The reactions to the arrest-related death of Freddie King in Baltimore are as varied as you’d expect. Some of them defy comprehension, while others show careful, clear thought.
It’s not easy to excuse arsonists and looters, but it is possible to understand them. You try living with the profound weight of both poverty and racism, day after day, year after year. At best, your outrage overflows when a Freddie King dies, and you join a street protest that you know, deep down, will do little other than give your more violent impulses a non-violent outlet. At worst, you’ve been shortchanged so often and in so many ways that you never experienced the self-respect that would have restrained the mindlessness of the mob you’ve joined. Sometimes, when a scream of outrage isn’t enough, there just isn’t any other way to let the injustice out than an act of rage. I’m not condoning it, mind you, but I do have to try to understand it.
The reactions of some of our public actors are no easier to condone, but they are harder to understand. Just a few of them will give us a sense of the range of these outrageous responses.
Ted Cruz blames President Obama. Seriously? Is there nothing in America that the Head Muslim in Charge can’t be blamed for? Apparently, Obama’s sympathy for the black victims of official white violence increases the racial divide. Keep insisting that black lives matter, and you’re an irresponsible rabble-rouser. And it’s easy to believe that for Cruz, rabble is the right word for them.
Some Baltimore police apologists claim that Freddie King’s arrest was “without incident,” and that if he arrived at the hospital with a fractured spine, well, he must have done it to himself, on purpose, while he was in custody! Sounds outrageous? Not to Sean Hannity and others at FOX News, who trumpeted as truth the “eyewitness” account of a fellow detainee who was in the van for only a short time, and who couldn’t see King, to whom he didn’t speak. That the self-inflicted fracture story also contradicts the police reports filed at the time of the incident didn’t impress Hannity, either. Just when it’s needed, here’s a narrative that keeps the police and the perps in their proper places. We know that you were just trying to frame the police, Freddie!
At the other end of the political scale, some are outraged at the media’s speed at turning Toya Graham into “hero mom.” To them, she’s the white answer to what’s wrong with black kids — not enough yelling, not enough slaps upside the head. Beat them more, and they’ll behave better. These critics sense more than a bit of an unspoken slavery mentality here.
I must admit that I didn’t think of this angle until it was pointed out to me, but now that I see it, I can’t not see it. Here, from Joan Walsh’s Salon piece, is a thoughtful view of Graham’s actions.
I’m aware that a lot of African Americans are lauding Graham, too. This piece isn’t directed at them. Whether they applaud or critique Graham’s corporal punishment, most black people debating the issue acknowledge that the desperate public beating came from centuries of black parents knowing they have to discipline their children harshly, or else white society will do it for them – and they may not survive it.
This point is hard to dispute — and harder to ignore.
But certainly the best response to the riots in Baltimore has to be the one from John Angelos, COO of the Baltimore Orioles, who, for security reasons, postponed Monday night’s game (and played Wednesday’s game in an empty stadium).
The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, one that far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. … We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic, civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.
After that unexpected corporate eloquence, I have nothing more to say.