On April 25th, violence erupted after days of peaceful protest over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American who suffered fatal spine injuries whilst in police custody. After the initial spree of violence, allegedly carried out by just a small group of people, a photograph of rioters standing on a Baltimore police car
On April 25th, violence erupted after days of peaceful protest over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American who suffered fatal spine injuries whilst in police custody. After the initial spree of violence, allegedly carried out by just a small group of people, a photograph of rioters standing on a Baltimore police car with the message: “All Highschools Monday @3 We Going To Purge From Mondawmin, To The Ave, Back to Downtown” began being circulated on social media. This messaged targeted students from Frederick Douglas High School with the hash tag #Fdl.
This so-called ‘purge’ was supposed to have taken place an hour before classes finished at Frederick Douglas High School. By the time the students were let out of class at 4pm, police officers has already shut down Mondawmin bus stop and blockaded near by streets, virtually preventing students from leaving via public transport. Additionally, Baltimore police ‘preemptively’ de-boarded all nearby buses. All teenagers from Frederick Douglas and those forced off near by buses were held in a cordoned off area outside the Mondawmin Mall. Eyewitnesses reported to have seen police annoy the students who were being contained. As a result, individuals within the crowd began to throw rocks and bottles at the police, who responded with a return of rocks.
The violence rapidly spread and continued for the coming days. On May 1st, Freddie Gray’s death was ruled as a homicide, and six officers were charged in regards to the incident, some even of second-degree murder.
However it may seem, the Baltimore Riots were more than just a reaction to the death of Freddie Gray. In fact, the riots were the result of social and economic tensions that had been building up for decades.
Beginning perhaps with the 1968 Baltimore riots, a reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., two events emerged that would characterize Baltimore for the coming decades. The first was a significant decrease in manufacturing jobs, most of which were replaced with jobs that provided minimal income. Second, there was a surge in white flight – which resulted in a diminished tax base and a deteriorating local economy. The culmination of these factors left Baltimore particularly vulnerable to the drug trade. For many young people, the drug trade offered much more cost-effective opportunity than engaging in the weakened local economy.
Compounding all these issues was the subprime mortgage crisis that coincided with the US recession of 2007 – 2009. In Baltimore, unfavorable, subprime lenders drove member of the black community into illogical, high-interest mortgages that left the city with vast pocks of foreclosed and vacant homes.
Once a thriving economic hub built on the steel industry, Baltimore is now characterized by high unemployment, low incomes, and high foreclosure. The American political elite continues to export middle and working class jobs away from Baltimore to developing nations. However, this is not endemic to Baltimore, but a process characterizing many other major cities, with the consequence of tens of millions of Americans descending into economic devastation.
As a result, anger in Baltimore, as the product of economic hardship, has been intensifying under the surface for years. Baltimore’s long history of socioeconomic hardship has begun to be compounded with the recent escalation in police brutality. According to a Baltimore Sun investigation, the city of Baltimore shelled out $5.7 million between 2011 and September 2014 to cover police brutality lawsuits.
In order to control such an unfairly impoverished population living under a declining standard of living, the American government has diminished American’s civil rights protections, characterized by a more militarized and growing surveillance state.
Not only has Baltimore, like many other cities across America, witnessed police brutality to combat the increase in civil unrest, but, arguably, the American government has done nothing but try and suppress coverage.
During the 2015 Baltimore riots, police cracked down on the press. Sait Serkan Gurbuz, a Reuters photographer, filmed the beating of J.M. Giordano, an award winning photojournalist and a photographer for the Baltimore City Paper, from a public sidewalk. Sait Serkan Gurbuz was later taken away in the police van, detained, and then released on charges of ‘disorderly conduct’.
What is evident here is that the Baltimore riots are more than just about the death of Freddie Gray, they are an effect of a system that is failing its people.12 comments