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Lessons From Baltimore

Updated on May 2, 2015

If the past upheaval of violence in Baltimore hasn't disturbed you, then, I’m afraid, I don’t know what will. The riot was, of course, sad and unfortunate, but, as I have to point out, it is far from surprising. I’m, honestly speaking- stunned it took this long for a riot of this magnitude to occur after the deaths of Black males over the pass couple of years that were, luckily for America, caught on camera. However, listening to some of my peers and friends, respectively, there’s a stark lack of perspective, and consequently, I wanted to list two lessons I took from the Baltimore riot.

People care about the “hood” only when it’s burning:

There are myriad problems plaguing America’s inner cities. Poverty, overwhelming unemployment, rampant substance abuse (although drug problems occur in other communities, but because of the scarcity of resources, the effects are more acute in the hood) cause undeniable problems for residents residing in these communities-some of most vulnerable and marginalized people in the nation. The majority of social scientists-if you are unaware, have been painstakingly delineating and extensively chronicling the deterioration of institutions and public spaces in America's inner cities.

That being said, considering the severity of issues, especially the ones I listed, the media have paid little to no attention to this stark problems. As a result, Americans are not nearly informed enough to talk about the quotidian obstacles these citizens encounter. Not many networks, correct me if I'm wrong, report about how devastating deindustrialization was to inner cities, removing vital blue collar jobs either to the suburbs or to other countries, causing unemployment in these areas to exponentially rise.

The media, however, rather cover of utter violence in the inner cities. Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore are prime examples. In Ferguson, citizens and city officials claim there have been problems of unemployment and police harassment for decades, but it took Mr. Brown’s death and a riot, exacerbated by ill-trained, incompetent police officers, for the city to receive any attention from the national media. Fathers struggling to find viable employment to support their families, mothers working two or more menial jobs to raise their sons in abject impoverished conditions are not considered are worthy stories. Residents have been living under the weight of poverty and despair for decades without any care from the media, and when the national media deigns to cover the poor, these citizens are derided, belittled, and, worse of all, blamed for their problems. For example, Paul Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, said the working poor suffer from a culture of laziness. Well, using a facile answer, as laziness, to answer complicated and convoluted issues, like poverty and joblessness, is-in all fairness, stupid, but, I guess, it's fine when talking about poor people.

There are limits to peaceful protest

Most people clamor for peaceful protest. Ray Lewis, ex-NFL player, current master of histrionics, made a plea for peace via social media, imploring the rioters to use peaceful, prudent avenues in expressing their anger-so to speak. Ray Lewis seems to forget, or neglects to mention, there was a peaceful protest for six days in Baltimore prior to the disturbance, and Lewis didn't speak out in support of those peaceful protest, the type of demonstrating he prefers, but if buildings aren’t on fire, neither Lewis nor the national media seem to care. Peaceful protests are ideal-of course. Nobody, besides apparently news networks, wants to see innocent people injured, property damaged, or lives shattered, but recent history teaches us, if anything, peaceful protest isn’t as effective as we want to believe. The 2011 Wisconsin Teacher Union protest was a failure, though it received attention for political reasons, but the bill, restricting collective bargaining, was passed. Occupy Wall Street was another peaceful protest that called for financial equality, which attracted much attention(thousands of people of men erecting protesting bivouacs should, of course, garner some attention). OWS was a failure; income inequality has not been addressed, and Wall Street is still, if not more, influential.

The efficacy of peaceful protest, I think, is contingent on what the powerful side has to lose or gain. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, for example, was peaceful and successful because the company was losing revenue. Furthermore, the civil rights movement was successful because the South’s Jim Crow laws tarnished America’s international image. The civil rights campaign occurred during the height of the cold war, and America, attempting to promote democracy and, more importantly, capitalism, desired to be "perceived" as the land of freedom and prosperity-which was nearly impossible when a significant portion of the American population, meaning Southern Blacks, was relegated to second-class citizenship and were being brutalized on American streets, so much for freedom. The federal government, after a decade of marches, violence, and febrile racial tension, had to act, passing the Civil Rights Acts. Moreover, you, if you’re a student of history, probably will argue that Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March, a peaceful protest, was successful because India gained independence not too long after the march. This argument indeed has merit. India became independent from England after the march; however, many historians contend India’s independence was going to happen regardless. It was only a matter of when, not if.

Let’s examine for a moment, if you will, how peaceful protest is working in Palestine. Americans, at least most Americans, are cognizant of the acts of violence that have occurred in Palestine. Quite a few Americans, for the most part, deem Palestinians as pugnacious people who prefer terrorism over peaceful protest. The media depicts them as terrorists willing to blow themselves up, shoot homespun rockets in Israeli neighborhoods in order to obliterate Israel from the face of the earth. I hear people constantly say that Palestinians need to demonstrate their anger in a peaceful manner, but few realize nonviolent demonstrations have been used since the 1940s, but those nonviolent demonstrations are not covered on news networks because they’re not sexy. See, people resorting to violence always get our attention. Well, the same can be said about the “hood”. Yes, there are problems, but if you do it peacefully, you won’t get the vital coverage. Let’s face it: most people, especially the powerful, prefer nonviolent demonstrations because they are easier to ignore.


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    • Earl Warren profile imageAUTHOR

      Warren Parker 

      3 years ago from North Bergen, New Jersey

      I asked that question many, many times. I think it is a combination of institutional racism and poverty/class. Afro-American men, historically speaking, have been targeted by the authorities. Even after the abolishment of slavery, ex-slaves were systemically opposed by Jim Crow Laws. I believe racism, since then, has been ingrained in America's institutions, especially law enforcement. One Jim Crow law required Blacks to prove they are working, and if they couldn't produce working papers, they would be arrested and sent to prison, subjected to force labor. In today's society, law enforcement is ruminative enterprise for private industries and state governments, and since Blacks are vulnerable, because of lack of educational and employment opportunities, and institutional racism, they make ideal targets. Sorry for my verbosity.

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 

      3 years ago from Shimla, India

      As an outsider (being from India) i'd like to ask you genuinely - Do you feel men of your race are purposely targeted by the US authorities/cops ?


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