly becoming a national issue. Why do police officers, when they have clearly violated the Constitution and due process, get all the benefit of the doubt? Why the paid administrative leave? Why do we accept this “war zone hero” mentality when it comes to the police? Why are the blatant conflicts of interest between police and prosecutors acceptable?
See, due process can’t simply be for white police officers. It has to be for everyone, or it’s obviously a sham. A crock. A piece of paper that means nothing in reality.
And there needs to be a use of force review at every police department right now. The use of Tasers as a torture device. The shoots in the back of fleeing suspects. The illegal chokeholds. The callous refusal to apply any medical aid whatsoever.
And we can’t simply throw up our arms and say, “Whelp, nobody’s gonna convict a police officer, especially over a black man.”
All that attitude shows is that our Constitution, system of justice, and society is a racist charade.
I read the TNC piece this way: It’s true that people engaged in looting aren’t doing so as an act of political protest, but it’s also true that looters aren’t taking their cues from op-eds and political bloggers. As such, a writer’s choice to say “civic order in Baltimore must be restored before any action is taken relative to police brutality in Baltimore” is not a meaningful contribution to resolving the civic unrest in Baltimore; it’s simply a statement of that writer’s priorities.
I understand what you’re saying, and I agree in part. On the other hand, we don’t seem to have serious discussion of race issues in this country until and unless there is violence. MLK Jr as an example is all very well, but what would he have achieved if it wasn’t for groups like the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam holding out the threat of violence?
If we are serious about violence not being necessary of helpful, we need to start responding to racial injustice even when the victims of it do not turn to violence.
Didn’t know I was parroting Coates and King last night in Doug’s thread, but yeah, basically. Order’s a great thing until the prevailing one shits on you all the time.
“. . .whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last.”
@beth: @Barry: I’ve acknowledged the problem throughout the piece. That doesn’t change the fact that the mayor (who I gather is herself black) has to call for rioting to stop and can’t call for specific incidents she doesn’t know about to stop.
@Scott: I don’t claim–and neither do the mayor or governor—that most blacks are rioting. Nor does anything in the post say this is about the conduct of black people. It’s about the specific people who are engaging in criminal mayhem.
@Lit3Bolt: I’m generally libertarian on police issues and have written dozens of pieces over the years about police mentality, the militarization of the police, and related issues. It’s much worse in the black community but bad generally. None of that excuses rioting.
They didn’t know James? Really? Are they stupid? Or illiterate? Because they sure as sh!t should have known. The Baltimore Sun told them so. And in fact, they did.
But I also insist that Baltimore protests are appropriate regardless of what happened to Freddie Gray, as is more federal scrutiny and intervention. Although much was rightly made of Ferguson’s racially unrepresentative local leadership, the presence of a black mayor and a diverse city council has not solved Baltimore’s police problem, partly because the DOJ responded to revelations of epidemic brutality with less than the full-scale civil rights probe that some residents requested and because Maryland pols have thwarted reform bills urged by city leaders.
(the bolded parts above have links in CF’s piece)
But the majority doesn’t care what happens to those people. The majority only cares when “property” gets damaged, and then all they say is, “See what those people did? They’re animals.” and turn to the sports section.
Same as it ever was.
That’s basically what these kinds of “spontaneous” outbursts of violence in response to particular incidents of police brutality amount to.
Sad truth no one wants to hear: non-violence doesn’t always work.
Non-violence as a tactic relies on the conscious and moral guidance of those its trying to reach. Seeing people passively take aggression only works if it can strike at the heart of its target audience and turn them towards the cause. If it doesn’t work, all that’s happening is you get beaten to death. It’s a gamble with morals and guilt but utterly depends on your opponent having them in the first place.
