Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baltimore's uprising

As is always the case when the disenfranchised, marginalized and racialized rise up in anger in North America, where we like to think there is no need for such actions, Monday's uprising in Baltimore is being predictably portrayed in the terms that we have come to expect.

That the "rioters" are undermining all the "good" being supposedly done by peaceful protests and are "hurting their own cause", turning it into now somehow "mindless" violence and looting.

For example, the creator of "The Wire", (the famous show that looked at many of the issues facing Baltimore that have led it here) David Simon, has opined:

But now — in this moment — the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease.  There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today.  But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.
If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore.  Turn around.  Go home.  Please.

Yet, the fact is that given the increasing escalation of police militarization, brutality and racist violence across North America and the United Sates despite countless protests, and given that even the President acknowledged that the media outside of it ignored the peaceful protests in Baltimore, this desire to rise up does not come out of nothing.

Despite the hand-wringing and protestations of surprise and horror from those who are, actually, complicit in bogus narratives that seek to contain any and all radicalism, people do not riot, unless they are white sport's fans, for no reason.

We really should not be surprised, however. This emphasis and spin on uprisings is as long as their history.

Take this example:

Witnesses also reported gangs of youths, some on motorbikes, roaming the streets, looting supermarkets, shopping malls and shops on Saturday.

Some of the gangs also entered wealthy residential areas...and gunfire could be heard in the city centre as well as outlying districts.

Residents also said that banks were broken into and hundreds of young men carted away televisions, fans and stereo equipment...before setting the building alight.

The looting has prompted residents in some neighbourhoods...to set up vigilante groups to protect private property. Outside some apartment blocks, guards armed with machine guns had taken up posts....


But it is also about Egypt during its uprising in 2011, not Baltimore.

In fact this was, of course, the narrative of the authorities in Egypt. The uprising was the actions of violent, criminal hooligans. That this narrative was not widely accepted in North America had much to do with our assumptions about the country and our willingness to see injustice abroad that we assume does not exist at home.

Why did the Egyptian revolution occur?

The widely accepted belief is that it occurred due to police brutality and corruption, extreme inequality (the western media delighted in harping on the lack of opportunity for the Egyptian middle class), and a social inability to deal with the issues facing the Egyptian poor while plumping the bank accounts of the Egyptian upper classes.

All of which is true.

But it is all true in the USA as well. In the United States this is also greatly abetted by a terrible history and legacy of extremely violent systemic racism against a large part of its own population.

Never mind the brutality of Reaganomics and the neo-Reaganomics of Clinton, but in 2008, when the upper class friends of the Democrats and Republicans needed help, coming in their Rolls-Royce absurdity to beg that the average person bail them out for the incompetent and lazy fools that they are, suddenly, as Newsweek put it, we were "all socialists now"!

What that really meant was "socialism" for the rich alone.

The "free market" only really ever applies to those living in poverty, after all.

So what about the ongoing Baltimore uprising?

Is it the  manifestation of unreasoning violence by thugs, the disgruntled, and those who simply need, as one widely shared video has implied,  "good parenting"?

That is a good part of the way much of the media is framing it. Basically as was done in  Egypt in 2011 above.

But surely, I am certain the liberal will object, Egypt has and had much greater inequality than the USA, right?

According to the CIA the levels of inequality are, actually, greater in the US.

From Ferguson to New York the countless cases of extreme racist police brutality left unpunished and with no one held to account is also entirely analogous.

When people are pushed to the point where options for political action simply do not seem to exist, and are between a far right that despises you and a liberal political class that is fully complicit in your ongoing oppression, uprisings like the one occurring in Baltimore are an inevitable result.

I think this is worth remembering when we hear white mainstream media commentators demanding not that the police promise to end their actual violence, but that community activists disavow the supposed "violence" of those in revolt as Wolf Blitzer did when interviewing Baltimore's Deray McKesson Tuesday.

McKesson threw it back in Blitzer's face, saying:

"Yeah, there should be peaceful protests,” the community organizer replied. “And I don’t have to condone it to understand it, right? The pain that people feel is real.”
“And you are making a comparison,” McKesson added. “You are suggesting this idea that broken windows are worse than broken spines, right?”
“And what we know to be true is the police are killing people everywhere. They’re killing people here. Six police officers were involved in the killing of Freddie Gray, and we’re looking for justice there. And that’s real. The violence the police have been inflicting on communities of color has been sustained and deep.”

This is why Baltimore rises.

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