Skip to main content

EXCLUSIVE! White Guy Talks About Baltimore Riot!

Update on 5/1/15 (Around 12:00 PM):

As more evidence that I should probably just not dip my toe into political waters (since the only thing I know for sure is that I don't know enough), I submit the recent evidence that the "Violent Kids Started Everything" theory behind the riot on April 27 was probably flawed, at best, and possibly even an outright fabrication at worst.  Reading about this after the fact makes me think I should probably delete my original post, since I was making some assumptions about what actually happened the night before.

But I feel like it's also a good snapshot of a specific moment and perspective in time, and I don't want to sweep it under the rug.  I think it's more interesting in a time like this to just post an addendum.  So, here goes.

I still think my original attitude - that the best course of action is to take your anger and redirect it in constructive ways - persists, but if it is true that the police basically just set up a bunch of kids for a beating, then violence is not only understandable but justifiable as self-defense.  I'm philosophically committed to non-violence, but that doesn't mean I think anybody should just hold still and wait for a crooked cop to shove a baton up their ass.

The best news of the day so far is that at least the cops who initially arrested Freddie Gray will be prosecuted.  But I'm terrified now about what will happen today (or tonight).  Not because of the protestors - they've been peaceful all week and doing a great job of keeping the message alive.

No, I'm worried about what the rest of the police will do.  Can't you just picture some cranky asshole with a badge thinking that his buddies are being "unfairly" targeted by the state's attorney, and then deciding to swing a club at some kid and start another riot?  And then every white asshole in the country is going to be like, "See!  See!  Even when the police try to fix things, those animals are still ripping up their neighborhood!"

My message about non-violence goes both ways.  I hope the police department can start hiring people who are mature enough to get out of their headspace and see the world as it is rather than the comic book world they want it to be.

Oh... and one more thing.  This is probably the most important lesson I've learned all week.

Fuck Twitter.

Fuck you guys so much.  I started following Twitter updates on Monday night to try to find out where the violence was spreading so I could be sure we were in good shape.  I kept searching for relevant key words, such as neighborhoods and streets around me.  And for the 2% of the time that this was actually informative, I'm grateful - except that WBAL was right on top of those incidents, so Twitter was behind the curve.  The rest of the time, all the tweets that came in were meaningless noise from:

A) Racist assholes being openly racist and not realizing that sharing the ugly shit-stained core of your soul to the public in a way that's searchable by prospective employers and/or romantic interests is really not a good idea;

B) People accusing residents of my neighborhood and the surrounding areas of being racist because we were concerned about whether or not any rioters were sweeping through, as opposed to ignoring our own neighborhoods entirely and just talking about Northwest Baltimore;

(Call me a racist if you must, dudes, but seriously... all I wanted to know was if there was a risk of being punched in the head if I walked down the street.  Seems a reasonable thing to want to know, right?  Let's leave race out of it and maybe re-evaluate that discussion when we've both had some sleep.)

C) People overreacting to the stuff that did happen in my neighborhood and the surrounding areas and whining about not having enough National Guardsmen to patrol our streets, even though you should never want to have National Guardsmen on your street because that's a bad thing; or

D) Miscellaneous whack-jobs of all political stripes trying to shove a square-shaped ideology through this social issue, no matter how round-shaped it might be.

Seriously, is this the social media site that everybody keeps telling me I should sign up for to publicize my book and my blog?  This is really what you people do with your lives?  If that's the kinda bullshit I'd have to wade through just to post a shout-out to myself, I'd rather just wallow in obscurity, thanks.

The Original Post on April 28 (Around 9:30 AM):

I was debating whether or not to post anything today about the riots in Baltimore last night.  I really did want to keep my blog as much about movies (and, on Mondays and Sundays, minutes spent writing) as possible.  But I also feel like there's probably one or two people who might read this and wonder why I decided to keep musing about movies instead of talking about the fires in my backyard.

So a quick update on our personal status: my neighborhood's okay.  This was my view when I woke up:

The one car that looks like it has damage?  That's mine, and the damage is from a non-riot incident a few weeks ago.