When it becomes obvious that it’s not working and is in fact a detriment to your cause, why should you be expected to keep to it? When people keep dying and there are peaceful protests that get dismissed and ignored at best or denigrated and mocked at worst…. why in the hell do you expect people to stay “civilized” when clearly “civility” isn’t playing by the same rules? Gandhi meant it as a shaming tactic to the world at large; when the shaming attempt gets laughed at as “race baiting” instead of provoking change, it’s time for a new tactic. Society probably isn’t going to like how it turns out and it is its own damn fault for not responding to the carrot when the stick appears.
@R.Dave: Gah! I see that C. Calvin beat me to it!
While this is certainly a police/black problem…that is but a microcosm of a far bigger, systematic problem.
Patreus gets a slap on the wrist for espionage, Bush and Cheney get off scott-free from torture charges, and kids are executed for being black. Everything possible is done to suppress the minority vote, while the SCOTUS turns every corporate bank account into a slush fund, thus amplifying the voices of rich white men. Programs that help the poorest minorities are slashed in order to provide tax cuts for the wealthiest amongst us with a promise of job creation…while the so-called job creators are actually shipping jobs overseas in the search for a few more bucks of profit. Rich Corporations like Walmart are allowed to pay a sub-living wage that forces people onto public assistance…and then those people are called moochers by the rich white politicians and their hyper-pliant dupes. I’m not even going to talk about the difference in incarceration rates between whites and blacks.
Coates is an important voice.
The rich white guy from the Orioles is far more important…and you cannot read this too many times:
Police mentality and militarization of the police are getting worse, not better.
Your dozens of pieces, and all other work done to stem the tide of the police militarization, have done nothing to stop the trend.
Rioting feels like the eventual end tactic, after all the blog posts have failed, to confront increasing police militarization, doesn’t it?
One would surmise that poor blacks in Baltimore don’t feel like they have time to wait for Reason or whoever else to somehow completely reverse trends in our policing.
James, I submit to you the counter proposal. Imagine that riots were not taking place, but that 10,000 Baltimore residents were marching through the streets peacefully and shutting down businesses as a result. What would be the police response?
Historically, the police response to such peaceful protests has been to strictly enforce laws on “criminal activity” — from public urination to littering to (guess what?) “illegal assembly” — on the entire group, and to treat marginal lawbreaking as reason to arrest and detain anyone nearby.
Historically, the police response to such peaceful protests has been to provide only minimal protection to protesters while allowing both official and unofficial agents to physically confront the assembled.
Historically, then, the police response to such peaceful protests has been, effectively, to incite violence.
And historically, the police response subsequent to those few protests that have remained peaceful has been to act like the whole thing can be ignored because there was no long-term consequence to the ruling class.
While the mayor and governor must insist on peaceful demonstration (the alternative is to assert that the rioters are reasonable in their actions and to condone violence within their communities), they also need to make strong statements regarding police brutality that might give those observing the riots the feeling that progress might be made. It’s not enough to say that those involved in one particular incident will be investigated; the entire apparatus needs reform.
Until the mayor and governor show some indication that they recognize that fact, the rioters don’t appear to have any recourse and thus have no reason to stop.
Indeed, I’d submit that the criminal activities of the rioters, while deplorable in a civil and socially responsive society, seem to be perfectly acceptable in a society governed by people who just don’t give a rat’s ass. Empty words about “respecting the right to protest” won’t get anyone anywhere.
It’s easy for us to sit safe and comfortable at our computers and condemn it; certainly it deserves condemnation, although not as much as the abuse and injustice that created it.
I’m curious, do we also condemn rioting because of an increase in the sales tax?
Unfortunately, this rioting has resulted in people thinking we need *more* militarization of police. Even though the police in Michigan are getting grenade launchers. (Yes, yes, with the “intention” of converting them to fire tear gas instead.)
James doesn’t have to imagine, all he has to do is remember “Occupy Wall Street”.
The rioters are opportunists, destroying black businesses, black homes, and black jobs, and Freddie Gray’s family doesn’t support what they are doing. I am embarrassed by many of the comments above, which can’t seem to grasp this, and which verge on justifying the rioting.
