On Baltimore

May 04,2015

On April 19, 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray became the latest casualty of police violence in the United States.Exactly one week earlier, he was apprehended for fleeing unprovoked from cops in a “high-crime area”. A stint in the back of a police van left him with a fatal spinal injury,

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On April 19, 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray became the latest casualty of police violence in the United States.
Exactly one week earlier, he was apprehended for fleeing unprovoked from cops in a “high-crime area”. A stint in the back of a police van left him with a fatal spinal injury, although the precise details of the affair have thus far been shrouded in secrecy.
According to the Gray family lawyer, the young man was detained for “running while black, and that’s not a crime”.
But as I recently noted in a blog post for The London Review of Books, a handy US Supreme Court ruling has made it possible to conduct arrests without probable cause in “high-crime areas”.
One of the many problems with the arrangement is that the court has not managed to define what, precisely, these areas are – and the ambiguousness offers an excellent alibi for police crimes.
Given the prevailing conditions of racist capitalism in the US, where the dehumanisation of blacks furthers the elite stranglehold on society, it’s not far-fetched to presume that ‘high-crime areas’ generally mean black areas.
But the double whammy of race – and class-based oppression – mutually reinforcing phenomena – means a lot of non-black criminal behaviour slips under the radar.
Meanwhile, proponents of the delusion that the US is a paragon of racial equality and opportunity will cite the skin colour of Barack Obama or Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as conclusive evidence.
This evidence, however, fails to account for a certain critical fact – which is that the ascendance of such individuals to key leadership positions hasn’t entailed a departure from the status quo, but rather its reinforcement.
Obama, for one, has presided over a system of widespread police unaccountability. In addition to “running while black”, numerous other routine activities appear to have joined law enforcement’s de facto list of punishable offences. These include having a toy gun while black and breathing while black.
When I attended the Saturday protests in Baltimore calling for justice for Gray, I was momentarily positioned next to a demonstrator with a T-shirt reading: ‘Unarmed Civilian’. The shirt was a holdover from last year’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, whose murderer – policeman Darren Wilson – was soon cleared of rights violations.
In typically conspiratorial fashion, Fox News released an exclusive report citing the findings of an anonymous data mining firm that does work for the government: “An analysis of social media traffic in downtown Baltimore ... has unearthed striking connections to the protests in Ferguson.”
There is indeed a “striking connection” between Ferguson and Baltimore, but it has gone over Fox’s head: It’s the countrywide criminalisation of black people for daring to exist, and their recriminalisation for reacting logically to state violence.
Of course, the government and complicit media unabashedly invert the roles of aggressor and victim so that the police occupy the latter spot.
The repeated allegations by Mayor Rawlings-Blake and police officials that “outside agitators” are responsible for stirring up trouble in Baltimore have meanwhile failed to withstand the test of reality – though the claims have given protesters some good material to work with.
The American Civil Liberties Union has warned that: “If police forces across America continue to militarise and treat communities of colour as the enemy, they will increasingly be seen as an occupying army.”
And while the US’ cultivation of its own domestic battlefield – and its own crop of folks with nothing to lose – might yield a high payoff for the arms, surveillance, and prison industries, the ethical cost to society will be much higher.
Excerpted from: ‘Baltimore: On the domestic frontlines’. Courtesy: Aljazeera.com

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