Tuesday Reads: Baltimore Burning

Baltimore police confront violent protesters

Baltimore police confront violent protesters

Good Morning.

One of the advantages of being old is that you can remember quite a bit of history. I remember the riots that tore apart American cities in April, 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The assassination was only the trigger that set off the anger that had been building for years in people who felt disrespected and desperate. One of those riots took place in Baltimore. Spiro Agnew was governor of Maryland when it happened. Soon he would be Richard Nixon’s Vice President. Nixon ran on a “law and order” platform, and as president he initiated the “war on drugs.”

Here’s a description of Baltimore in April, 1968, from someone who was there.

Armored troop carriers rolled down the streets over deep tread marks in the soft blacktop. Tanks had preceded them. There were troops already bivouaced in Druid Hill Park. It wasn’t a town in Czechoslovakia, or Poland, or Afghanistan. It was Crabtown, grave-site of Edgar Allen Poe, birthplace of the United States’ national anthem, and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. In the United States.

It was Bal’more, Mar’lan’. It was the time we call 1968. King had just been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and city officials had persuaded Governor Spiro Theodore Agnew to call in the National Guard.

Houses and businesses had burned before, and firemen had been shot before in the inner city, but troops occupying the city, this was new.

Sound familiar?

Baltimore in April, 1968

Baltimore in April, 1968


Baltimore in April 1968

Baltimore in April 1968


Forty-seven years later, Baltimore is burning again. This time the trigger was the death of Freddie Gray after a beating by police that was caught on video by a bystander. Why is anyone surprised by the violence? It was bound to happen again in one of many cities where militarized police forces target poor neighborhoods and police officers kill black citizens with impunity because they know they will go unpunished. We’ve seen black men die at the hands of police again and again in the past year–in Ferguson, Long Island, Cleveland, Dayton, Los Angeles, New York City, and many more cities.

This time, Baltimore Maryland’s governor is Larry Hogan. Forty-seven years later, his solution is the same as Agnew’s–call in the National Guard to shut down violent protests. Will it work? Maybe it will suppress the anger for a time, but it will remain simmering under the surface until Americans deal with the real problems behind it.

The good news in 2015 is that, thanks to cell phone cameras, Americans are finally seeing in real time the inevitable results of bad policing, racial profiling, and economic inequality. Will anything change this time?

This morning I’ve collected some of the best news reports and opinions I could find on the latest outbreak of violence over a police killing–this time in Baltimore.

Baltimore April 2015

Baltimore April 2015

From The Baltimore Sun: Riots erupt across West Baltimore, downtown.

Violence and looting overtook much of West Baltimore on Monday, injuring more than a dozen police officers and leaving buildings and vehicles in flames.

As night fell, looters took to Mondawmin Mall and a Save-A-Lot and Rite Aid in Bolton Hill, loading up cars with stolen goods. About 10 fire crews battled a three-alarm fire at a large senior center under construction at Chester and Gay streets, as police officers stood guard with long guns.

About 10 p.m., police confirmed shots were fired at an officer in the area of Virginia Avenue and Reisterstown Road in Northwest Baltimore. The officer was not hit and the suspect fled.

Fifteen police officers were injured in a clash with school-age children that began around 3 p.m., and two remain hospitalized, police Col. Darryl DeSousa said in a press conference Monday night. Earlier, police spokesman Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said one officer was unresponsive and others suffered broken bones.

Police arrested 27 people, DeSousa said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared a curfew across the city starting Tuesday and for the next week, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for adults and 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. for children aged 14 and younger. She drew a distinction between peaceful protesters and “thugs” she said engaged in rioting Monday intend on “destroying our city.”

“It’s idiotic to think that by destroying your city, you’re going to make life better for anybody,” Rawlings-Blake said.

At Rawlings-Blake’s request, Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency and activating the Maryland National Guard. The order does not affect citizens’ rights, but is required to activate the Guard and authorize federal assistance, Hogan spokeswoman Erin Montgomery said. It is not “martial law,” Maryland National Guard Adjutant General Linda Singh said.

Read much more at the Sun link.