Note also that police wrongfully kill people (especially young men) every week, not just black men. This problem will not be fixed by looking at things SOLELY through a racial lense (although obviously there is a racial dimension as well).
Indeed, young black men are disproportionately killed by BLACK cops. In Philadelphia, according to the Justice Department’s recent report, threat perception failures (TPF) were substantially higher among black cops than among white cops, meaning that black cops are more likely to shoot or kill unarmed young black men than white cops are. This disparity exists in other police departments as well. Moreover, although most unarmed people killed in Philadelphia were black, unarmed white men also get shot: “Our analysis also shows that threat perception failures (TPF) occur with suspects of all races.”
I wish certain people in the progressive media (like Dara Lind of Vox and Marc Lamont Hill on CNN) would stop supporting the rioting in Baltimore, which they seem to forget is destroying black businesses, black homes, and black jobs, not just white businesses. There is nothing progressive about that.
I’m sorry, guys, I’ve been reading this back-handed justification of riots for too long. You might have a point … if the riots ever did any good. But they never do. The Watts Riots didn’t transform the LAPD. The Rodney King riots didn’t result in reform of the LAPD. Quite the opposite: they became more militarized, more aggressive. When the powerful see chaos and destruction, their response is to think they aren’t cracking down hard enough. So, in the end, you have property destruction … in the very areas of the city that are the poorest. You have businesses destroyed and jobs lost … in the very areas of the city that need them the most. Yes, it’s not “fair” that people who’ve been brutalized are expected to be non-violent in their response. But it’s the only thing that works. The public if finally, grudgingly, slowly waking up to the issue of police militarization and oppression. Riots just convince them it’s all justified.
And what about the police who engage in criminal mayhem? I think it’s going to take more than writing vague condemnations and pouring a finger or two of single malt.
It’s funny that a man who consistently supports a political party that consistently oppresses minorities would advocate for a tactic (non-violent protest) that has hardly any history of effectiveness in dealing with the problem at hand. Funny…or naive.
Violence begets violence. You reap what you sow. Et cetera.
Wishing those uppity kids would go home and behave themselves isn’t going to change that.
It didn’t work 240 years ago, and it won’t work now.
“But “the aggressor” isn’t “calling time out” here. The mayor hasn’t assaulted anyone. Nor has the governor.”
Osama bin Laden didn’t fly any planes into the World Trade Center
That is an outright lie, James. City officials somehow didn’t know about the hundreds of civil rights lawsuits, detailing multiple and continuing accounts of torture, assault and even murder by the police, filed against the city?
These lyrics are still apt-50 years later:
Lord, I am tired of this sh1t.
When did you join the Tea Party? 😉
The proper response to this situation, where violence is being visited upon poor black people in Baltimore, is to put a stop to the police violence, not to have people visit more violence upon … well, not upon the police, actually … upon poor black people in Baltimore.
A good point. Non-violence worked for Gandhi in India because the British had a moral limit, there were things they were not prepared to do. What happened to the proto-Gandhis in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia and Pol Pot’s Cambodia? They were tortured to death in some cellar, never to be heard from again.
It might surprise some to learn that black people are not helpless children and that the city police department is not an intractable institution immune from oversight by the city’s elected representatives. The police commissioner actually does report to the Mayor and City Council, and if the residents of Baltimore don’t like they way they are treated by the police, they can elect people who will institute different policies. In New York City, the people didn’t like the Stop and Frisk policy, so they elected a new mayor who promised to abolish it. And, guess what? He did!
The people of Baltimore actually do have a recourse that doesn’t involve rioting.
It’s an informed gamble in shared humanity. The assumption that oppressors have no morals that can be appealed to is as bad as the assumption that black people are naturally or culturally criminals.
