The people of Baltimore and the family of Freddie Gray may finally start getting some justice — but it took a large-scale protest and mass civil disobedience to achieve it. As soon as the medical examination of Freddie Gray was completed, the state’s attorney, Marilyn J. Mosby, marched straight down to the War Memorial and announced that a total of 28 charges had been filed against the six officers involved, including second degree murder for the driver. They were the first steps towards justice that the people of Baltimore has been desperately waiting for, after having endured decades of abuse at the hands of the Baltimore PD.
It is a shame that it took a murder and a night of rioting to force America to sit up and listen to the repressed voices of the American ghetto. The people of Baltimore have been suffering under the yoke of a cruel and overbearing police force that has become that way because of the enormous task they’ve been burdened with; policing a community ravaged by unemployment, drug traffic, failing education systems and a crumbling safety net. The frustration felt by the disenfranchised youths of West Baltimore makes them lash out, which prompts a violent response from the police who are trying to keep some semblance of order.
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and desperation whose roots lie not at the Baltimore Police Department but with the ravenous growth of unfettered capitalism and the use of racism keeping black Americans as an exploitable underclass, as white Americans have done throughout history. N.D.B Connolly details in an op-ed how
“Cities that are starved for income have found ways to raise revenues by way of fines and fees exacted from poor, underemployed African-Americans and migrants of color. These include property taxes and court costs. In Maryland, in particular, these come in lieu of property taxes that many of the state’s largest employers are not required to pay. The dangers of tax burdens and other unseen costs are as deadly to urban households as police brutality or fires set by “thugs.”
The use of the word “thug” has been widespread throughout the media, used by conservative media outlets to paint frustrated youths with an inherently criminal disposition, a moral corruption that is unforgivable and irreconcilable, thus discarding any potential these kids might have had to be something else, refusing to even consider the possibility that these are just kids with no opportunities and a poor education, products of a failed economy and a failing public school system, and they’re acting out in response to it.
Peaceful protests by people of all races have taken place in tens of cities across the country over the past year, but nothing has been achieved. The rate of police killings is growing– 111 killings in the month of March alone- and justice always seems just out of reach. Juries are loathe to indict police officers, the conservative corporate lobby uses their influence to protect the subjugators of the exploited classes, and the system continues. It took the burning of a CVS and a real outburst of violence for the nation to take notice- the media gave the protests on Saturday only a cursory notice before the riots on Monday made it 24/7 coverage.
The indictments for the Baltimore police officers are just a drop in the bucket of the real problems facing the black community, but it’s a good sign of progress. It’s a tragedy that a riot had to take place to effect some kind of change, but it would appear that civil disobedience and a little property damage are what it takes to get the sensationalist propaganda industry, the mainstream media, and the government to notice, because in America’s hypercapitalist society, property is more valuable than human lives.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.