Baltimore, April 2015

Baltimore, April 2015

The riots began shortly after the funeral of Freddie Gray, who was killed while in police custody  on April 12. From the Atlantic: The Mysterious Death of Freddie Gray.

Freddie Gray’s death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.

Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they’re investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It’s even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray’s death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police….
Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.Authorities can’t say if there was a particularly good reason why police arrested Gray. According to the city, an officer made eye contact with Gray, and he took off running, so they pursued him. Though he’d had scrapes with the law before, there’s no indication he was wanted at the time. And though he was found with a switchblade, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “We know that having a knife is not necessarily a crime.”
Police wouldn’t have found the knife if they hadn’t chased after Gray and searched him with no probable cause. They claim he ran when he saw police, but is that a crime? I don’t think so.
Friends and family gather for Freddie Gray's funeral

Friends and family gather for Freddie Gray’s funeral

Police brutality in Baltimore is nothing new. In September 2014, The Baltimore Sun published an investigative report on police violence against citizens: Undue Force. A brief excerpt:

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.

Those cases detail a frightful human toll. 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.

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.”

Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget — the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a companion maids home service or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police.

Read the rest at the link.

Baltimore in April 2015

Baltimore in April 2015

Gray may have been injured during the beating on the street, but his injuries may have been exacerbated by being taken on a “rough ride” in a police wagon without a seat belt.

From the Baltimore Sun: Freddie Gray not the first to come out of Baltimore police van with serious injuries.

When a handcuffed Freddie Gray was placed in a Baltimore police van on April 12, he was talking and breathing. When the 25-year-old emerged, “he could not talk and he could not breathe,” according to one police official, and he died a week later of a spinal injury.

But Gray is not the first person to come out of a Baltimore police wagon with serious injuries.

Relatives of Dondi Johnson Sr., who was left a paraplegic after a 2005 police van ride, won a $7.4 million verdict against police officers. A year earlier, Jeffrey Alston was awarded $39 million by a jury after he became paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a van ride. Others have also received payouts after filing lawsuits.

For some, such injuries have been inflicted by what is known as a “rough ride” — an “unsanctioned technique” in which police vans are driven to cause “injury or pain” to unbuckled, handcuffed detainees, former city police officer Charles J. Key testified as an expert five years ago in a lawsuit over Johnson’s subsequent death.

As daily protests continue in the streets of Baltimore, authorities are trying to determine how Gray was injured, and their focus is on the 30-minute van ride that followed his arrest. “It’s clear what happened, happened inside the van,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Monday at a news conference.

Here’s a first-person description of one of those “rough rides” from a victim:

Christine Abbott, a 27-year-old assistant librarian at the Johns Hopkins University, is suing city officers in federal court, alleging that she got such a ride in 2012. According to the suit, officers cuffed Abbott’s hands behind her back, threw her into a police van, left her unbuckled and “maniacally drove” her to the Northern District police station, “tossing [her] around the interior of the police van.”

“They were braking really short so that I would slam against the wall, and they were taking really wide, fast turns,” Abbott said in an interview that mirrored allegations in her lawsuit. “I couldn’t brace myself. I was terrified.”

The lawsuit states she suffered unspecified injuries from the arrest and the ride.

“You feel like a piece of cargo,” she added. “You don’t feel human.”

The van’s driver stated in a deposition that Abbott was not buckled into her seat belt, but the officers have denied driving recklessly.

Anyone believe the denials? I sure don’t.

More helpful stories on the Baltimore riots, links only:

USA Today Sports: Orioles COO John Angelos offers eye-opening perspective on Baltimore protests.

Joseph Cannon at Cannonfire: The Reasons Why, Fighting Back, and Insanity and Reality.

Think Progress: Maryland Police Union President Says He’s Never Heard Of ‘Rough Rides.’

The Root: Baltimore Police Union’s Boss Inflames Tension With ‘Lynch Mob’ Remark; ‘Rough Ride’ Alleged

Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic: Nonviolence as Compliance.

Politico: White House awakes to ‘national crisis‘ and Mayors to Washington: Do Something!

