The Role The Police Played In Sparking The Baltimore Violence

A man sits on a bicycle in front of a line of police officers in riot gear ahead of a 10 p.m. curfew in the wake of Monday's riots following the funeral for Freddie Gray, Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Ph... A man sits on a bicycle in front of a line of police officers in riot gear ahead of a 10 p.m. curfew in the wake of Monday's riots following the funeral for Freddie Gray, Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/David Goldman) MORE LESS
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The mainstream media is getting the story wrong with regards to the Baltimore Uprising taking place. Journalists are lazily positing a direct connection between the Freddie Gray protests and the riot that broke out after Freddie Gray’s funeral.

But that’s not the full story.

Most of the media are ignoring the fact that the Baltimore Police Department escalated the situation by releasing a press release during Freddie Gray’s funeral that claimed that Baltimore’s most notorious gangs—the Bloods, Crips, and Black Guerrilla Family—were forming a dark alliance to “take out” police.

Gang members went on television to dispute this press release, saying they “did not make that truce to harm cops.” Still, the Baltimore Police Department decided to do what George W. Bush did when he attacked Iraq: engage in a preemptive attack. The rumors of a lawless purge among local black high schoolers were also swirling. The youth in that area leave school to take public transportation buses to go home, as Baltimore City Public Schools doesn’t have a fleet of buses like most school districts to take children back and forth to school.

Therefore, two misleading narratives collided to produce a potent recipe for violence. The police assumed that black youth in local gangs were targeting them and that some sort of violent purge was imminent, so they began painting a picture of imminent threat. Convinced that they were under attack and having sufficiently defined the enemy (i.e. black youth) to the press, the police decided to strike first.

Therefore, police deployed cops in riot gear to Mondawmin Mall to cut off the buses that the children from local schools use to take home before the children got out of school. From there, things descended into violence as frustrated children, trapped on city streets by armored police and cut off from their mode of transportation home, began hurling rocks and bricks at the police.

The police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas, turning West Baltimore into the scene of a revolt. The community, already reeling from grief following the funeral of Freddie Gray, decided they had nothing to lose. As the group of children were pushed south (see map), they were joined by the residents of Freddie Gray’s community, Sandtown-Winchester—already demonized and terrorized by police on a daily basis—in the revolt.

Therefore, the same elements of apartheid policing that have been brought up around the death of Freddie Gray—racial profiling, making a preemptive strike, using disproportionate force, occupation—are there in the roots of the Baltimore uprising. I say apartheid policing because as I’ve written before on this site, when city leaders bring white cops from suburbs into disinvested black communities in urban areas, many cops are bringing longstanding racial biases with them from living and growing up in disproportionately white suburbs.

Researcher Phillip Goff and his colleagues have shown that white authority figures usually overestimate the ages of black children, viewing them as older than they are and imputing to them less presumed innocence. Their research also shows that white cops also view young black men as animals, specifically gorillas. This dehumanizing view proliferates policing, harking back to specific crude racial stereotypes that posit the innate criminality of black people.

This is the danger of allowing segregation to continue unchecked. This is the danger of America’s ongoing betrayal of the 1968 Fair Housing Act as Nikole Hannah-Jones has written. The irrational fear of an unholy gang alliance and a “black purge” helped the Baltimore Police Department to incite a riot, when they made their preemptive strike just two hours after Freddie Gray was laid to rest.

Lawrence Brown is an Assistant Professor of Public Health at Morgan State University, who studies the impact of segregation and forced displacement on community health.

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  1. Thanks, TPM, for getting the story right. This is exactly what happened. The other part of the story is the number of students who did not participate. Thousands of students stayed in place or made their way home as best they could. Let’s hope that the NYT will follow suit and report the truth.

  2. If any of you subscribe to the Nixle service you may have seen this come across the screen as a ‘blue alert’ on the 27th. Nixle normally does things like alert the public to road closures, weather issues, silver alerts or Amber alerts. It is usually quite useful. To see this ( come across as a nationwide blue alert was very strange.

  3. I agree this is an important story to post. We have an epidemic of out of control police who no longer respect the public they are paid to serve. I wonder how much the misuse of terror alerts and other attitudes saying no legal or due process would stand in the way of executing terrorists hasn’t contributed to the general sense of lawlessness on the part of police. After all, if a pentagon flack can order the death of an American on video, why wouldn’t the cops assume due process is a thing of the past. We haven’t criminalized the war on terror. The war on terror has criminalized us.

  4. Avatar for bkmn bkmn says:

    In the past couple of decades the police in some areas have transitioned from “protect and serve” to protect wealthy peoples stuff and to use lethal force against people that are not an imminent threat." Someone who is trained in using a gun has the option to severely wound someone who tries to escape but it seems that the first response when someone they are trying to apprehend breaks loose and runs away from them is to kill them. Someone who is running away from the police is not an imminent threat to the police so why must lethal force be used? What happened to letting the person have their day in court? Our legal system is broken if police now have the authority to execute someone just for resisting arrest.

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