Beyond Thugs: Understanding Baltimore
by William Skink
While some white people want to focus on what those thugs were doing in Baltimore this week, it might be more illuminating to focus on why.
The violence that erupted at the beginning of the week was sparked by a ridiculous overreaction to a high school rumor. The concern over a “purge” of violence now appears to be quite unfounded:
Turns out the teen social media “purge” may have been more a police and media creation than an actual threat.
Early Monday afternoon, the Baltimore Sun (4/27/15) reported on a mass police presence that had descended on Baltimore’s Mondawmin Mall. The reason for this military-like occupation, pinning in high schoolers? A flier advocating a “purge”—a term based on the 2013 dystopian film The Purge, supposedly signifying an outbreak of lawlessness—was, according to the Sun, “widely circulated” among the students.
Surely the police had to come down hard because “teens” on “social media” had planned on doing something that in the past had turned out to be a hoax. Nevertheless, the Sun would do most of the PR heavy lifting, reporting on the “purge” as if it was an existential threat—pinning the incident entirely on this mysterious flier:
The incident stemmed from a flier that circulated widely among city school students via social media about a “purge” to take place at 3 p.m., starting at Mondawmin Mall and ending downtown.
The real-world, non-social media evidence of this purge?
When 3 p.m. came, 75 to 100 students heading to Mondawmin Mall were greeted by dozens of police officers in riot gear. The mall is a transportation hub for students from several nearby schools.
So the students left class (at they always do at 3 p.m.) and headed to Mondawmin Mall (as they always do at 3 p.m.) and were met with hundreds of police in riot rear. That’s not what you’d call a smoking gun.
The only social media images we could find of the supposedly viral “purge” meme were spread by people who were condemning it.
As for the evidence of this “purge” spreading on social media? It’s murky at best. After getting vague responses from the Baltimore Sun reporters in question as to the actual, linked evidence that the flier had gone viral, I took to Twitter asking for evidence that evidence that the flier was spread by high school students before the Sun tweeted it out.
After a few hours and a lot of searching, all that came back were two tweets (one of which is now deleted)—neither of which were from high schoolers, and both of which were upset by the idea of a “purge,” not promoting it. Even if one assumes that the flier actually did go viral on other social media (which it may well have–it’s more difficult to search Instagram and Facebook), the social media activity we could observe was sharing the flier in disgust—not to promote the “purge” at all.
The actions by police—stopping buses and keeping kids from getting home—was unnecessary and provocative. It was definitely a factor in creating the conditions for unrest.
To further understand why Baltimore erupted, read this conversation with David Simon. It turns out a Democrat politician with career-climbing ambition incentivized shitty police work for his own political advancement. From the link:
Originally, early in his tenure, O’Malley brought Ed Norris in as commissioner and Ed knew his business. He’d been a criminal investigator and commander in New York and he knew police work. And so, for a time, real crime suppression and good retroactive investigation was emphasized, and for the Baltimore department, it was kind of like a fat man going on a diet. Just leave the French fries on the plate and you lose the first ten pounds. The initial crime reductions in Baltimore under O’Malley were legit and O’Malley deserved some credit.
But that wasn’t enough. O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation. And so there were people from City Hall who walked over Norris and made it clear to the district commanders that crime was going to fall by some astonishing rates. Eventually, Norris got fed up with the interference from City Hall and walked, and then more malleable police commissioners followed, until indeed, the crime rate fell dramatically. On paper.
How? There were two initiatives. First, the department began sweeping the streets of the inner city, taking bodies on ridiculous humbles, mass arrests, sending thousands of people to city jail, hundreds every night, thousands in a month. They actually had police supervisors stationed with printed forms at the city jail – forms that said, essentially, you can go home now if you sign away any liability the city has for false arrest, or you can not sign the form and spend the weekend in jail until you see a court commissioner. And tens of thousands of people signed that form.
Please read the whole piece. It’s incredibly illuminating.