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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On violence

Journalist Michael Fletcher knows Baltimore well:
Baltimore is not Ferguson and its primary problems are not racial. The mayor, city council president, police chief, top prosecutor, and many other city leaders are black, as is half of Baltimore’s 3,000-person police force. The city has many prominent black churches and a line of black civic leadership extending back to Frederick Douglass.

Yet, the gaping disparities separating the haves and the have nots in Baltimore are as large as they are anywhere. And, as the boys on the street will tell you, black cops can be hell on them, too.
Precisely. Ninnies on the right, like Rand Paul, insist on framing the issue in racial -- racist -- terms. Paul dared to pin the blame on "lack of fathers." That's a pretty funny remark, coming as it does from the father of a drunk who seems to be perpetually in trouble with the law.

The problem has less to do with skin pigmentation than with the mentality of our police. Black people are, of course, the chief victims of police misconduct, but none of the working-class white people I've met in Baltimore has expressed any great admiration for the local constabulary. Not long after I showed up in this town, I heard a white working-class father instruct his young son: "Don't ever call the cops. We don't need them. They only cause trouble."

As the Baltimore Sun has ably documented, this city's law enforcement officers have committed a series of abuses over the years. The legal system provides no remedy: The department keeps getting sued, yet the large payouts never seem to change police behavior.

Then there is the nationwide problem of cops being used as shakedown operators, as mafia enforcers, in a scheme to generate cash for various cities. Under the new system, poor people found guilty of minor infractions end up paying huge chunks of their income for years and years -- and if they miss a payment, they end up in debtors' prison.

So what is to be done?

The teevee news commentators keep holding up the ideal of non-violent protest. But this piece in Truthout makes a few worthwhile observations:
So anyone who calls for protestors to remain "peaceful," like the Civil Rights activists of old, must answer this question: what actions should be taken when America refuses to be ashamed? Images of black death are proliferating beyond our capacity to tell each story, yet there remains no tipping point in sight—no moment when white people in America will say, "Enough." And no amount of international outrage diminishes the US's reputation to the point of challenging its status as a hegemonic superpower.

What change will a "peaceful" protest spark if a "peaceful" protest is so easy to ignore?
We've heard many variants of that theme in recent years. Antiwar protests may have had enormous impact in the 1960s, but now they are regarded as background music. War is a business, and protest is just the price of doing business. Today's Overclass lives far removed from the larger community. The one-percenters have made their attitude very clear: "Go ahead and march. Hold signs. Sing songs. Chant slogans. Write angry comments on the internet. We encourage you to vent. Just don't actually do anything that might inconvenience us. Be non-violent, or we'll kill you."

As a wise man pointed out: Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.

There is a paradox here. The right keeps telling us to work within this corrupt system -- yet at the same time, the right holds within its own ranks many militia maniacs, secessionists, and conspiracy-addled twits who advocate their own brand of violence. Conservatives can't have it both ways. They can't say: "It's all right for disaffected white people in Arizona to form paramilitary units -- but urban blacks should just sing hymns and recite lines from Dr. King's speech."

It is laughable for representatives of this bloodthirsty government to sing the praises of peaceful protest.

It is laughable for our mass-murdering president to pretend to have the moral standing to talk about non-violence.

It is laughable to tell the victims of a hopelessly corrupt system to work for change within that system.

It is laughable for our Fox News neocons, a group devoted to the worship of Ares, to tell the American underclass to give peace a chance.

"Imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever," said Orwell's villain, O'Brien -- but even he wasn't audacious enough to tell his victim: "Have you considered non-violent forms of protest?" Even he did not have the gall to stare into the bloodied face of a would-be rebel and say: "You know what your problem is? You had an absentee father."

In a way, our current rulers are worse than Big Brother. They have a crueler sense of humor.

I cite, once again, this important piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is.
Try to get the name right.

Ta-Nehisi Coates
I did try.

Doesn't mean I succeeded!

Joseph, thank you for your ongoing commentary about the events in your city and how they fit in the broader current and historical contexts. Right on.

Thought you and your readers might be interested in this account by MJ with eyewitness reports detailing how the rioting started, which reinforces your assessment of the dysfunction (corruption) of the Baltimore police dept.:

Did the police intentionally stage it to provoke a reaction? Or are they that out of touch, institutionally incompetent? Seems to be the former...
Joe, really. Do you really believe Limbaugh and Hannity and Scott Walker and Rubio are promoting white secessionists?
How are separate entities going to fight the nation seceded from's wars, whose wars they favor? I include Rand (but not Ron) Paul who now favors war with ISIS, has not opposed Obama's extension of Afghan occupation, has not opposed the US aiding Saudi Arabia's havoc in Yemen, and has made clear Israeli alliance is non-negotiable.
moving, poetic post, thank you. love your lines about the paradox and how laughable is the hypocrisy!
I thought I posted yesterday, but maybe it didn't take. Basically, I thanked you, Joseph, for your post, and Jon for his link to Mother Jones. Gawker and other outlets have also posted stories on how the kids were left stranded at the mall and not allowed to take their buses home. And indeed the entire city was shut down so even the adults stranded had to "uber" (ugh) their way home. Stranded and surrounded by riot police. That's how the kids were sparked into riot-mode. As for the "call on social media" for the purge...the authorities knew of this and were so concerned they sent out the riot police....and made sure the kids were trapped at the mall? This is indeed worse than Orwellian. They needed this to happen so they could discredit the daily protests. We need someone to track down the source of the call for the purge. If it had truly originated with the kids, I doubt the officials would've noticed in time.
Just because the politicians and people in charge are African american does not mean they are not complicit in the mafia and debtors prison crap that is going on.

I recall a story about an adult woman taking care of her ill father, fell behind on her water bill, had her 10,000 dollar home sold out from under her because her 240 dollar water bill turned into a thousand dollars after all the penalties were added in.

Would be helpful if the protestors organized their own political party and had their own political candidates.
They do here, Alessandro. Doesn't mean they get elected. We also have community activists running for office.
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