What we’re seeing now isn’t oppressors without morals unable to be changed through nonviolent resistance, but oppressors categorizing nonviolent resistance as the only legitimate means of change. They’ve rigged the field in terms of the visibility of protest over the last few decades to further stigmatize it, except in cases of white protest (see your average abortion clinic crowd). Nonviolent resistance worked in the day because it took place in the context of violent upheaval, this is true, but violence has been the rule of the day in human affairs for thousands of years. It doesn’t seem to solve much that doesn’t come bubbling up again a generation or two later.
That’s actually false. Having lived in LA, while the LAPD still has many problems, it’s a much more professional police force thant it was in the early 90s, and a large part of that is due to its being put under the microscope after the King case.
How do you propose we put an end to police violence in a system that encourages and protects police and systematically oppresses their victims?
A couple verses of Kymbaya???
I would like to see some evidence for this statement. We live in an era when the Supreme Court has taken the extra-constitutional defense of qualified immunity and expanded it to the point that a lawsuit against a police officer or the municipality employing the officer cannot even get to a jury, much less win, unless the officer’s conduct is not just wrong, but so outrageously wrong that a previous Supreme Court case has precisely condemned doing exactly what this officer did in this lawsuit. Cities defend cases all the time–and win the defense–based on qualified immunity, even though there’s no real dispute about the fact that what the officer did was wrong.
There may be the occasional case that gets settled because of concerns about bad publicity, but those are the exception, not the rule. As a rule, cases settle because there is evidence of wrongful conduct that creates a high risk that even juries that are sympathetic towards the police will find against them.
It’s bad enough that cops don’t get charged for their crimes against the citizens (black or white) they are supposed to protect. It’s worse that they then get civil immunity for many of their crimes, and that taxpayers rather than the cop that did the beating pay in the small percentage of total cases of brutality that do get paid. But it is disgusting when apologists claim that the administration is not responsible for a specific crime because they didn’t know its details while it was happening.
Tony Soprano didn’t have to know each job his crew was pulling to be responsible for the crime. He set the system up, and enforced the punishments and rewards that kept it running. It’s sad that it’s not the stretch it ought to be to compare the city of Baltimore to a crime family.
@Hal_10000: It’s a key point to make: this is all ultimately about persuasion. It feeds into a dramatic narrative that appears everywhere about the side character or friend who tells a hard truth with nothing to lose versus the slick dude who tells the comforting lie. It’s a narrative only, but enough people consume stories and have poor filters vis-à-vis reality and fantasy for it to work.
The other option is a giant race war which, like King says in that quote, ain’t gonna happen and wouldn’t work anyway. So you either riot all the time which draws attention to the problem but also hardens hearts against you, or you take a beating to remind people you’re a human being with actual grievances.
Honestly, I don’t blame picking the riots. It’s a hard choice only desperate people have to make. Or this could all be the fabled “outside agitators” and I’m completely wrong. We’ll know (or have a better idea anyway) in a week or two.
When we get to the point where it is commonly described as a wave of riots over police brutality, I think it will change things. A wave of protests is easy to ignore, but a wave of riots? Something needs to be done.
I wish a wave of peaceful protests was enough, but it clearly hasn’t been.
Riot on, my brown friends, I’m with you in spirit, breaking glass and generally scaring the crap out of the country. But, please don’t do it near me, as I like my quiet street.
This is a good point but to be fair, when you’re stressed out from work and want to throw something, do you chuck your lamp or drive out to your boss’ house to throw his? Since riots tend to be spontaneous, you’re usually in your neighborhood or where you work, not in the part of town where it would make the most impact economically or socially. It’s part of the tragedy; a bug not a feature.
Says the guy who advocates for voter suppression.
Actually today’s Tea Party would have been the Loyalists in the late 18th century…destined to take up residence in Nova Scotia.
Your comment is the perfect distillation of the many comments above supporting the riots, by limousine liberals:
“Riot on, my brown friends, I’m with you in spirit, breaking glass and generally scaring the crap out of the country. But, please don’t do it near me, as I like my quiet street.”
