The provocation has been going on for centuries.
It bubbles at a simmer every day in urban ghettos wracked with drugs and violent crime, starved for decently paying jobs, and saddled with dysfunctional, underfunded schools and other social services…
And every now and then it boils over, when the injustice simply becomes too much to bear — when an unarmed man accused of a minor offense is choked to death by a cop, or when an officer shoots and kills an unarmed man eight times in the back, or when an unarmed man in police custody mysteriously ends up with a nearly severed spinal cord and then dies of his injuries.
Viewed from outside the self-congratulatory ideology of American exceptionalism, it can look suspiciously like the United States is conducting a sadistic experiment to see just how much injustice, how much indignity, how much abuse one group of people will endure before they lash out in rage. The answer appears to be: an awful lot…
If there is one thing we can know with absolute certainty about this week’s events in Baltimore, it is that they will not be the nation’s last act of racial insurrection. There will be more riots, more injured cops, more arrests, more black men thrown in jail, and more stores looted and burned to the ground, if not next week then next month or next year — because there will be more egregious acts of injustice committed against the African American population of the United States.
Americans are bracing for a summer of racial disturbances around the country, such as those that have wracked Baltimore, with African Americans and whites deeply divided about why the urban violence has occurred, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has found.
A resounding 96% of adults surveyed said it was likely there would be additional racial disturbances this summer, a signal that Americans believe Baltimore’s recent problems aren’t a local phenomenon but instead are symptomatic of broader national problems.
Block upon block of three-story row houses lie vacant, with smashed-in windows, boarded doors and garbage. In the commercial blocks, a yellow ribbon promising “Coming soon: 99 cent store!” is faded and frayed, placed above one of many storefronts that have only shards of glass in the window pane. A few shops that remain in business cash checks, sell discount cellphone plans and rent furniture.
Until Monday, there had been one bright spot amid the despair: a relatively new CVS pharmacy, hardly a luxury showcase but good enough to fill prescriptions and sell milk in a neighborhood that had little.
Now, after it was burned by rioters Monday, it is a bleak symbol, the spot where angry protesters, police in riot gear and live television trucks converge to tell a story of an American city in distress.
“This is a ghost town. The only store we have, they burned down,” said Ashley Ewell, a 27-year-old debt consolidator, standing near looters this week.
By the late-’60s, televisions were as common in ghetto households as suburban ones. The difference was that ghetto televisions weren’t new, often didn’t work, and almost always cost more. Prices, a Federal Trade Commission report found in 1968, were 2.5 times higher for identical goods in the city as they were in the suburbs. If a family couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make their payments, repo men would come to their house, take their television, and then sell it to someone else. Repossessions were public affairs that everyone in the neighborhood could see, publicly shaming the family. When rioters broke into appliance stores in the 1960s and took TVs it looked, to outsiders, like brazen theft of a sought-after big-ticket item. To rioters whose TVs had be repossessed, however, it must have felt like they were taking back property for which they had already paid for many times over. And, perhaps, it was a chance to exorcise some of the shame of repossession as well.
Informed by this history, when I look at the Baltimore riots of the past week, I see something more complicated than mere hooliganism. To me, the riots reflect fury not just at the police, but at the constraints of the ghetto’s retail economy, where the poor pay more. As I see it, the indignity of being roughed up by the cops is of a piece with not being able to afford to shop in your own neighborhood…
Services that might be free for the middle class cost real money for the poor, whittling away at their already low incomes. Many poor Americans don’t cash their paychecks at banks (which typically require a minimum deposit), and are forced to use the services of cash-checking shops, which tend to take 2 percent off the top. On the 1600 block of North Avenue, where a police van held Freddie Gray on the night he was arrested, the storefront of payday lender Ace Cash Express advertises “PAY BILLS. CHECKS CASHED.” Last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau denounced Ace Express’ payday lending, which “used false threats, intimidation, and harassing calls to bully payday borrowers into a cycle of debt … drain[ing] millions of dollars from cash-strapped consumers who had few options to fight back.” The looters who broke into Ace this week might well have been there before, as customers.
Michael Glass, an urban geographer and professor of urban studies at the University of Pittsburgh, said Baltimore’s fragile revitalization after a period of depopulation and shrinking industry is one that mirrors many of the nation’s large and mid-sized cities. He said cities like Baltimore have been gentrifying certain neighborhoods like the Inner Harbor, but resentment can grow when others are perceived to be “left behind” or when poor residents can no longer afford to live in areas that suddenly become meccas to young professionals and upscale business.