Vox: Protests in Baltimore escalate over death of Freddie Gray after arrest.

Newsday: Philadelphia mayor defends Baltimore leader’s riot response

What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread. Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.




40 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: Baltimore Burning”

  1. janicen says:

    The family wedding I attended a couple of weeks ago was in Baltimore. I hadn’t been to the city in many years and I came away with many positive impressions. The city is really quite lovely. Both it’s major league baseball and NFL teams’ stadiums are downtown, in the city. It was a beautiful spring weekend and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. We had time to walk around and take a boat tour of the Inner Harbor and I came away from the entire experience thinking we need to come back and spend more time in Baltimore because it is just that nice. I had no idea we were just a day or two away from the ugly underbelly of the city being exposed. I’ve read through many accounts of police brutality on innocent citizens. I can’t imagine living like that. No wonder people are rioting. What other recourse do they have? They want their lives back.

    At one point during our visit, we walked a few blocks away from the Inner Harbor to find a drug store. I wouldn’t call it a poor neighborhood at all, just a little way away from the tourist area. There were three city police officers standing outside the drug store. Just standing there and talking. I remember wondering why they were there. They were outside the store the entire time we were there including the time we were standing outside waiting several minutes for Uber to pick us up. They seemed to have no purpose at all. What I did notice about them is that they were all overweight. I mean at least 40 to 50 pounds overweight and they looked really out of shape. Maybe being that unfit and in a job that requires some physical stamina and strength causes them to become aggressive and brutal? Out of fear? I don’t know, but it all felt like a waste of resources for them to be standing around for so long.

    • janicen says:

      Apologies for my disjointed comment. Reading it back it seems a little confused but then, so am I. It’s so hard to connect the lovely city I visited to what I’m seeing in the news now. I’m guessing it’s the same in most cities these days where poverty is making people feel desperate and disconnected and when you add an undisciplined and unruly police force into the mix this is going to crop up again and again. Coming soon to a city near you.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Your comment wasn’t disjointed. Thanks for sharing your observations. Like the NYPD, the Baltimore police specifically target black neighborhoods for their brutality, probably on orders from above.

  2. joanelle says:

    I feel totally helpless in dealing with this police behavior. We had an infant in 1968 and my husband was away on business when riots broke out in Newark, just 10 miles away. It was pretty scary, and no better today.
    Prejudice is an ugly, dangerous state of being for all of us. Thank you for this post, BB

    • bostonboomer says:

      You’re welcome, Joanelle. Thanks for your comment.

    • Fannie says:

      Back in 1968, we had riots all over this country. Newark, Detroit, Pittsburg, Florida, and Baltimore. Newark unloaded about 14,000 rounds of gunfire, and many dead in just couple days. Detroit had thousands, with somewhere near 50 dead. All of that could have been prevented by nipping it in the bud, and stopping the excessive use of violence by officers.

      Here we are repeating history, we haven’t learned our lessons. It seems officers are given more authority, and seems like they have been giving the order to “shoot and kill”.

      Baltimore could have been prevented. Freddie Gray was arrested 12 Apr, and the people of Baltimore still don’t know the answer to why he had to die. I heard there was some law that said officers didn’t have to talk for 10 days or so, but it’s pass 10 days. And this here is what I call game playing. We simply can’t yield to the games being played with people of color, and poor people.

      We are going to see how many violate curfews tonight, and how the military will respond.

  3. Fannie says:

    Thanks BB, I wanted to share the “Mother of the Year” video: I disagree.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Wow. I don’t know what to say to that.

    • ANonOMouse says:

      From what I heard on CNN this mother went looking for her son and found him with a mob of teens.This mother might have saved her son from jail, injury or possibly death. I know it looked a bit rough, but what we didn’t see was what led up to her aggression. When an angry mob/crowd takes control of events nothing good can come from it, this mother knew what was coming and fought her child to save him from himself. She has my vote!!! When I was her age I would have done the same to save my child. When my son was 16, 6’3″ and 175lbs he decided he was going to go off with his friends at about 1am in the morning. I knew they were drinking and driving so I attempted to reason with him, He paid me no attention whatsoever so when he walked out the door, I jumped on his back. He walked half way down the driveway with me on his back. His friends drove away, so apparently the sight of an angry Mom was way too scary for them.

