Note: On Monday afternoon, several days of protest in Baltimore over the police killing of Freddie Gray transformed into a riot that lasted through the night. As of Tuesday, there was no longer a riot to speak of. Rather, it had become a military occupation of West Baltimore, which saw the return of protests, and de facto martial law in the rest of the city during the nighttime, which is scheduled to last until next week. This essay concerns the riot, not the ongoing military occupation or protests against it.
Akim Reinhardt in The Public Professor:
Once things got bad, and then worse, the usual dialog surrounding riots emerged. I’m not talking about the grotesque racists who come out of the woodwork to infest social media. I mean serious conversations.
On one side you had people like Baltimore native, former Baltimore Sunjournalist, and The Wire co-creator David Simon. He bemoaned the tragedy of violence and made ardent calls for peace. In Simon’s words:
The anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death. If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore.
Then there were voices like Baltimore native and senior editor for The Atlantic,Ta-Nehisi Coates, who reminded us of the endemic violence perpetrated by the Baltimore Police Department for decades. Political officials may be well meaning, he said, but are nonetheless responsible for overseeing the kinds of policies that led to Freddie Gray’s death. Therefore, when they call for peace without offering a rationale for his death or any concrete plans to prevent future police violence, they are complicit in his death. In Coates’ words:
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.”
Both Simon and Coates are very smart social critics and darlings of the political Left. And though they seem to stand at odds on the issue, both of them are actually correct despite their opposing views.