On April 12, 25-year-old Freddie Gray “made eye contact” with a Baltimore police officer. Within minutes, Gray was brutalized, “twisted into a pretzel,“which caused his spinal cord to snap, and was subsequently tossed into the back of a police cage. Despite screaming in pain, the police denied Gray medical attention. He lapsed into a coma and died one week later on April 19.
Freddie Gray would’ve been just another statistic of one more Black male “criminal” that died a justifiable, though “tragic” and “unfortunate” death at the hands of hard working cops because he “resisted arrest,” “disobeyed the commands of law enforcement” or had “reached for the officer’s weapon.” However, in the Information Age of social media, a bystander filmed the event and, once again, the official story collapsed and the lies of the police were exposed.
Anger among the majority Black and working class population of Baltimore erupted over the past week culminating in mass protests over the weekend which led to rioting on Monday, April 27. What began as peaceful processions from West Baltimore where Freddie Gray lived and was killed, turned into conflict once the procession reached Downtown. At Camden Yards before the start of the Baltimore Orioles game on Sunday, fights erupted when Black protesters were provoked by petite-bourgeois whites from suburban Baltimore County, who jeered the mostly Black protesters with racial epithets. As the marchers made their way to Baltimore’s famed Inner Harbor, white hipsters and shoppers began to physically attack the the marchers. In the face of these provocations, Blacks reacted by throwing objects through the windows of restaurants and bars.
By Monday, the city’s Black high school students walked out of classes with the intention of having a festival of the oppressed. The police became the targets of reprisal. After decades of repression and brutality, the working class and poor youth of Baltimore decided that it was time to exact revenge. Pitched street battles took place in West Baltimore between rock and brick throwing youth and cops with tear gas, rubber bullets and riot shields. The entire city came to a standstill with reports of the police shutting down the city transit system. By nightfall, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and deployed 5,000 National Guard troops to Baltimore. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Black woman, announced the implementation of 10 P.M. to 5 A.M. curfew starting from Tuesday April 28, in effect for one week.
What’s surprising to this writer is how long it has taken for the rebellion to take place. This writer is fairly familiar with Baltimore, having visited the city three times during the 1980s and 90s. Baltimore is a very unique city. It’s a Southern American city with a Northern industrial economic and political structure. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the country with its architecture and geography. Yet it is one of the most socially polarized cities in the world. It’s racial and class divisions reflect its Dixie-Yankee split personality.
Most of the world knows Baltimore through the HBO series The Wire. The program is the most realistic portrayal of the economic, political, racial and social state of Baltimore. What makes The Wire unique is how the cops are presented as the villains and the drug dealers and gangsters presented as decent people forced by the decline of industrial capitalism into criminality.
The Wire is not the first time Hollywood has portrayed the brutality and corruption of the police and judicial system. …And Justice For All is a 1979 film with Al Pacino revealing the corruption of judges in Baltimore. For more than 35 years, Baltimore has been depicted as a cesspool of judicial and police corruption and violence.
The Baltimore riots are a belated and desperate response to decades of abuse of the Black working class and poor at the hands of the politicians, police and the courts. This isn’t about race. It’s about class. Baltimore a majority Black city with a Black mayor, police chief and mostly Black police force. This is about the death of American capitalism which offers no future to poor and working class youth of all races.
Der Kosmonaut is an international freelance journalist, poet, social commentator and political philosopher. A graduate of Radio News and Current Affairs from the National Broadcasting School in Brighton, UK, he has been a producer for CKUT News in Montreal, Radio Orange in Vienna. He was the political editor of The Age of Nepotism in Belgrade. As a poet Der Kosmonaut has been published in Vienna where was the winner of the Slam B Poetry Slam in June 2011. He maintains a blog der-kosmonaut.blogspot.com
Featured image by Patrick Semansky.