NIMBY, indeed. The riots are destroying black homes and black businesses, and you are supporting them in someone else’s neighborhood to make your comfortably well-off, politically-correct self feel good. Anything to make you feel good about yourself, no matter how much destruction it does to the lives of other people.
If you actually lived in one of the affected neighborhoods, you wouldn’t say that.
It amazes me that the bulk of the commenters above seem to condone the riots (and seem to think that this is the “progressive” position to take). Like neo-conservatism, political correctness is a mental disorder.
Do you know the difference between understanding (or trying to understand) why the riots are taking place and “condoning ” them?
Correct, James. It is about the Baltimore Police Department.
“Do you know the difference between understanding (or trying to understand) why the riots are taking place and “condoning ” them?”
I do understand. I was not born yesterday. Many of the comments above disgracefully condone the riots, deriding non-violent alternatives as pointless and justifying the violence as supposedly being moral (even though the violence is destroying black homes and businesses). They do not merely seek to understand its causes.
I do not condone…I attempt to understand. I am a white heterosexual male born in the USA and in the top 5% of income. I was born a lottery winner. Never been oppressed a single day in my life…so it’s difficult. But I try.
Should I assume you condone police officers who kill kids for being black?
@Roger: According to the study linked below, from 2006 to 2011, the Baltimore Police Department paid or settled civil rights judgments totalling $11,647,127 in 128 cases. That is an average of $90,993 per case. The study does not break-out settlement versus jury awards, nor give a distribution, but that type of value strongly suggests most civil rights cases are going to fall into a range that it is cheaper to settle than fight. And it is not just the legal costs, the cost of computer technicians to aid in discovery appears quite high.
When the history is clear…the history is clear. Non-violent protest is an ineffective tactic against violent oppression. As one of the oppressors I’m sure you would prefer non-violence…I mean…why not? I’m sure French Aristocracy would have preferred that no one stormed the Bastille.
I live in a wealthy white town. If our cops treated us the way Baltimore cops treat people, we’d have blown up a long, long time ago. We push back when we get speeding tickets, let alone beatings.
But of course we are rich white people, so we don’t get to the point of rioting because we have a whole array of other tools available: the vote, civil lawsuits, criminal defense attorneys, the politicians we buy. Just as important, we have time and energy because we are not trapped in a daily grind of barely getting by, of balancing whether we’ll keep the lights or the water turned on or feed our kids.
We have power and privilege, spare time and massive resources, so the cops are very polite here in Tiburon. Twice I’ve had Tiburon cops pull me over for speeding (guilty both times) and let me go with a verbal warning, no warrant check, no “step out of the car, sir,” no, “keep your hands where I can see them.” Just a polite, “Well, watch your speed sir and have a good night.”
We would not tolerate 10% of the abuse the Baltimore PD (and many other police departments) dole out. We wouldn’t stand for 1% of it. We wouldn’t tolerate a single instance. The amazing thing to me is not that Baltimore is rioting, but that they haven’t been rioting for decades. The people of Baltimore have shown the patience (or resignation) of saints.They’ve been practicing non-violence, but the cops keep practicing violence.
If you ignore chronic conditions they quite often turn dangerous. We’ve been ignoring the effects of drug laws, we’ve been ignoring the effects of police militarization, we’ve been ignoring the hollowing out of our cities, we’ve been ignoring disenfranchisement, and when, after decades of neglect and brutality the people riot, we sit back and tut-tut and talk about order, order, and demand more oppression.
We have a problem in capitalism, in this country and in Europe, in all the developed capitalist countries. We don’t have jobs for all the people, and certainly not for young people. We are never again going to have jobs for all the people. We have to figure out a way to adapt to that reality and that’s going to take some radical re-thinking of our current plan which seems to be to continue arresting, beating and occasionally murdering people who’ve been marginalized and forgotten.
