Words for Baltimore
Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I'm absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results.
But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.
And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity. (...)
I heard someone say "tearing up the city is not going to make it better"... Y'know, that's some walk-in-a-straight-line / pat-your-head-and-rub-your-stomach shit that they're asking black people to do in order to get justice...
Tell me, what right way is there to be tired of being bullied? What right way is there to be tired of being scared, being ignored, and being killed, agitated, lied on, lied to?
Another thing I'm hearing is, that rioting won't help, that it's only making things worse.
The media's propoganda is making it worse. Brutalizing a community with absolutely no repercussions is making it worse... Isolated events of property damage that's happening is a result of those who already made it worse. Again, the majority of what's happening in Baltimore is, indeed, peaceful. But the few riots that did happen are said to have been ignited by racists that were pouring drinks on protesters, spitting on protesters, trying to plow them with their cars... Somehow, with the hundreds of news camera that are down there, they missed all of that.
Now, given that the pain and frustrations of any oppressed people is always made more effective with some guidance -- I don't want to lose focus, because a lot of this is just like a person getting stabbed, and then we only want to talk about the blood staining the carpet... Like, I kinda still have this whole knife situation still happening in my chest!
Ore Babarinsa, originally on Ferguson:
[T]he riots on the ground are understandable, and I'm not going to sit in my Harvard Ivory Tower and finger-wag at those involved. I'd likely an active participant if I were anywhere near [there]. This said, the long view of history, and wisdom show that riots won't get us anywhere our goals of racial equity, economic redistribution of wealth, or any sort of meaningful political or social gains. Neither will insipid, simple slogans, hashtags, or boisterous threats of violence towards the state or law enforcement. Change is hard, and fraught with disappointments and setbacks.
Thirdly, as many of us forget, there is no easy way to fix this. There is no fixed set of enemies of progress. There is no plan for revolution, or system dismantlement that will lead you to the promised land. The only path forward is the messy road of real, lasting, political engagement. There is no way to talk away systemic racism. Endless essays upon essays will be consigned to the waste bins of history. Deconstructions and revolutionary slogans will disappear into the mists of time. That is, unless, they are followed through will consistent action that reaches out and effects those who aren't already amongst the faithful.
I don't want to have to tell my son, the way my father told me, that you should always be cautious around police. That you should never do anything suspicious, because no one will blink twice when you get railroaded in court. That you have to work twice as hard to get half as far. But, that's going to require people on all fronts beyond outsider activists, who by their disengagement can argue from a vantage of moral impeccability. It'll require lawyers, and teachers, and doctors and politicians, and people working all angles of the system, inside and out to get things done.
In conclusion, I encourage everyone not in the immediate area of [the city] to take a step back, come up with how you can personally change and grow such that you can better be the change you wish to see. What is your ideal of justice, and how you can live more in line with it? What skills do you have to contribute towards this mission? Where do you want to see the world by the time the next generation reaches adulthood? (...)
Fredrik deBoer, from his blog:
In the first and far more important instance, I'll just make an argument you probably heard last night. Yes, I am opposed to violence. Meaningful opposition to violence means identifying its causes. The police, racism, poverty, a hundreds-of-years-old conspiracy against black Americans, hopelessness, degradation, the choice of massive racial inequality... these are the causes of the protests. (Or riots, if you prefer; the nomenclature is irrelevant to me.) When someone starving steals bread, I feel bad for the baker, but I first ask why someone was starving in the first place. The refusal to seek out the root causes of violence is the primary reason that America is such a nexus of it. Yes, I feel for people who have their businesses burnt down. I just know to send the invoice to the cops who killed Freddie Gray. I have solidarity for the protesters in Baltimore because they have suffered a relentless campaign of humiliation and neglect, and no consideration of what’s happening there that ignores their condition can be moral or useful. I support them.
There is a difference between the conduct of people in the streets and the posturing of those who, like me, merely write about them, and right now we're in one of those moments where people forget that distance. For years now, the showy embrace of the legitimacy of political violence has been a cheap affect of today’s radicals. I hear it all the time, these strutting, self-impressed invocations of the righteousness of political violence. What makes this very strange is that it emanates from people who, without exception, harbor no pretense that a left-wing armed resistance movement could ever succeed in this country, ever. It's a very proud stance expressed by those who know will have no earthly impact on their own lives. I don’t think any left-wing essayists out there are busy putting together a plan to take DC. So you have this chest-puffing embrace of political violence coming from people who know they will never take part in any themselves, know that any such violence will never be part of a meaningful campaign of armed resistance to the state, and know that such a campaign would be doomed to utter and near-immediate failure if it did. That is an awfully strange thing to be proud of. The truth is that these permanently-hypothetical embraces of political violence are just a way to separate oneself from the squishes in a way that's particularly flattering to a certain self-conception. It's t-shirt radicalism. At its worst, it comes wrapped in the kind of goonish drama-club machismo that I most often find in liberals when they support "humanitarian intervention," pleased that they finally get to be the ones calling for more bloodshed. Consider the stakes. Consider how much skin you yourself have in the game.
At some point, the self-impressed peacocking on social media stops being about the protesters in Baltimore and starts being all about you. Maybe you should slow down and consider the vulgarity of that situation. (...)
Babarinsa again, this time on Baltimore:
Another black man has died. This time in Baltimore. This time his name was Freddy Gray. Taken into a police van under dubious circumstances, he was released barely clinging to life, his body so utterly broken that he fell into a coma and died a week later.
Once more, the media has flocked to the execution site of this black boy, reporting in such a manner that one is led to believe that they are under marching orders to incite further division, and undermine any attempts at reform or change that might stop the next slaying of a black boy, and thus the next media bonanza. We once more see dueling editorials on the permissibility of rioting. And most hideously, we once more see the character assassination of a dead black boy. And in all of this, the voices of those pleading for change, who have worked diligently and ceaselessly, are lost in the noise.
America is being called to account. Each black body, each one more explicitly slain and brutalized than the last, has tested this nation's compassion, and its ability to listen to the cries of those who have so long gone unheard. This nation has been found wanting.
In moments like this, I can feel the black ichor of rage bubbling up in my throat, so thick and nauseous that I can't speak for fear of vomiting. The need to lash out, to strike back, to do anything which will make these people, this nation which can so callously ignore the deaths of people who look like me, feel something, anything is overpowering, almost suffocating. After all, even if every black and brown body rose up and smash everything in this nation underfoot, I am all too confident that the long gaze of history will look back and see how we suffered so much, endured almost too bravely, and attempted peaceful reconciliation so fervently before finally resorting to our final, furious option. We would be vindicated. It would be justified.
And yet, I don't want to give into that. Not such that my calling for justice and peace will be seen as legitimate by white America, or by the respectable global powers-that-be. But rather, for myself, and for those black bodies which have fallen before me. In some way, I want to prove that we are more than the sum of all the injustices trodden down upon us. More than just victims. That we can do the impossible and change a nation succored on the sweat of slave labor, forged in the fires of conquest, and matured by systemic violence into a beacon of justice and peace. We'll change this country. Not for them, but for us.
(private post, reprinted by permission)