“I see that happening in Pittsburgh, and to a certain extent in Cleveland, in Baltimore — the tension between the success and gentrification the city has gone through and the feeling that it is not being shared by everybody,” Glass said.
The fissures can be seen in full view when a city like Baltimore erupts in protest. Suddenly the poverty and despair — and anger — is no longer hidden away. That may have an effect on efforts by leaders to draw investment and new residents to the city, Glass added. “It has to be very difficult for community development [programs] to see these images played over and over on television. It feeds into a certain narrative and it can be very unfortunate.”
“It’s a business killer,” said Attman, 63. “I’m sympathetic to people who want to voice their opinion. I’m not sympathetic at all to people who think damage is the right way to go about it.”…
The 1968 riots ended with six dead, more than 700 injured, 1,000 businesses looted or burned, some 5,800 people arrested and $13.5 million in property damage. The toll from Monday’s chaos includes about 200 businesses closed, more than 200 people arrested and more than 150 fires, but peaceful protests resumed Tuesday and some businesses have reopened…
“Downtown and the city were on a roll in attracting residents, and the attraction effort depends on both the facts on the ground as well as the perception,” Fowler said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort to change people’s minds and encourage people from the rest of the world and the rest of the nation to move to Baltimore and to visit.”…
“I don’t know if people will still want to invest,” said Black, pointing to areas hurt in the 1968 riots that have not been redeveloped. “I’m just concerned because there were a lot of things in place, a lot of initiatives, that maybe people won’t want to do anymore.”
“If the goal of early segregationist policies was to concentrate black Baltimoreans in a single location, separated from opportunity, then it worked,” Jamelle Bouie writes at Slate. “More importantly, it’s never been unraveled; there’s never been a full effort to undo and compensate for the policies of the past. Indeed, the two decades of drugs and crime that marred Baltimore in the 1980s and 1990s helped entrench the harm and worsen the scars of the city’s history.”
Democrats exacerbated these problems not by embracing the policies of the left. Rather, they dug the hole deeper by yawing to the right. Aggressive policing, tougher drug sentencing, slashing the budgets of school and public housing and parks—throughout Baltimore’s history, lawmakers at the local, state, and federal level adopted policies that entrenched poverty and segregation in the city.
As the Washington Post notes, research from the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health shows that the segregated black neighborhoods of the 1930s “still have lower rates of homeownership and college attainment and higher rates of poverty and segregation today—as well as worse health outcomes.” Another fact from the Post: “From 1951 to 1971, 80 to 90 percent of the 25,000 families displaced in Baltimore to build new highways, schools and housing projects were black.” Only a decade ago, banks marketed subprime mortgages to poor black homebuyers, leading to a wave of foreclosures.
Perhaps if the media had not shrunk from reporting on the flash mob phenomenon and the related “knockout game” — in which teenagers tried to knock out unsuspecting bystanders with a single sucker punch — we might have made a modicum of progress in addressing or at least acknowledging the real cause of black violence: the breakdown of the family…
Try as they might, single mothers are generally overmatched in raising males. Boys need their fathers. But over 72 percent of black children are born to single-mother households today, three times the black illegitimacy rate when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his prescient analysis of black family breakdown in 1965…
“[W]e” have spent trillions of dollars since the 1960s trying to help black youth. A social worker and a government check are no substitute for a father and mother, however…
Police misconduct is deplorable and must be eradicated wherever it exists. But until the black crime rate comes down, police presence is going to be higher in black neighborhoods, increasing the chances that when police tactics go awry, they will have a black victim.
First, yes, more black children are raised in single-parent families than other racial groups — 67 percent, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT data, versus 25 percent of white children. According to a 2011 Pew study, 44 percent of black fathers live away from their kids, versus 21 percent of white dads and 35 percent of Hispanic fathers.
But that’s hardly the whole story: According to a December 2013 survey by the federal National Center for Health Statistics, black fathers who live with their children are more active in their kids’ lives than white and Latino dads, and black fathers who live apart from their children are at least as involved, often more, than white and Latino fathers in similar situations. They also stay involved with their offspring for longer than their peers in other races.
That doesn’t mean the high rate of black children being raised by single mothers isn’t a problem — children do better with two parents in the house. But you can’t pin that all on black men, either.
“More than two million men are now imprisoned in the U.S., and roughly 40 percent of them are African-American,” Ralph Richard Banks, a black Stanford Law professor and author, explained in 2011 in The Wall Street Journal. “At any given time, more than 10 percent of black men in their 20s or 30s — prime marrying ages — are in jail or prison.”
