Why Violence Shouldn't Be All You See When You Look At Baltimore

by John Haltiwanger

With around 622,000 residents, Baltimore is Maryland's largest city. It's much smaller than places like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, but in many ways, it's a microcosm of America's urban centers. This was particularly evident over the weekend, when the city erupted in protest over police brutality in relation to the controversial death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

Gray's death and the ensuing protests come in the midst of an ongoing national debate surrounding policing, excessive force and racism. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice also led to similar protests in cities across the United States in recent months.

Over the past year, "Hands Up Don't Shoot," "Black Lives Matter" and "No Justice, No Peace," have become the rallying cries of a movement that Congressman Elijah Cummings has characterized as the "civil rights cause of this generation."

On April 12, Gray was arrested by Baltimore police. One week after the arrest, on April 19, Gray died from a spinal cord injury. It still isn't clear if he sustained this injury during the arrest or while in custody. It's also not known exactly why Gray was arrested or what he was charged with.

A disturbing video of the incident (below), filmed by a bystander, shows Gray asking for medical assistance as police drag his somewhat limp body to a police van.

Police eventually rushed Gray to a hospital, but it was well after the initial arrest.

It's notable that Baltimore's police commissioner, Anthony W. Batts, has said the police involved should've gotten him medical attention sooner.

The protests in Baltimore over the weekend were primarily peaceful, with some elements of looting and violence.

And here is the cover of today's @BaltimoreSun. Sunday. #FreddieGray — deray mckesson (@deray) April 26, 2015
I never understood how destroying your own city, hurting innocent businesses gets your message across.... #Baltimore — Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) April 26, 2015
Smashed police vehicles outside #camdenyards — jelani cobb (@jelani9) April 25, 2015

At one point, Baltimore's mayor tweeted:

Thx 2 those who have worked to press for peace during these protests. Concerned about the violence and those who want to destroy our city. — Mayor Rawlings-Blake (@MayorSRB) April 26, 2015

In total, 35 people were arrested and six police officers were injured on Saturday, the Baltimore Sun reports.

It is indeed unfortunate that a relatively calm but passionate protest was marred by moments of chaos -- and pandemonium often gets more media coverage than peaceful protestors. Many took to Twitter to take note of this:

Out so media only showing the bad well here are so beautiful captures from today :::: #Baltimore #DVNLLN i was there — KnownNobody (@byDVNLLN) April 26, 2015
We was peaceful all week but people was provoked today and control was lost....its not all bad dont believe the news — KnownNobody (@byDVNLLN) April 26, 2015
Peaceful protest yesterday in Baltimore yet the media is more concerned with those that acted violently #FreddieGray — Dionne Sparrow (@lifeunraveling) April 26, 2015

Even still, some seem determined to focus on the negative aspects of the protests:

PHOTO: Violence in Baltimore today during protest — John Galt (@JohnGGalt) April 26, 2015
Looking at this I think I know why #FreddieGray & other like him got themselves hurt/shot #Baltimore — Rowdy Taylor (@RowdyTaylor) April 27, 2015

Some have also asked why the protestors aren't also focusing on black-on-black crime and violence:

where are the protests/riots in #Chicago over black-on-black violence?? thought so.... #FreddieGray #Baltimorons — Dave Thomas (@newstouse) April 26, 2015
#Baltimore has the fifth highest homicide rate with 235. Mostly black on black crime. Where's the protests for that? #FreddieGray #getajob — KCKS AIR (@KCKSAIR) April 22, 2015

These individuals would likely benefit from an education in American history, particularly in relation to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Racism, discrimination and violence have been perpetual aspects of American society, impacting minorities especially.

With that said, black-on-black violence is certainly an issue, but it doesn't excuse the shortcomings and discriminatory aspects of America's criminal justice system, nor does it justify police brutality.

Today people argue we should talk about black on black crime instead of cop killings because black on black crime is more common. — Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) August 23, 2014
In 400 years, neither racists, nor the rhetoric they employ, has changed much. — Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) August 24, 2014
Tactic is always the same. Always deflect, always change the subject, always sanctify power. Rinse. Repeat. — Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) August 24, 2014

Bringing up black-on-black crime in the midst of a conversation surrounding police brutality is both perverse and misleading.

It's also inaccurate and counterproductive to argue that black-on-black crime is ignored by the black community.

This was evident on Saturday, when rival gang members from the Bloods and Crips agreed upon a truce in Gray's honor. Marching alongside activists from the Nation of Islam, they joined together in protest of police brutality, the Daily Beast reports.

In doing so, they recognized that the violence between them harms the community.

Bloods, Crips, and Nation of Islam coming together. Beautiful. #FreddieGray — PantheR (@____PantheR) April 25, 2015
RT @sickflo100mad: @TalibKweli @justinwedes This should have made the front page ofThe #BaltimoreSun #FreddieGray — Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) April 26, 2015

This is very telling: Police brutality has become so endemic, it's inspired rival gangs to exhibit solidarity.

Unfortunately, however, there are also recent reports that Baltimore gangs seek to target police:

NEW: Police claim "credible threat" that BGF, Bloods, Crips have teamed up to "take out law enforcement officers" — Justin Fenton (@justin_fenton) April 27, 2015

This should certainly be taken seriously, and we can only hope there is no further violence. Those gang members who peacefully engaged in protest over the weekend should encourage others to follow the same standard.

When many people think of Baltimore, they likely envision scenes from the popular HBO series, "The Wire." Reports of gang members planning on targeting police likely reinforces this image.

While there is a certain element of truth to the show in terms of the culture, crime and socioeconomic conditions in the city, Baltimore is much more than crack dens and gang violence.

It's a historic city with a narrative that dates back to the colonial era. Baltimore played a vital role during the Revolutionary War. It's where the national anthem was written, and it's home to the Orioles, Ravens, Johns Hopkins University, National Bohemian (Natty Boh), delicious crab cakes and one of the proudest local populations in the country.

Baltimore certainly has its problems and has seen its fair share of hardships, but it would be wrong to define it based on these aspects alone.

We have to look at all sides of a story to get the full picture. The same is true in regard to the criminal justice system, police brutality, racism and violence in America. We can't define this weekend's protests by any single element.

There are always shades of gray, particularly when events surround convoluted and painful issues. Society is complex, and we have to remain cognizant of this as we strive to improve it. Progress depends upon all of us.

Citations: Bloods and Crips Team Up to Protest Baltimores Cops (The Daily Beast), Black People Are Not Ignoring Black on Black Crime (The Atlantic ), Protests in Baltimore escalate over death of Freddie Gray after arrest (Vox), Freddie Gray dies a week after being injured during arrest (Baltimore Sun ), Freddie Gray Is Mourned at Funeral in Baltimore (New York Times), Baltimore Police Admit Delay in Calling Ambulance for Freddie Gray (New York Times), Latest updates from the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore (Baltimore Sun), Rep Elijah Cummings Police Community Relations Is The Civil Rights Cause Of This Generation (Huffington Post)