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.

  1. Simon’s answer to much of the police criminality:

    We end the drug war. I know I sound like a broken record, but we end the fucking drug war. The drug war gives everybody permission to do anything. It gives cops permission to stop anybody, to go in anyone’s pockets, to manufacture any lie when they get to district court.

    Put in the larger context, and Orwellian names set aside, the “Drug War” was a major attack on civil liberties. Pot is a good tool to use against minorities (it’s alwasy been legal for whites). But it’s even worse than that, because the source of the drugs they were supposedly waging war against was the other side of the curtain – CIA. When CIA was in SE Asia, it was the Golden Training, and when CIA moved to Central Asia, it became Afghanistan. It should be no surprise that rumors abound of CIA and Clinton running cocaine from South American through Mena, a rumor scoffed at but not discredited.

    I am not being coy – CIA is in the drug business, as documented early by Alfred McCoy in The Politics of Heroin … the Agency is in the terror and war business, and needs a source of funding outside legitimate government. Drugs fits the bill. That’s why since invading Afghanistan in 2001, no one has ever seen a poppy pl;ant leave a field and makes its way to a lab, even as the area crawls with spooks.

  2. JC

    Baltimore points to so much that is wrong in the country today.

    Listening to NPR on the drive home last night (I was bored) I learned that 1) “thug” is the new “nigger”; 2) that conservatives think that if only “thugs” (black men) in Baltimore were “marry-able” that all would be well; 3) that “thugs” are not marry-able because of a breakdown in family values and lack of morality; and 4) liberals think that “thugs” are not marry-able because we shipped all the jobs overseas (just like the liberal-in-chief is trying to do do with TPP/TTIP) so what to do with a town that formerly had an industrial base, except to invest in the burgeoning police/prison industry?

    This has come to be what news on NPR is, and not a word about how police brutality foments protest, or what will happen if the police get off on the charges. Or that our economy is so in decline that it is breeding inevitable unrest. Or that our country is so driven to maintain its empire that domestic needs are going unmet, and our nation is rotting from the core.

    • The first part of the post above hints at agents provocateur at work, as if the police, wanting a confrontation, set up the reason for it. The logical question would then be “Why?”

      And in asking that question, we truly begin to understand the underbelly of local law enforcement in this country since Clinton bragged about putting 100,000 new police on the streets.

  3. steve kelly

    Another “drill” in anticipation of our 21st Century version of “Bastille Day.” Half of those arrested were not charged and then released. Martial law. Boston, Baltimore, who’s next?

  4. Eric

    The whole Baltimore ‘story’ irritates me. The way it’s been going is that the news (all news CBS,NBC,Fox, etc) has been building a narrative that every time blacks get an excuse, they start tearing up towns. That’s what we’re being fed. And there’s nothing racial in Baltimore, except that the lawless crowd was black. The Mayor is black, the Baltimore PD is mainly administrated by black officers, the Policemen charged were 3 white cops, and 3 black cops.

    IMO – the Obama presidency has left one real legacy – they have set race relations in the USA backwards about 40 years.

    • JC

      Sooo… what? Colored people shouldn’t run for office? Or just the ones that will say: “yez, boss”?

      If anything, the problem with race relations in the last 6-7 years has been the reaction from the bigoted to the fact that the president was only half white.

      What is happening in Baltimore transcends current events, and is the result of historical racism, shifting economic bases & trade policy, and deteriorating educational systems.

      You can blame current events on whatever “excuse” the media may project, but it’s all calculated on ROI — that is to say, the media reports on whatever news or meme (or create “news”) that will attract maximum viewers and advertisers.

      • Here’s your blame JC, summed up in a cartoon.

        By the way Baltimore spends over $15K a student yielding a less than 25% proficiency rate in 8th grade math. $15K/student is one of the nations highest.

        • Going deep on us again, I see. This cartoon, of course, tells us all we need to know. No further inquiry or thought is necessary. It’s all right there in front of our eyes, so set that cerebral cortex on hold.

      • Eric

        So What? In a city that’s 60% black populated, administrated by blacks, with a police force 60% black, when a suspect dies in Police custody why should it be be an excuse to raid liquor stores and burn pharmacy’s ?

        You didn’t see this from the ‘oppressive’ Bush or Clinton administrations.

        • steve kelly

          Please Eric, go to Baltimore one time, walk around, have a beer, and stop wondering what life is like in an open-air concentration camp. Prison, injury or death is no deterrent when it’s as bad “outside” as it is “inside.” What’s wrong in Baltimore is what’s wrong in Gaza. If you lived there, what would you do that’s different? How would you change it? Please don’t say leave, or join the police force?

  5. Eric

    I’m thinking May 4, 1970 all over again – throw a rock, and the National Guar opens fire. There wouldn’t be any more riots.

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