After Baltimore: In defense of riots

Since last August, the list of the names of Black people who have been murdered by the cops has multiplied. It’s said that every 28 hours a Black person is killed by the police. It’s also said that in 2015 alone over 300 people, mostly Black, have been murdered by the police – and we’re not even a full 6 months into the year.

Many would say that this information seems incorrect. They imagine that there couldn’t possibly be that many people killed within a year by the Police, who are supposed to protect and serve the rest of us who aren’t in uniform. I would call those people naive. But since there isn’t a formal record of just how many people are killed by the police each year, there’s no evidence to present to non-Black people to illustrate the distrust and fear many of us have of law enforcement.

Unfortunately, because we live in a society that doesn’t believe the lived experiences of Black people, that lack of physical evidence allows most to ignore or remain completely oblivious to something that has been going for generations.

Over the past year, there was a fleeting hope that if people could see the harm we went through, there would be a greater push to stop these extrajudicial murders. There were many campaigns to require law enforcement all over to wear body cameras to record their interactions with people.

Even without this, more and more civilians have been quick to pull out their camera phones to record and upload onto the internet violent interactions between themselves or others and the police. Almost weekly there have been videos of one victim after another being shot, suffocated, or otherwise killed.

Instead of having its intended effect of forcing people to see and empathize with the victims, it seems to have rapidly desensitized people to the sight of Black people dying.

This has been happening for generations. By the time most Black children are in their pre-teens they’re already taught by their parents – or trained by interaction – on how to behave around the police to lower their chances of being beaten, sexually abused, or killed. However, this self-preserving, precautionary relationship Black people have toward the police is largely ignored by White people. They would rather assume that some bad behavior in a Black person’s past is what caused them to be harassed by officers.

There’s a breaking point. After years, decades, generations of abuse, there comes a point where people cannot take it anymore. All that negativity cannot be bottled up forever, all of that abuse cannot be received without boiling over.

On April 27th, 2015 a riot broke out in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. All over the news there were images almost exclusively of Black people destroying property, burning cars, and running in through the broken windows of buildings to steal toiletries.

What wasn’t all over the news was the fact that the police showed up in riot gear to a mall that was often populated by teenagers and demanded that they return to their homes after shutting down all transportation that could take them there.

What wasn’t all over the news was that there were weeks of peaceful protests already happening in Baltimore in response to the death of Freddie Gray.

What wasn’t all over the news was that Freddie Gray died of a spinal injury caused by the Baltimore police after being arrested for possession of a switchblade.

It’s easier instead to report about a burned-down CVS, because the destruction of property and the theft of products is more important – and apparently, even, more visually engaging – than the lives and humanity of the Black people living there.

After generations of trying to express our pain to those who won’t listen to us, the only other option is to find what will make them listen. White American society values things more than Black lives. This becomes evident when the death of Black people incites no emotion in from the general public while the broken windows of a looted building causes outrage. The U.S. media often doesn’t even cover protests until something is actually on fire, which makes it hard for peaceful protests to achieve anything.

You, the White majority of the United States, want Black people as a whole to condemn the actions of the people during the Baltimore Uprising, but you refuse to condemn the actions of those who have murdered us for years.

You want us to call the people of Baltimore “thugs,” to separate ourselves from what you consider “bad” Black people, but you refuse to discipline the “thugs” on police forces who are terrorizing US citizens.

You want Black people to keep up the story of non-violent protest being the best and only way to bring change, because it makes it easier for you to be violent against us.

That will not happen. History has proven that there is always a breaking point, whether it be Baltimore today, Los Angeles in 1992 or all over the United States in 1968.

Black lives matter: more than your property, more than your overpriced chain groceries, more than your upscale brunches.

Previously from AFD: “After Ferguson: In defense of non-peaceful resistance” by Bill

De Ana Jones

About De Ana Jones

De Ana (contributing columnist) is a writer and podcaster based in Southern California.
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