Many progressives have blamed conservatives starting with President Reagan for the conditions that still prevail for many African Americans. Yet it turns out that expansive era was pretty good for blacks, if not for their leaders. Even as poverty spending growth slowed, the poverty rate dropped in the Reagan years to around 30 percent for African-Americans. Similarly the economic boom of the Clinton era saw even greater progress, with poverty dropping to 25 percent. It began to rise again, albeit slowly, during the tepid recovery of the Bush era, but then began to rise more steeply during the Great Recession, and through the slow, and also tepid, recovery of the Obama years.
Clearly an improved economy is more important than ramping up social spending. Indeed, according to USC’s Luke Phillips, states. like New York, Massachusetts , California and Illinois spend almost twice as much on welfare payments than do states like North Carolina, Texas, or Florida, both in terms of GDP and state spending. Yet the best results for African Americans in our Center for Opportunity Urbanism study were found overwhelmingly in the former Confederacy, states generally not well known for their generosity to the poor or interest in racial redress…
It would be far better if some CEOs or investors—American, Asian, or European—came to the old Chesapeake city bearing plans for expanding jobs and opportunities. That, at least, would begin to address the economic and social isolation that, inevitably, finds its expression in fires on the street. Good jobs and the prospect of a better future—not good intentions—is what ultimately matters.
Do we know how to make fathers present in their kids’ lives, or how to make up for their absence? No. Are we sure how we should respond to the decline in manufacturing employment? Or how to stop people from getting involved in drugs? No and no.
Some people are confident that more funding for early education will yield benefits for poor kids. Others look at the same evidence and think that the few examples of success can’t easily be replicated. Even if the first group is correct, there’s no reason to think that early education will, even in tandem with other reforms, “solve” the problems of Baltimore. And federal efforts at job training don’t have a sterling track record.
If I were president and thought I knew an obvious way to bring peace and prosperity to troubled cities — and felt pretty strongly about it — I’d maybe mention it before my seventh year in office. Drop it into a State of the Union address, for example. But it just isn’t the case that we’re a new federal program away from fixing the problems Obama identified. It isn’t the case that conservatives are standing in the way of what everyone knows would work because we just don’t share Obama’s compassion.
Until we take oppressed people’s problems seriously, rioting will become the new normal. Until we admit to the hand we have in perpetuating the harsh realities of the poor, this is what we will see. Until we honestly hear the marginalized and their rage, we will continue to hear this rioting tune over and over. Rioters in Baltimore are not only expressing their anger, they are a reminder of our responsibility to the problem and our obligation to fix it…
I have heard many responses by people suggesting that the rioters are making them look bad and this is not their Baltimore. I think that blacks are too concerned with what whites think of them. Instead of being concerned with what whites ‘think’ of our rage and anger, we need to challenge white folks and the state to start thinking of us during budget proposals, employment initiatives, and to think and know that our lives matter.
While some are policing the rage of Baltimore youth, how about you think about creating programs to lift them up when this rioting is done. Instead of praying for these so-called ‘rioters who lack moral character’, how about you get off your knees and fight for their survival. If you are not willing to do that, just shut your mouth and let them speak for the moment!
What piece of legislation have Republicans obstructed that would have helped keep families together in Baltimore – right now? Which proposal would have created jobs to turn the city around? What law has Obama lobbied for that would have made Baltimore’s police department – which has been answering to one party for decades – more compassionate or effective? Is there a criminal-justice reform effort that Obama’s been spearheading all these years that we’ve all forgotten about?
Yes, the war on drugs is a disaster. Democrats are complicit in that war, too. And Democrats are also in charge of a city school system that has huge failure rates. Yet, the Baltimore also consistently ranked in the top five among the nation’s 100 largest school districts in spending per pupil. Like most big city districts, there is no accountability. It’s Democrats who consistently sink conservative education reform ideas (ones that, in many cities, are popular among African-American parents) for their union patrons…
As Obama notes, the citizens of Baltimore (and all of us) have an alternative. They can care more, just like he does. “But that kind of political mobilization I think we haven’t seen in quite some time,” he explains. Rather than resort to counterproductive violence – the kind of violence numerous leftist pundits were justifying – Baltimore can vote for candidates who reflect and act on their concerns. Candidates who will demand the police be accountable to civilian oversight. There are African Americans in elected office and power positions throughout the city, so surely there is no active racist faction undermining the ability of blacks to participate in democracy. Right now, they need better Democrats in Baltimore.