What if the non-violent means really are pointless? Then what? More non-violence? Double down on pointless?
You’re assuming non-violence works, but the non-violence Dr. King preached had weapons at its disposal: boycotts and strikes. The Montgomery bus boycott worked because there was a specific target which could be damaged economically. There was a specific injustice, a specific target, and a means for causing them pain.
Where are the equivalent mechanisms for dealing with thuggish cops?
@michael reynolds: “Where are the equivalent mechanisms for dealing with thuggish cops?”
Hold a mass sit in at a busy downtown intersection and force the cops to arrest dozens/hundreds of people? Then do it again next week and the week after that and the week after that, etc, until the Baltimore court system can’t handle the strain?
I understand, as much a your average white dude can, the rioting. But egging on violence is much, much more likely to result in some sort of spectacular massacre than it is any productive change in circumstances.
Now, you could argue that some horrible moment of clarity is needed. I get the sense, however, that TNC should have probably spent 10 minutes examining the history of “success” that violence achieved for folks like the IRA or the Palestinians before touching his keyboard this time.
It’s hilarious for you to claim I am “one of the oppressors” just because I refuse to make excuses for the rioting.
Unlike you, I am not a “white heterosexual male born in the USA and in the top 5% of income” (as you describe yourself).
You falsely claimed in one of your comments above that you did “not condone” the riots, but in the very next comment, you condoned them, saying:
“Non-violent protest is an ineffective tactic against violent oppression. As one of the oppressors I’m sure you would prefer non-violence.”
Stop condoning riots that are destroying black homes, businesses, and jobs. That’s a luxury that limousine liberals like you can afford, but black people who live and work in the affected neighborhoods can’t afford. My mother-in-law, who was born in Africa, not “in the USA,” thinks the excuses for the riots (including excuses that masquerade as attempts to “understand” them) are complete BS.
As a commenter above noted,
“It might surprise some to learn that black people are not helpless children and that the city police department is not an intractable institution immune from oversight by the city’s elected representatives. The police commissioner actually does report to the Mayor [who is African-American, by the way] and City Council, and if the residents of Baltimore don’t like they way they are treated by the police, they can elect people who will institute different policies. In New York City, the people didn’t like the Stop and Frisk policy, so they elected a new mayor who promised to abolish it. And, guess what? He did! The people of Baltimore actually do have a recourse that doesn’t involve rioting.”
Non-violent protest is not perfectly effective, but it is far more beneficial than opportunistic violence by gang members and others using a tragic death as a pretext to riot.
Well, Mike, violence sure worked for the colonists didn’t it? It worked for the Bolsheviks. It worked for the Maoists. Worked (kind of) for the French revolutionaries (round one and round two.) Look at the world map and you see borders created by violence, regimes installed by violence, ethnic concentrations created by violence, religions spread by violence.
The tactic you suggest was the one used by Occupy. And they certainly changed the conversation, but as of right now, that’s all they did. You fill an intersection, the cops arrest people and let them go, catch and release. It’s not such a strain really. If you persist in stopping traffic you turn people against you and they come to back harsher repression. Again: Occupy.
Weeks of peaceful demonstrations in Baltimore didn’t even crack the news, but one day of violence sure as hell did.
I appreciate the effort to provide data, though I’m not sure it leads me to the same conclusion you draw from it. An average settlement value tells us little about whether cases were settled because it was cheaper to settle than fight. I think that the two biggest lies about civil litigation that are generally believed by the general public are that meritless cases commonly are settled because of the cost of defense and that fear of litigation causes defensive medicine that unnecessarily drives up health costs.
