The largest reasonably important national news this week has been the riots in Baltimore. Ostensibly started by the questionably-caused death of citizen Freddie Gray in police custody, they grew into a remarkably widespread attack on not only the law enforcement officers themselves, but on cars, businesses, and others. Unlike after similar events last year in Ferguson, Missouri, moderate liberals in the press are not apologizing for those destroying property and attacking people. On Tuesday morning the BBC, in its worldwide Morning Edition and News Hour programs, showed little sympathy for the rioters, with air time going to local people saying things similar to “we’ve built up this city, and they are trying to tear it down – they want it to be better, but they can’t have it both ways.” The conservative side, headed of course by Fox News, kept more to the facts – reports from the streets, updates about the curfews, and interviews with police and other authority figures. In the meantime, helped by 2,000 National Guard troops and 1,000 more law enforcement officers, the violence has ran its course. So what can we say about it?
First, any idea of the rioting being justified protests of the aggrieved is without merit. Many if not most of the looters were juveniles, so weren’t old enough to have known racial problems as much as they may have thought they did. Second, the looting and vandalism is without any coherent purpose – it’s more akin to that popping up after significant sports results. Third, in the case of a localized attack, abstract inequality, or those elsewhere having more money and better opportunities, cannot be to blame.
On the other side, the lack of jobs is certainly a contributing problem. In Work’s New Age, I documented how that caused neighborhoods to deteriorate, when people lost the ability to support themselves and their families. It still does, and the permanent crisis rates to get worse, not better.
However, the rioters, and their supporters among those now passing for civil rights leaders, had their methodology all wrong. If there is ever an excuse for rioting, previous actions by the police aren’t it. Running from the authorities, for people with nothing to immediately worry about, shows execrable judgment. Those who think they or others have been wronged by the authorities should wait until the immediate situation has ended and then file lawsuits, file formal complaints, talk with the press, and so on. As for the advantages of action, we can only imagine how much better West Baltimore would be if those stealing, destroying, and injuring were to focus that intensity on working for more jobs instead. The most effective, longest lasting, and most broadly appealing civil disobedience tactics are the nonviolent ones – a protest march through those same Baltimore streets, coupled by demands on all fronts for an investigation into Gray’s death, would have gathered supporters from all over the political spectrum, along with positive attention from the authorities being questioned. Americans do not like punks, bullies, and looters, be they running amuck through the streets or wearing blue uniforms, and race is hardly the entire issue. No matter what else you think, the two wrongs of poor living conditions and street violence do not make a right.
Sadly, almost everybody lost this week in Baltimore. Innocent car and business owners lost property. Innocent police officers and other people were injured. The American racial impasse was cemented even more in place. Our black President, while properly calling the rioters “thugs” and “criminals” while acknowledging problems with police behavior, managed once again to please neither his base, who wanted him to focus on the latter, nor others, wishing for him to mention only the former. Our country lost in the eyes of others. The Al Sharptons, Jesse Jacksons and Cornel Wests may think they profited, but with the common sense view of seeing the rioters as no more than punks carrying the day, they were defeated too. The thieves and looters, with no prospects of being equated with 1960s freedom riders, will gain only longer criminal records. Even the Baltimore Orioles ended up moving some of their home games at cost of both local and overall attendance, after, bizarrely, playing one in Camden Yards without spectators. And the rest of us, wanting civil rights related progress we can support – instead of racial divisiveness, unfair press coverage (where are the stories about whites dying in police custody?), demands to ignore cultural differences at least partially responsible for bad outcomes, and bipartisan acceptance of the jobs crisis as an American problem – came out behind yet again.