For Baltimore, this was going to happen eventually. When I read the Baltimore Sun’s story about systemic police brutality back in September I was unsurprised given the history of my beloved home state’s most cherished and infamous Gotham equivalent. Crime, the socioeconomic disparities, the corruption, the endemic racial atrocities, all of it was going to boil over. Especially in reading the story in the wake of Mike Brown’s murder a month prior, I became convinced that we had entered a new chapter of United States human rights history.
One of the biggest pet peeves for me when discussing history is the argument that it’s 2015 or whatever, as if the year that we live in is symbolic of a more equal era. In many ways it is, but just because we live in a certain year doesn’t mean that racism, poverty, homophobia, etc. are magically gone. This is so far from the truth that it’s hard to keep my cool and keep the discussion reasonable. Then some people argue that we’re no longer separate but equal but then forget that most people who participated in the civil rights movement of the 60s and those who opposed it are still alive. That’s how young this country’s history is. It’s a work in progress. “But, but Obama is President! Racism is over!”
If you strip away that argument and look at the sentiments behind it, you discover the perception that the US has progressed enough and therefore racism is not a problem. The flawed belief fueled by patriotic pride that we are better than this. This precise dogma of American exceptionalism is a key component in the argument of how to properly respond to these police brutalities.
Those who think that protests should be peaceful are in denial of a system that protects them and is harmful to others. They cite Martin Luther King and the 60’s movement as a precedent for the progress that we can make with that political strategy. They blindly put the US on top of the pedestal of human rights, believing that we are better than everyone else. They see the destruction of police cars and stores but not the destruction of lives.
Those who are fine with windows getting smashed and rocks being thrown also believe in American exceptionalism. They also put the US on the pedestal, except that they hold it accountable. They do know we are better than this and they hold us to higher standards. They are also frustrated that we have not improved.
I cannot speak for Black lives, but I cannot condemn a person for lashing out against a system that is almost always racist, usually brutally violent, and sometimes murderous. I condemn all of the violence done to minorities as well as the violence during the protests. But maybe that is the only way ground can be gained on this anymore. Maybe it is past the point of patience.
The issue of police brutality has finally become a national issue, and for better or worse, our democratic process has been slowly and painfully made aware of it. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called for a state of emergency last night, but that is among the weakest of all possible responses to the troubles going on in Baltimore and across the nation. The government has ignored the problem of systemic racism for far too long and it will only get worse until progress is made.
“While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime. And I don’t think there’s anyone… (who wouldn’t) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.” -Donald Rumsfeld