The combination of cost of defense and legitimate concern about liability leads to some cases being settled that would be won if tried, but my (admittedly anecdotal) experience is that police departments recognize that payment of meritless claims increases costs by increasing the number of cases filed, and as a result defend cases aggressively. I would argue that it is just as likely that cases of clear wrongdoing are settled for pennies on the dollar because the costs of prosecuting a case that is aggressively defended combined with the knowledge that the claim is being brought against a defendant in a class that is generally viewed sympathetically by prospective jurors leads plaintiffs to accept substantially discounted settlements on meritorious claims.
The commenter you quote is a person who would keep minorities from voting, would deport every illegal alien, supports discrimination against homosexuals, and would eliminate every program aimed at helping the poor in Baltimore while calling them moochers. Be careful with whom you align yourself.
I lived thru the race riots in Miami in the late 80’s. I’ve seen first-hand the destruction they cause and I feel for the citizens who are powerless to protect their homes against rioters. But Miami is now a far better place than it was then. LA is better for the King riots. That’s not to condone rioting but to recognize the course of history.
You have to come to grips with reality. The system is stacked against these people and it gets more stacked against them every single day. Just today there is a rich old white Senator from rural America saying he sees no need to fix the damage the SCOTUS did to the CRA. And so it will not be fixed and minorities will be more oppressed tomorrow than today. Eventually there is a tipping point. There always is.
The new coverage of this has been pretty horrific. I was watching CNN off and on and they never mentioned the long and ugly history of these “rides” the Baltimore PD have been giving and the dozens of people seriously injured. Agree with a lot of what Conor says here
For every unsuccessful rebellion or insurrection, however, there’s a successful one (at least “successful” defined as overcoming the previous regime). Just look at, say, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Bolsheviks, the Irish War of Independence, the Chinese Communists, the Jewish campaign against the British in Palestine, the Viet Cong, Rhodesia, etc. etc. Violence works sometimes, not in others. There’s no iron rule.
@KM: Does anyone think that non-violence tactics would have worked against groups that really don’t care–say, the Khmer Rouge?
They’d just laugh and use your lining up in a row as shooting targets.
Riots are what happen when non-violence doesn’t solve matters. And right now everyone is tsk-tsking about the rioting and the looting and property damage rather than the fact that a young black man was taken into police custody and ended up dead and there STILL hasn’t been any explanation as to how or why.
@Roger: To be clear, that figure is not the average settlement value, but the average payout for a lawsuit whether settled or tried in court. That tells me the average value of a successful case. At around $90,000 that means a lot of cases will have litigation expenses that will eclipse the average value. That doesn’t mean they are meritless.
I swear we have this discussion every time this @&^@%& happens – deja vu in the worst way.
Yes, there are apparently people on this thread and over on Doug’s that really believe that. It’s almost as if the concept of “non-violence” itself has become a weapon. Don’t follow it exactly in the way society dictates, your cause is seen as damaged or lessened. It’s become another means of social control instead of the rebellious act Gandhi envisioned. Angry, disillusioned people lashing out are portrayed as nothing more then mindless animals soiling the crate . Assumptions are being made that there aren’t any sincere protesters but they’re all “gang members” or opportunistic thieves so it’s easy to dismiss them all. They being punished for expressing their anger – they’re just supposed to hold it in and simmer with impotent rage. You’re right in that there are complaints about property, business but nobody’s talking about change or reform. Just “goddamn there goes another CVS!! Bastards!!”
Are there people out there taking advantage of this and looting for the sheer hell of it? Why, yes there is. Are there people out there glorying in mindless destruction? Some men just want to watch the world burn and are happy to contribute a match or two. But the sentiment, the underlying anger and bitterness are very very VERY real and ever present. Those who fail to learn from history end up repeating it…. often at gunpoint. Dismiss the anger of the poor and downtrodden at your own peril for sometimes they win.
The answer to why don’t they all behave like Dr. King or Ghandi is that society has figured out countermeasures to non-violence. That happens, you know, opponents adjust to your tactics.
And by the way, the violent threats of the Black Panthers and Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown and Malcolm X, as well as nationwide riots that followed King’s assassination, contributed to forcing the pace of change. Just as the Stonewall riots pushed gay rights onto the agenda.
