There is not much good that can be said about the riots and looting in Baltimore. There was a complete breakdown of law and order in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Innocent people’s homes and places of business were destroyed. The police were attacked and sometimes badly injured. The political leadership of the city of Baltimore completely ran and hid for a good twenty-four hours. The vacuum in political leadership in turn castrated the police and made the whole idea of law into a bad joke.
Let’s be clear: The people who were looting the liquor stores were not political protesters. They were thugs and gangsters. They have no legitimacy as political actors whatsoever except as villains and persons motivating a much stronger law enforcement response the next time.
Yes, of course it’s a disgrace for a man who was physically fit — or seemed to be — to go into police custody for a nonviolent crime and wind up dead. Of course there has to be scrutiny of police actions whenever a suspect dies or is injured in police custody. The guilty must be held to account.
But carrying cartons of vodka out of a liquor store and then setting it on fire is not a political act. It is not an act designed to ensure better police behavior in the future. It’s just plain criminal enterprise. Nothing more or less.
We can be thankful that the days when police horrifyingly swept up black people for loitering or public intoxication or gambling or for just no reason at all, then beat them and then worked them to death on chain gangs, are long over. We can be thankful that even the man arrested for a crime or suspected of a crime has rights — and we can and should be bitterly disappointed when those rights are ignored. And of course we who believe in law — unlike the Crips and the Bloods — must urgently agree that black lives matter.
But when crime rules the streets of a proud city like Baltimore, the city where our national anthem was written, the largest city in my home state of Maryland, this is a giant step backwards. There is no legitimate purpose to it. To say it’s “letting off steam” or a form of protest is nonsense. It is crime masquerading — and it’s a thin disguise — as political statement.
The same was true in Ferguson. If people want to protest police conduct, there are plenty of ways to do it. There is as the main avenue for change, voting.
Stealing vodka and setting the store afire, throwing bricks at police, slitting the fire hoses that were to be used to save the homes of law-abiding Baltimoreans, those are acts of the criminal mind, not the political mind.
I blame the media for much of this. The political structure is terrified of CNN coming down on them as racist. They are so frightened that they don’t even act to protect black homes and places of business. They won’t arrest thugs shown on TV committing robberies for fear of being called racist. This is largely because the media is so pitiless and so nonsensical in how it chooses to report life and death in the black community. No one wants to get in its crosshairs. The word “racist” is used so foolishly that it no longer has much meaning in most instances where it is used.
But if the political class will not stand up to the rioters, then instead of the rioters and looters being one tenth of one percent — or less — of the Baltimore metropolitan area, the looters will become greater and greater in number and law will simply vanish. So will public safety, civil rights, and any hope of prosperity.
To me, the TV coverage of the looting had several noteworthy features. The main one was that the law-abiding black people of the affected areas of Baltimore repeatedly asked, “Why aren’t the police and the mayor protecting us? Why are they siding with the rioters and the looters?”
The answer is because they don’t want to be attacked by Anderson Cooper or the network news. They don’t want to be branded as racist, no matter how far from racist their actions are. They know that their whole lives depend on avoiding even the hint of being called racist.
So, this horror that went on in Baltimore was a step backwards. But we have had other eras of rioting and strong leadership pulled them together — and they will this time, too. But the leadership class has to be willing to be called names in order to do the right thing.
And that’s rare indeed.
Oh. One more thing. Megyn Kelley is a great favorite of mine on Fox News. Smart. Incisive. Aggressive. But I just heard her say something about how the looters were “young African American men and sometimes women who were unhappy with their lives and their poverty…” This is a paraphrase, not an exact quote.
I am Megyn’s fan, but she’s wrong here. These people are rioting because IT’S FUN TO RIOT. It’s fun to join with a group of other people and run around the streets frightening people. I know. I’ve done it during anti-war demonstrations long ago. It’s fun to be in motion doing something dangerous and powerful.
And as to the rioters and looters being impoverished — they were not stealing food. They were stealing booze. I am sure they are poorer than Wall Street bankers, but they looted because IT’S FUN TO GET SOMETHING FOR NOTHING.
This is a psycho-emotional story, not a story of economics or politics.
And it is a frightening story, because the media totally fell for it.