Still, just because we're okay so far doesn't mean there's no reason to worry.  Reports of looting and rioting came in from all around us last night, and I can still hear helicopters overhead.  It really drives home a reminder that Baltimore isn't "West Baltimore" and "East Baltimore."  Just because it can be easy to pretend parts of it don't exist doesn't mean they aren't right next door.

Last night was nerve-wracking even though my family and I were not directly harmed.  There was a lot of fear and there still is a feeling of unrest today, even though the National Guard seems to have put a damper on things.  (Then again, it's only 9:30 as I write this.  Who knows, maybe April 28 will end up going down in history as the worst civil unrest on record.  Let's hope not.)

There's also a bit of embarrassment.  Talking about the riot while living in the Fells / Canton area kinda feels like talking about seeing Hendrix perform at Woodstock when really you were just listening to the radio while stuck in traffic en route.  I can't presume that my experience is even remotely like those brave souls who are trying to improve their community on North Ave while aimless others try to tear things down.

But the feeling that's winning out over all else is disappointment.

Baltimore is a city that's been on the rise.  For the first time in decades, its population has started to go up instead of down.  Construction is everywhere as new developments and investments are bringing new life and revenue.  Are there problems with gentrification?  Sure - I'm even feeling the squeeze, as I'm only barely keeping up with the rising property taxes on my kinda-not-in-great-shape home.  But overall the city is making progress.

Crime has gone down, the murder rate is no longer the highest in the country, Downtown is actually nice, and there's even a new subway line being put in.  Baltimore is in a position to become not only "no longer shitty," but also "actually a pretty cool city" if we can just keep the cops in check and invest in some better infrastructure.

And even though the deep-seated problems with racism and class-based segregation have persisted, I actually felt for a really long time that things were getting better.  Not great, but better.  Maybe another subway line connecting the West with the East and making commerce / employment easier would speed that along, but who knows?

Today, though, it just feels disappointing.  Because even if things are still getting better, and even though so many community leaders and volunteers are out on the streets right now cleaning up and trying to make repairs and amends, there's still a lot of cowardly, punk-ass kids who've gone out and ruined things, and those are the faces that are going to be on TV for the next six months.

The kids just disappoint me.  They're not mine, but I can't help but feel like I let them down in some way.  Like maybe I should have done more to be a part of my city and teach them not to give in to their anger.

Bear with me for a stretch, because I'm about to make a huuuuuuge leap.  The whole thing makes me think about a stupid idea I had when I was 16.

I was, as most teenage boys are, angry.  Not necessarily about any specific thing, but angry nonetheless.  Pick a reason.  "Oh, the government kinda sucks" or "oh, the environment's shitty" or whatever.  And although I eventually found ways to restrain and redirect that anger in constructive ways, at the time it was just this gross radiating heat that made me act like a dick for no good reason.

And one particular thought I had - which I never acted on, because I was also kind of a wimp - was what I called "Project Offend." The idea (get a load of this genius) was to print out a bunch of pictures of hardcore porn and tape them up all over the walls of my high school in a rapidly orchestrated display of disobedience.

Why do something like this?  I don't know.  At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea.  "We'll show The Man that life is, like, full of offensive stuff!"  But in retrospect, it just sounds like a dumbass kid who was too afraid or too lazy to commit to anything that would be genuinely helpful acting out and making life more inconvenient for everybody else.

Now, what if instead of a white kid from the suburbs I was a disillusioned black kid growing up in poverty?  What would I have suggested instead of Project Offend?  And would I have felt so strongly that I had nothing to lose that I'd have been motivated to act on it?

I'm disappointed because I could see myself in their shoes if I was born in a different place or to a different family.  I'm disappointed because I know all these kids who've been tearing up the city have valid reasons to be upset and they have valid points to make, but they just completely fucked it all up because they let their anger get in the way.  I'm disappointed because I wish they knew that what they're doing is cowardly and devastating and ultimately just serves to dig themselves even deeper into their already oppressive ruts.  I'm disappointed because I wish I could say something to them so they understand that even though systemic police brutality and institutionalized racism are still major problems we have to wrangle with, their anger and their violence isn't the solution, and that as they get older and wiser they will find better ways to manage and improve if they're willing to be brave enough to try.

I wish I could say that to them.  Maybe somebody can.  I hope.

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)

Show more