Chaos consumed Baltimore on Monday following a weekend of mostly peaceful protests over the tragic death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
On April 12, Freddie Gray was arrested by Baltimore police. At some point during the arrest, or while he was in custody, he sustained a spinal cord injury that led to his death a week later, on April 19.
The incident involved irrefutable police misconduct. What's more, it's still not known exactly why Gray was arrested or how he became fatally injured.
Over the weekend, protesters took to the streets of Baltimore to challenge what is viewed as an unjust and unequal system in which police violate their authority with ostensible impunity.
The Baltimore police department habitually uses excessive force, diminishing both its purse and its public reputation. As the Baltimore Sun reports, the city has paid out $5.7 million to victims of police brutality since 2011.
Indeed, the people of Baltimore have every right to feel outraged.
Yet, on Monday, as violence and destruction consumed the area, people began to question why some Baltimoreans thought destroying their own city would bring about justice and reform.
In many ways, this is a fair inquiry. Violence begets violence, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated.
Many people in Baltimore have been subjected to systemic violence on behalf of the powers that be. And while this doesn't justify rioting, it helps explain it.
Last night, we saw Baltimore at the edge of its sanity. It was painful to watch, but we have to recognize that it's a consequence of the convoluted nature of America, its culture and its history.
Baltimore's problems, like so many other American cities', are rooted in a complex array of issues that will not be solved overnight: poverty, police brutality, homelessness, drug addiction, violence, poor housing and infrastructure, a lackluster education system and so much more.
Thus, these riots were not just a response to a single arrest but an entire system. Things were bad in Baltimore long before Freddie Gray.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer for The Atlantic and a Baltimore native, explains it quite aptly:
Lot of folks pointing out the rioting isn't "justice" and won't bring Freddie Gray back. Of course it isn't, and of course it won't. — Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) April 28, 2015
Rioters gave up on those counts along time ago. — Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) April 28, 2015
Rioting is not an attempt to do what is unimpeachably morally correct. — Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) April 28, 2015
It is an expression of anger. Some humans riot because their school lost the big game. Others because the State can't stop killing them. — Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) April 28, 2015
The last tweet is particularly important as it reveals a dangerous double standard in reactions to riots in America. All riots should be condemned, but this is rarely the case.
To put it bluntly: When drunken sports fans riot for no substantial reasons, we brush it off as a bunch of inebriated idiots unaware of what they're doing.
When black people riot, we label them "thugs" and ignore what instigated the chaos in the first place.
Anyone who was distressed or angered by what they saw in Baltimore on Monday has every reason to feel so. But let's remember what led to the riots and recognize the fact that many Baltimoreans fundamentally objected to what was occurring. We can't malign an entire city due to the actions of a few.
This is not to say we should have sympathy for those who rioted in Baltimore, but it's important to keep things in perspective.
Who told these people to calm down? And they were just reacting to sporting events and/or pumpkins. pic.twitter.com/BrCHSf2Wov — @red3blog (@red3blog) November 25, 2014
Here are five recent riots in the United States (and Canada) that were completely nonsensical and received far less criticism than those in Baltimore last night.
Huntington Beach, CA -- Surf Competition Riots, 2013
LOOK AT THOSE GODDAMNED THU- oh, that was in Huntington Beach after a surf competition. pic.twitter.com/ylzaCGAwtR — Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) November 25, 2014
Huntington Beach Riots! Haha #TurnUp! pic.twitter.com/WFxphgtMoA — Andy Del Toro (@_SwaveyWhiteboy) July 29, 2013
In July 2013, a riot broke out in Huntington Beach after the US Open of Surfing. Apparently, it was caused by a fight that occurred as people began leaving the competition.
Rioters pushed over portable toilets, destroyed street signs and vandalized cars. Helmeted riot police were called to the scene to break things up. Who knew that surfer dudes were so angry?