      • Fannie says:

        I see your point, and I certainly understand when mothers are scared for their children. I think it was misplaced aggression, but I think too, it a backward approach. We are struggling to stop the violence, and it’s not so reassuring when you hear the Police Commissioner say, I wish more parents were like this mother, taking charge and beating their children, like they beat those they arrest. In other words, he is promoting violence, to stop violence, and that doesn’t work. There were many students who were arrested, so they were doing the same thing he was doing, throwing bricks, they ended up in jail.

        There are lots of dynamics involved. I know what violence is about, I lived it.

        • bostonboomer says:

          I agree. By humiliating her son in public–and in front of the world really–she may have saved him this time, but he will resent being publicly shamed. In the end she may have hurt him more than helped him.

          I don’t believe in hitting a child ever–even an older child like this one.

        • ANonOMouse says:

          “There are lots of dynamics involved. I know what violence is about, I lived it.”

          I know where you’re coming from. My father was physically and verbally abusive to me. I was bruised and battered and even knocked unconscious once. My father almost killed my dog when she came to my defense during an episode that happened outdoors. When I was 28 my boss attempted to rape me and left my arms and thighs bruised and scratched before I told him if he raped me he’d better kill me because I would tell. I’m not criticizing your opinion of this woman’s actions, but I know the dynamics of violence and I completely understand her reaction as a mother fighting for what she likely believed to be her son’s life. I’m sure he was embarrassed, but what he was doing was illegal. IMHO better embarrassed than dead or serving a prison sentence for assault or arson. I watched much of what happened yesterday as it unfolded and I’m certain there are many more arrests coming. Some people’s faces were very clear as they vandalized and threw rocks and bottles at the Police. The helicopter shots of the Mall looting was so clear that I’m sure with enhancement they will nail many of the looters who filled their cars with stolen goods. And the surveillance videos in the looted stores will probably be a treasure trove of perpetrators.

          • bostonboomer says:

            I’m sorry you experienced such terrible abuse. I was also an abused child. I respect your opinion. You could be right. I just think shame is a very powerful emotion, and I worry about how that boy will react. Perhaps his mother has been beating him all his life. I have no way of knowing.

          • Fannie says:

            We luv you and respect your opinions and your feelings. I come from the family and community who swept it under the rug, and when I finally called their bs, a big riff came between us. I finally learned that there was a big difference between fear and respect. Then when I stopped swimming in the river of denial, that’s when I was told to my face that it was all my fault, and they did it for me, as a way of discipline.

            Thanks Mouse, and BB. I’ve always had an emotional part to my life as a child, and teenager. Like I was the bad one, the worthless one, but when I see others abused, it makes me look back on my experiences, and I feel toxic all over again.

          • ANonOMouse says:

            I’ve been listening to the stories of battered women all my life and sometimes I wonder if many of us found a way around it. I know women who were abused and sexually assaulted by their fathers, brothers, uncles, teachers, ministers and neighbors. I know lesbians who’ve been raped, just to be taught a lesson, in fact I read a story about it this morning. I know women who’ve been abused by their husbands and boyfriends. The older I get the more I come to believe that most of us have experienced abuse somewhere along the way.

            BB and Fannie, I’m sorry for the pain you’ve both experienced in your lives. Just know that I don’t condone violence, but I do believe that sometimes the only way to fight fire is with fire because other alternatives aren’t available or simply do not work.

            Peace and love to you both.

  4. dakinikat says:

    Pumpkin riot 2014 #neverforget

  5. jolivia1016 says:

    Thank you for your insightful article on the political and other roots of my City’s current nightmare. I invite you to read my personal perspective on this situation in my latest post, “Baltimore City Is My Home,” at http://baltimoreblackwoman.wordpress.com.

    • dakinikat says:

      Loved reading our thoughts. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • ANonOMouse says:

      Yes, thank you for sharing your post. I hope the community you know and love heals quickly and that the circumstances that drive some young people to destroy their own environment is addressed correctly. I wish you Peace!!!

