The Baltimore Riots

There are a lot of posts about the riots from different perspective. I’ve decided to add my personal one. I don’t have any direct information, I’m just combining what I’ve read with other things. This has to be in the “for what it’s worth” department.

Here’s my cut on the riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. We have an ongoing problem with the police culture of “us against them” resulting in a few bad apples letting themselves indulge in totally inappropriate violence against whoever their personal prejudices target- blacks, poor, gays, and because the job is so stressful, the whole group has been protecting them because they know that the pressure is part of the cause. So the victims of the violence protested (not unlike the beginning of various civil rights movements). Then, sadly, because the police have accumulated riot gear “just in case” (and I can’t see that that’s a wrong idea), they brought it out because of the numbers. But being treated like an opposing army, the many people who’ve been victims got angry.
Last night we were talking about it at dinner, and agreed that while the occasional death in police custody grabs the headlines, if it’s anything like most statistics, they don’t count the hundred injuries for every death, and the thousands of people who live in fear even when it hasn’t happened to them yet, because they can see that the system puts them at risk. This is the real issue in the “black lives matter” campaign. I mentally combine this with the study that came out this week showing that children who’ve been bullied show major stress- like PTSD. Parents of kids who’ve been bullied know this. People who were bullied as children know this. The whole black community knows this. People who live in poverty, in a world where they are freaking criminalizing homelessness (someone has lost their home, and so the police destroy their tents to make them “go away” so people don’t have to look at them being poor?!) and even feeding the homeless- we all know this. So the victims are not the occasional people who get killed, but the thousands and thousands who live in fear of the guys who can get away with abusing them. It’s not that they abuse them, but that they can get away with it that makes it so infuriating!  So when the police get helmets, shields and batons and gas up their urban attack vehicles (I don’t know if they did that in  Baltimore, but I assume so since they did in Keene against a bunch of rowdy drunken college students), the victims of Baltimore took it as a declaration of intent.
I’ll admit that there is no excuse for even angry people to start stealing and breaking things, but I’m going to say that those are another “few bad apples” who need to be restrained. The media should stop concentrating on them, and look at the total situation. Many, many more of them are making a valid point peacefully. To concentrate on the criminals is to ignore the real problems that sparked the protests, and then riots. I read that there are people who are giving the Mayor grief over the use of the word Thug. Thug is a fairly new word, only about 200 years old in English, and has always meant violent criminals. I heard that there was a movement to “reclaim” the word Thug the way feminists and pagans reclaimed the word “witch”. Ridiculous. If you choose to misuse the word, or, like Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty “make it mean what you want it to mean”, that’s your problem. Sometimes words (like gay) change, and sometimes you just look like an idiot. Either way, the argument over words distracts from the reason for the conflict. Everyone is grabbing the item in the news and making it something about his or her own issue. (I suppose I am as well.)  But if we let ourselves be distracted by the mistakes of the few, we’re not going to fix the underlying problems for the many, and that would be a sad thing.
We want someone else to do the dangerous jobs for us: police, soldiers, prison guards, but we refuse to look at what the job is doing to them. We refuse them the help they need to stay the good human beings we need in those positions. We should recognize that having that sort of responsibility is hard on the human psyche, and give them the support they need to deal with those pressures. We’ve gotten used to using the sons of the poor as “cannon fodder” in our wars. There are always more, and if it helps us win our political goals, it’s worth it. Not if we count the human cost. I’m not saying stop having soldiers or police, because I think we need them. I’m saying give them good mental health support. Let them be the guardians we want them to be, that they want to be. By employing them to do hard jobs for us, we should be recognizing that we owe them that support. Just as if you hire someone to do other work you don’t want to do- whether it’s cleaning your toilet, or growing your food, you should recognize that the work they are doing is of value to you, and you don’t have any God given right to not only make them do it without the recompense you’d want if you did it, but to despise them for it as well.  The chances are that we despise them because we subconsciously figure that if they are willing to do it for so little, there must be something wrong with them.
THAT may be the problem with class systems. It’s OK to say that each of us is good at different things, and we can work together, but when we start thinking that it’s fine for some of us to have a lot more comforts simply because “that’s always been the way things are”, it’s time to think again. Some of the differences in intelligence and health and attitude may be directly attributable to the way we have treated those less well off.

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