Vancouver, Canada -- Stanley Cup Riots, 2011
#BaltimoreRiots? Remember #FoxNews' outrage re:Vancouver 2011 hockey riot? Me neither. Diff coverage for diff folks pic.twitter.com/s1cXneXlGD — Ranco (@RancoLaw) April 28, 2015
"To put things in perspective: 2011 Vancouver. Reason for riot: Their hockey team lost." #Ferguson #FergusonDecision pic.twitter.com/OV2kpwnbVQ — Eugene Haslam (@EugeneHaslam) November 25, 2014
Hockey fans love a good fight, and this penchant for violence ended up spilling out onto the streets of Vancouver in 2011.
Following a 4-0 Stanley Cup loss to the Boston Bruins, a riot began in downtown Vancouver. Rioters set cars on fire (including police vehicles), looted businesses and destroyed public property, and it was all because of a hockey game.
Keene, NH -- Pumpkin Festival Riots, 2014
Keene Pumpkin Festival riot, New Hampshire. Because white people. #BaltimoreRiots pic.twitter.com/ASBTNmGkJB — Gabe Ortíz (@TUSK81) April 28, 2015
Your media guide to the differences between #Ferguson and #pumpkinfest pic.twitter.com/XfRjlhgei0 — Matt Weinecke (@MattTW) October 19, 2014
In October 2014, Keene held its 24th annual Pumpkin Festival. What was meant to be a peaceful and happy occasion turned into all-out destruction and pandemonium.
A rowdy crowd overturned cars and threw liquor and beer bottles as they lit bonfires and destroyed public property. Ultimately, police had to fire teargas to disperse the rambunctious pumpkin partiers.
Boston, MA -- World Series Riot, 2004
Whites Riot in Boston, 2004. Because a baseball team won a game. One woman was killed by police. pic.twitter.com/CVqPVmVEZT | #Ferguson #tcot — A Aryeh Perez (@Jethro_Aryeh) November 28, 2014
After the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, Boston PD shot Victoria Snelgrove with a crowd control round and killed her. — Sarah (@buonasahra) February 2, 2015
In 2004, Boston won the World Series, breaking the infamous "Curse of the Bambino." After 86 years, the Red Sox were finally on top again. Naturally, people wanted to celebrate, so thousands took to the streets. In the process, riots broke out.
People began vandalizing property, turning over cars and lighting fires. Police responded in full force, but in doing so, they killed an innocent woman named Victoria Snelgrove. She was in an area where there was no visible rioting, just celebrating, but a pepper spray projectile fired by police hit her in the eye, ultimately killing her.
Morgantown, WV -- Football Riots, 2014
BREAKING: Police in riot gear in Morgantown, WV. People rioting after WVU win vs Baylor. Pic from twitter pic.twitter.com/jrK8MQvlCD — Dave Bondy (@DaveBondyTV) October 19, 2014
Welcome to morgantown pic.twitter.com/9vNbsukC6F — Kelsey Mitchell (@kelsey_mitch) October 19, 2014
After West Virginia University's football team unexpectedly beat Baylor, fans literally went insane in the streets of Morgantown in October 2014.
They lit fires, destroyed public property and caused thousands of dollars worth of damage. Police had to use tear gas to disperse the raucous crowd.
Rioting is always destructive and counterproductive, but it's more understandable when it occurs in the midst of painful events related to complex issues. When partying and sports lead to riots, it's always senseless.
As we move forward from the tragic events in Baltimore, let us think carefully about their root causes. In doing so, the city might finally begin to heal and progress.
Citations: The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore (The Atlantic ), UNDUE FORCE (Baltimore Sun), Rioters rampage through Huntington Beach after surf competition (CNN), Riots erupt in Vancouver after Canucks loss (CBC News), New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival crowd sets fires throws bottles (CNN), Boston police accept full responsibility in death of Red Sox fan (CNN), West Virginia fans riot in Morgantown after beating Baylor (FTW)