Had Occupy been a bit less non-violent and say, burned and looted a dozen New York City banks and brokerage firms, believe me income inequality would be much further up the list of pressing issues. As it was they banged their little drums and then they faded away. I think they changed the discussion, but not by as much as they would have if they’d left Goldman Sachs partners scared to step out of their limos.
@KM: To hear a lot of the mindless media loons, property damage is the most heinous crime of all. Death and/or beating of people by the police? Business as usual.
(Of course, none of the media clowns ever expect to be in the same position as those unruly members of the lumpenproletariat, and if they were treated with the same disdain and disrespect the Baltimore police seem to have for the people they are nominally placed to serve, the media clowns would be genuinely shocked.)
When otherwise intelligent people start using words like “rebellion” and “insurrection” for what’s going on in Baltimore and invoke Bolsheviks, Maoists and George Washington, it’s time to slowly back away because you can’t debate the non-rational.
@michael reynolds: Had Occupy been a bit less non-violent and say, burned and looted a dozen New York City banks and brokerage firms, believe me income inequality would be much further up the list of pressing issues.
Because bombing abortion clinics worked wonders for the pro-life movement?
Actually, yes. Abortion opponents have been making steady progress in shutting down clinics everywhere outside of solid blue states.
This is one of my least favorite type of arguments because it rests on deliberately misrepresenting the other side. You’re pretending that we are equating Mao and the riots. In fact your position is that non-violence is more effective than violence, and some of us are pointing out examples of where you are wrong. No one is equating this thing in Baltimore to actual revolutions, we’re pointing out historical examples of successful violence.
Warms my heart to hear this.
If you remember, I was super-critical of the Occupy approach for this very reason. The only difference is that I don’t think Occupy should have burned or looted anything. But would it have been so bad if they had defended themselves?
@C. Clavin: You can’t.
Gotta say Mike, that is the dumbest thing I have heard in a long time. Do I really need to cite all the times in history that violence did in fact achieve the desired result? To name 2, it worked quite well for the British in Ireland and the Zionists in post WWII Palestine.
Sitting this one out. I’m too close to the situation and I’m viscerally, profoundly offended by some of the commentary.
@michael reynolds: OWS: in the city near here, they partied a lot, did not clean up, and never seemed to decide on a plan. Once it started getting cool at night (50 degrees), they packed up and either returned to school or their parents.
It is somewhat disappointing that the Republican platform for these local elections is so repugnant that people would prefer police brutality, isn’t it?
Or, they could just just elect competent Democrats capable of managing a police force that doesn’t brutalize the citizenry.
Speaking solely in the abstract about violence, here are some thoughts. I am not advocating violence but like others I recognize that sometimes it is effective.
The violence of 9/11 changed our country deeply. For good or ill, it provoked a policy response as well as a military response. Other examples of the effective use of violence have been cited.
Sometimes it is not violence itself that works but the threat of violence. If you think that Martin Luther King would have been as effective without Malcolm X, you would be mistaken. The specter of a wide swath of angry black people and a coming “race war” has been out there for decades, and widespread rioting is something people fear. This is why the Black Panthers and the so-called New Black Panther Party are reviled. This is why Black Liberation Theology is especially reviled – because speaking any kind of truth to power about the oppression of black people in this country has been largely taboo and anything that encourages dissent, violent or not, is not tolerated.
Last week I was driving toward Hilton Head, SC and saw a billboard with a picture of a billowing Confederate flag on it with the words “Never Forget.” Never forget what? The violence of the North against the South? But they conveniently forget that what they fought to protect was ultimately a system of violence against a large section of people in this country. It’s 2015 and black people still have to fight to be seen as people worthy of the most basic protections of the Constitution.
“Any means necessary” – it is not necessarily right, but nonviolence can be easily ignored in favor of the status quo.