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks, Jolivia. It’s great to see you here again. I appreciate your sharing your experiences from 1968 and your thoughts on the current situation in your hometown of Baltimore. I enjoyed reading your essay, even though it made me sad at the same time.

    • Fannie says:

      I want to thank you too. I see can see that 14 year old girl, frightened. I saw another little girl yesterday, her older brother took her out on those mean streets, she was younger than 10, her brother had her by the hand, and I wished he had not exposed her to the car that was on fire, the burning building, the looting, and anger she experienced. I was scared for her.

      I lived in the deep south as a 14 year old. I saw degrees of racial segregation, in my neighborhood, in public schools, and at ballparks, and even shopping. No Colored, White here, Colored there. I saw white people make fun of blacks because of their looks, their mannerism, and there lack of education. I hated that more than anything, because I was the poor white kid, experiencing the same things. I’ve seen the reaction of police departments, and watched George Wallace in Alabama. I’ve seen our society and cities crippled by racism and violence. We have been on a rocky road for a long time while trying to improve equality and justice, and acceptance for all.

      I look around me and see all the hate and terror all across this country, and an increase in guns, and guns and more guns. Our plight today resolve problems is not any easier, now than it was before.

      Your voice is the voice we welcome. We certainly can relate to your personal perspective. We never give up on our children, our families, there is hope. Your insight is appreciated, and I wish a speedy recovery in building back your Baltimore.

  6. dakinikat says:

    The Great Enterprise of this age is the Asshole Industry.

    View at Medium.com

  7. dakinikat says:

    The Lawyer Defending Discrimination In The Supreme Court May Have Just Talked Himself Out Of Victory


    One justice who did not join Alito’s dissent was Justice Kennedy. As Bursch started to lay out his view that child-centered marriage is different than adult-centered marriage, Kennedy balked. Same-sex couples, Kennedy insisted, want to say that “we too” should be able to enjoy the “dignity” of marriage. He also accused Bursch of presenting an argument which wrongly implied that same-sex couples cannot bond with their children.

  8. bostonboomer says:

    Ferguson organizer schools Wolf Blitzer on police violence.

    • Fannie says:

      I tried to find Wolf yesterday, when he started in saying how he never in is life seen anything like this. He was reporting the Black Guerilla Family, Crips and Bloods were out with a police hit list. I was convinced, but found out this morning, that these gangs were trying to stop the violence, along with the Nation of Islam. While watching the coverage from Wolf yesterday, I knew who they were, but I’ve notice nobody in the media (Wolf) wants to acknowledge their attempts to stop the rioting. Another thing he said, was that some detention center or prison center there, was controlled by these gangs, and that a lot of female guards were pregnant by them, and working at the center. Listening to Wolf, you would have expected a beheading or something along those lines from the citizens in Baltimore. I really couldn’t quite understand what the hell he was cooking up. God, I wish he would be taken off air. Thanks for sharing this one, he did a great job on police violence.

  9. bostonboomer says:

    Police procedural 2015: Kill all suspects


    1. It’s best to shoot to kill with all suspects. Do not call for back up to help take them down. Do not rely on pepper spray or non lethal ammunition. Do not tackle them–you might slightly injure yourself. Do not shoot them just because they’re black. Shoot them because they’re afraid or trying to get away–and black.

    2. Shoot to kill, every time. Do not shoot at their legs or hips, since that might stop them without killing them.

    3. If they’re white you need not shoot them unless they’re acting crazy (or “crazy”). If they’re white (or any other color) but seem to be suffering hallucinations, whether from a bipolar condition or drugs, kill them immediately. Do it quicker if they have an ink pen or a small broken bottle or some other deadly implement.

    4. If they have what is likely a toy gun, shoot them. You can’t take a chance. A ten year old boy can be as deadly as a thirty year old man. Shoot them and then check.

    More at Raw Story.

    • Fannie says:

      Yeah, and just as soon as it’s over, the whole department will start a fund for you and your family, in just hours they’ll have millions.