Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Tonight She Walks the Streets of Baltimore
The endless coverage of the Baltimore riots has been depressing in its lack of focus, and disappointing in the media's unwillingness to connect any dots at all. Even the owner of the Baltimore Orioles did better, and his team was and is being directly affected by the events in the streets, with games canceled and, today, a weird game being played without any fans in attendance (do the guys still have to hawk peanuts and cotton candy to the empty seats).
Yes, as everyone from the murdered Mr. Gray's mother on down has said, violence will not bring anything good, and a guy tossing a piece of concrete at a cop's head, or a bunch of people burning down the CVS pharmacy next to the old folks retirement center do not add anything constructive to life in Baltimore, just more misery.
But as the media hasn't seemed to be willing to point out, all this is equally true of the policemen who murdered Mr. Gray, in uniform, on duty, apparently part of doing their job that day.
My ex-wife Annie's mother was married to a merchant seaman who served in World War II. She took a trip to Japan in retirement, and rode a tour bus through Hiroshima. The tour host was talking about the horrors of the bombing of Hiroshima, and Mrs. Malone sat there in silence, fuming. She'd been a trumpet player in her youth, and knew how to pipe up. Finally she did. “You started it,” she shouted. And the bus rode in silence for the rest of the tour.
That's not the whole deal either, of course, even if Donald Trump and Sean Hannity think that sort of objection carries the day. (Trump yesterday suggested in a tweet that President Obama somehow bears the blame for the Baltimore riot, the burning police cars, the CVS rubble, the broken police heads.) But it is some of the deal.
Black people in America like the rest of us have been watching an almost daily cavalcade of police excess, including many murders of innocent black people, and the parade stretches back decades, back and back and back, to Schwerner, Goodwin and Cheney, to Emmett Till, to hundreds and thousands of nameless lynched black people, north, south, east and west, U.S.A., U.S.A. Yes the cop in North Charleston who emptied his gun into the back of a fleeing black man who had a broken tail light was charged. And we've yet to see how that will turn out.
There is some sort of de facto policy in place in the police forces of the United States that amounts to “use excessive force if you think you need it, but keep them down.” It is exemplified in the news nearly every day. It includes a young dad shot down in a Walmart in Ohio for the act of carrying around in the store a plastic gun the store had for sale, that he was intending to buy for his kid. It includes a 12-year-old boy shot down in Cleveland for having in his hand a toy pistol. It includes an overweight guy in New York City choked to death for selling single cigarettes on a street corner. It is driven by fear, and partly the kind of fear that the guilty felt for Nate Turner.
There is no redress to this de facto policy. And, eventually, if you're a member of the group of folks who are the subject of the policy, cool logic and rationality start to evaporate, and there develops an urge—a need—to make someone pay. It's the old lizard morality, an eye for an eye. You got a blue suit on, you're in a blue car with a blue light, you're going to get this piece of brick upside. It's justice. Your brothers just beat one of ours to death last week and he didn't do nothing either. Tough.
This is the logic. I wrote a friend of mine last weekend that I didn't know why we weren't already, in the US, in a state of siege. (That's what generated the anxiety underlying my description of our drive through inner Philadelphia, in my last post.) The right wing already dreams of some race war. The Supreme Court has already gutted the Voting Rights Act, which was written and passed to redress the pernicious and systematic wrongs of the post-Civil War era, when segregation was established and black people pretty much were kept in “their place” with terrorism public and private. And of course before that historical moment there was the legal institution of slavery, which was acknowledged and accepted by the vaunted “Founders” from Day One of this here United States, U.S.A., U.S.A.
There's not much hope of real justice, that is, justice of nuance, justice which admits of distinctions, in the present state of affairs. A Baltimore policeman who's lost his eye to a brick may very well have been a guy who without exception did the right thing, was not a racist, was making the effort throughout his whole career to treat the public with unfailing respect. And eye for an eye is lizard logic, or ISIL logic if you like. American black people will always be a minority, and cannot hope to change anything institutional by force. Indeed, even the institutional reform of the Voting Rights Act has now been broken, only a few decades after its inception, by the Supreme Court. You think the law will be repaired of its allegedly constitutional errors by this Congress, or these states? We're careening towards another Republican Presidency fer gawds sake, and the supposed major party of liberality and common sense can find no candidate but an elderly former First Lady who drags an anchor chain of history around with her for all the right wing racists and neo-fascists to yank on for the next year and a half. Oh yeah, did I mention they have unlimited campaigning funds due to other recent Supreme Court rulings.
Burn a few inner cities down and all that will happen will be the institution of drone policing in the inner city. The ball teams will move away. The toughest neighborhoods, where anger is the brightest, will be left smoking ruins, and the broken refugees will scatter as far as they can stagger. Watch “The Wire” again, folks, all of it. It's about goddam Baltimore.
But none of that tragic outcome will change the fact that an eye for an eye was indeed exchanged, and the cry of the oppressed will continue to be true. You started it, you arrogant boys in blue. You killed Mr. Gray, because he was a black man who dared to run. That was enough for you. That is apparently enough for the folks who pay you to do your job.
Here's what John Angelos the owner of the Orioles said about it (via Charlie Pierce):
He said a greater concern of his was "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 US to 3rd-world dictatorships like China" which he said has sent "tens of millions of good hard working Americans into economic devastation" and "an ever-declining standard of living and suffering."
We're at the moment about to sign yet another trade agreement with the world. Bidness as usual. Pay no attention to the bodies hanging under the bridge.
[burning policecar Daily Mail]