I’ve been reading some powerful stuff on Baltimore and I’d like to share it.
The scene is as familiar to me as it is repulsive: almost exclusively young, white fans from the surrounding suburbs or the city’s gentrifying neighborhoods, show up and get absolutely shit-faced drunk and either aggressively hit on random women or fight each other before, during and after games. I’ve seen more scuffles outside of sporting events in the last decade than my wife has seen teaching in a DC public high school and it’s not even close. On Saturday, these fans acted like they always act except this time they turned their taunting, frat-house Tucker Carlson comedy routines outward at the people who travelled a short geographical but cavernous psychological distance from West Baltimore. Not shockingly, confrontations ensued although with much of the cell phone video coming from inside the sports bars, the events have been wildly
A publicly funded stadium is not the root cause of what plagues our cities, but it’s a flashing, blaring sign of a set of economic priorities that like sports has created a country that defines people as winners or losers. But unlike sports, a country where the happenstance of your birth determines what side of that line you reside.
Jelani Cobb, writing in the New Yorker, describes the protests of last Saturday against the backdrop of a baseball game at Camden Yards:
The protest on Saturday migrated south of City Hall, through the inner harbor, and west along Pratt Street toward Camden Yards Stadium, where the Orioles were scheduled to play the Boston Red Sox. At the corner of Pratt and Light Street a few dozen people held up traffic and staged a spontaneous die-in, sprawling themselves on the asphalt in poses straight from crime-scene photos. There was a comparatively light police presence along the route, but dozens of officers in riot gear blocked the crowd from getting near the stadium, which seemed to confirm the protesters’ most damning suspicions. A man near the front shouted, “They only care about the Orioles!”
Another eyewitness account (by d. Watkins), from The New York Times, of the violence that began with taunting from white baseball fans:
Most of the protests were peaceful. The first acts of violence didn’t occur until after a nonviolent, if agitated, protest Saturday night at City Hall. From there, a group of protesters, including myself, marched to Camden Yards, where the Orioles were playing the Boston Red Sox. As we passed a strip of bars, a group of white baseball fans, wearing both Baltimore and Boston gear, were standing outside yelling, “We don’t care! We don’t care!” Some called us monkeys and apes. A fight broke out, and people were hurt.
After that, it didn’t take much. Some people might ask, “Why Baltimore?” But the real question is, “Why did it take so long?”
From Michael Fletcher, a 30-year resident and former Baltimore Sun reporter:
It was only a matter of time before Baltimore exploded.
In the more than three decades I have called this city home, Baltimore has been a combustible mix of poverty, crime, and hopelessness, uncomfortably juxtaposed against rich history, friendly people, venerable institutions and pockets of old-money affluence.
The two Baltimores have mostly gone unreconciled. The violence that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral Monday, with roaming gangs looting stores and igniting fires, demands that something be done.
Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake blamed the conflagration in her city on “thugs who only want to incite violence,” by whom she meant protesters and not the officers who likely killed Freddie Gray. Too many people, she said, “have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who, in a very senseless way, are trying to tear down what so many have fought for.”
“Senselessness,” in Rawlings-Blake’s formulation, is reflexively connected to looting and burning—as if that looting and burning had no antecedent—but not to the death of a man that no one has explained and that thus, quite seriously, makes no sense. Violent response to that death may be many things—tragic, necessary, regressive, wrong, damaging to already damaged communities—but it is not anywhere near as senseless as the notion that a 25-year-old man who had, as far as we know, committed no crime, is dead from a severed spine. That is senseless. People being furious about it to the point of bursting makes quite a lot of sense.
Here is the crux of these inconsistencies: The way that even the best (and certainly the worst) of us are trained to see, understand, and then tell the story of violence in America tends to work in one direction. We instinctively mark violence’s start at the moment that less powerful people encroach on more powerful people. When property is destroyed by those who do not own property; when cars are burned by protesters on foot; when rocks are thrown by kids at men armed with guns and shields: That is the moment at which we see the kick-off of battle, the opening shots in a war.
“The Wire” doesn’t explain Baltimore. Enthusiasm for “The Wire” helps explain how fans of the show would like to feel about Baltimore, cities like it, and the people who inhabit them. We want to believe we have deep sympathy for and understanding of people whose lives bear the marks of institutional racism, decades of dreadful criminal justice policy, hopelessly inadequate educational systems and a profound lack of legitimate economic opportunity. And then we’d like to feel like there’s nothing we really can do, and so there’s nothing we are required to do.