Baltimore: City in shock after riots

The smoke is still in the air. It burns in the nose, smells of burned plastic. In the northeast of the city Federal Street corner North Chester StreetWhere the shell of a church retirement home stood a few hours before, there is now a black, smoking emptiness. Only two elevator shafts protrude into the sky, apparently unharmed, with the remains of a mom and pop shop on the corner. Otherwise everything is gone.

It is Tuesday in Baltimore, the first quiet hours after the riots, the National Guard is now moving in. The night before: Looting, burning cars, attacks on police officers and repeated fires in several quarters of the 620,000-inhabitant city in the east coast state of Maryland.

As in April 1968

How did that happen? There have been peaceful protests against police violence for days, sparked by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. A black man who died after his neck and spine were broken in police custody. Another black victim of US police officers. But as in Ferguson before, the peaceful protests of rioters and looters were hijacked in Baltimore, a city with a predominantly black population. Once again, the riots overlay the gross injustice that the protesters wanted to draw attention to.

Monday was the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral, no protests were planned, it should be a day of mourning. In the early afternoon, however, high school students attacked police officers at a shopping mall in the northwest of the city, and then the boys’ anger spread like wildfire over the city. Until she probably also took over the construction of the retirement home.

The police are still investigating whether the fire actually has something to do with the unrest. There are many indications that this is the case. James Crosby lives around the corner, now he’s in front of the ruin. The 64-year-old black man is angry at the boys’s anger. And yet he can understand her. It’s complicated.

Crosby says the last time he saw anything like this in his town was in April 1968. Back then, in the days following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., Baltimore was on fire. It took the authorities two weeks to restore peace and order.

“This is a tragedy,” says Crosby, “but I am not surprised.” It’s not just the brutal police action over the years, but also the lack of social justice. Crosby points to abandoned houses, the entrances boarded up, the window sockets without glass. “And what about the young people? They’re unemployed on the next corner,” he says. Politicians are to blame for this. They don’t care about the misery of the young people because they don’t vote.

The hopelessness, the economic depression, the life without prospects, the lousy treatment by the police – all of this will eventually lead to riots. “I don’t see any difference to the Arab Spring: the boys are angry, so they take to the streets.”

Rioters as victims?

It is the something-comes-from-something argument that James Crosby uses here: The riot of the young as a more or less direct consequence of misguided state action. Many see it that way in Baltimore, some go a step further. In the prestigious US magazine “The Atlantic”, the Baltimore-born journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about the calls for calm that are now emerging from politics: “If non-violence is only preached as an attempt to escape the effects of political brutality, then that is treasonous . “

The rioters as victims, even more: perhaps as avengers? Is violence reinterpreted as counter-violence legitimate?

Who that in the black parish at the North Chester Street asks – the community with the burned down old people’s home – who gets outraged looks. Because they think something like this is nonsense. People don’t want your name mentioned in the media and they certainly don’t want to be in front of the camera. Because what they have to say goes against violent young people from their own community.

The hopelessness of the young, says one who came to Baltimore in the 1970s, is primarily a family problem, not a state problem. Many children in the poorer neighborhoods are neglected by their parents and slide into substance abuse and everyday crime. Of course there is police violence against black people, they say. Everyone here says that, everyone can tell about their own experiences, about abuse by the police. That’s why they took part in the Freddie Gray protest. Because something has to change.

But riots? Looting? Fire? “That hurts,” says one of the community. That has nothing to do with justice, it harms their protests.

Carron Morgan, a cousin of Freddie Gray, told the Baltimore Sun that his family did not want violence: “Because that’s not justice. These are just a few people looking for a way to steal things.”

In these hours, Baltimore is preparing for the second night of riots.

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