After Baltimore erupted in protests this week over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who sustained fatal injuries while in police custody, several authorities came out strongly against the looting and rioting, including US President Barack Obama, the mayor of the city Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and even David Simon, creator of The Wire, the iconic television series based in the city.
Those condemning the violence also included many in the media, such as the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page, who objected to calling those who had come out on the streets ‘protesters’. “The label falsely flatters the thugs and hooligans who set fires and attacked police,” he said.
Equally indignant was the editorial of the BloombergView, which felt that “every brick that was hurled, every fire that was set, every store that was looted — each one insulted and undermined” the work of the residents of Baltimore “who had dedicated their lives to making the city great again”.
But many others saw nothing but injustice in this portrayal of the rioters. Baltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a fiery piece in the Atlantic from their point of view: “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.”
Phillip Agnew, mission director of an activist group, also defended the protesters, suggesting they may have been forced to resort to violence by the nation’s apathy. “Consider that we’re shipwrecked on an island. We’ve written S.O.S. on the sand, we’ve put a message in a bottle, and we’ve screamed at the top of the lungs. But planes and boats never came to our aid. Then we decide to set our boat on fire, and people finally take notice,” he said.
Rebecca Traister, writing for The New Republic, too took exception to those who claimed to not be able to understand the motives behind the protesters’ actions. “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.”