There is a gloss over many news stories which ignores historical analysis, and the recent demonstrations which turned into looting and rioting is no different. Through the eyes of mainstream media the perpetrators are young black males, with no direction in life. In trying to understand the recent events many look towards the death of Freddie Gray as the catalyst. This is failing t to understand what is happening in Baltimore. You see historically, Baltimore has always had a “race problem”.
The first city to legally segregated neighborhoods, was in fact, Baltimore, Maryland NOT Jackson, Mississippi or Mobile, Alabama. In 1834, local Baltimore newspaper, The Sun printed that there was a “negro invasion” of the city. The reason was simple, a black person by the name of Ashbie Hawkins moved into 1834 McCulloh Street. A few days later African-American boxer Jack Johnson would defeat white boxer James Jefferies for the heavyweight championship. The result was angry white mobs rioting in several cities, including Baltimore.
Russia, Ireland, England and many other countries have witnessed the same results when systematic racism and oppression boils over.
The second result was the “McCulloh-Madison Protective Association”, in which they wanted to protect the best residential areas from blacks. Whites would throw trash, tar, and rocks at black homes. Despite this, in 1905 The Afro-American Ledger reported that whites and blacks could be seen eating together; later the same paper reported most restaurants were segregated. By 1910 blacks were forced to try on merchandise in the basement of department stores, out of the sight of white customers. Baltimore even boasted segregated hospitals and cemeteries.
The racial segregation bill passed in Baltimore City Council in 1910 and was called “a great public moment” by City Solicitor, Edgar Allen Poe, grandnephew of the famous poet. Baltimore used government legislation to systematically divide the city. A government that denied entry of blacks and in the process disenfranchised them. Change came in 1917 when the Supreme Court banned legal segregation in the Buchanan vs Waverly case. This overturned legal segregation but did not stipulate homeowners rights to sell a home to whom they wish. As a result to continue de facto legal segregation, whites put a clause in the deed to their homes “do not sell to a negro”.
As time passed, Baltimore did not get better racially. Lines had been drawn between white and black areas by train tracks, highways, and government funding. With this history put in place, given the death of Freddie Gray, as sad and unfortunate as it is, the reaction is not surprising. This is what happens, historically in communities when tensions rise. Russia, Ireland, England and many other countries have witnessed the same results when systematic racism and oppression boils over.
One cannot condemn the current situation in Baltimore without condemning the past and current political situation of Baltimore. There are some who want the black community to condemn the riots entirely. There are some also asking for whites to condemn systematic oppression and racism entirely. Of course violence is never the way to freedom, unless one looks at The Revolutionary War in which America gained her freedom while enslaving blacks, at the same time. It is important to remember that organized violence, legal or illegal, has a important place in American history. America was built on organized illegal violence, and one even comes to the question of, how do we successfully determine legal and illegal violence?
Systematic oppression and racism is real and impacts the lives of people daily.
The issue is not looting and rioting, the issue seems to be this idea that the “American Dream” works for everyone. How many hard-working blacks worked hard to provide a better life for themselves and their families during legal segregation in Baltimore only to have zero chance of moving up the socioeconomic ladder? How many of the “no negro” deeds are still in circulation? The human reaction to violence and destruction is to condemn it. The human reaction to overt and covert racism is to also condemn it, white or black.
Many are reminded of the Mike Brown incident in Ferguson where many called the system in Ferguson inherently racist. Some laughed and said we are in a post racial America and if you just do right, the law will be on your side. As Darren Wilson was cleared of any wrong doing in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the Department of Justice reviewed the Ferguson Police Department. The Department of Justice found that Ferguson police disproportionately stopped black people and even used the black community as a source of income for the police department. At the end of the day, maybe race has nothing to do with what happened in Ferguson or Baltimore. Maybe black people simply cannot get it together and lawlessness is a common flaw. Or maybe America is hiding from a deeper conversation, one that needs to be had.
If it sounds like “the white man” is being blamed for the social ills in black communities, this is incorrect. I’m simply highlighting that systematic oppression and racism is real and impacts the lives of people daily. There is no single root cause of any social ills in any society, no matter the race. What is not going to make the situation better is the reaction seen in Baltimore, or the racism seen in the Ferguson police department.