By Chloe Herring
The six officers involved in arresting and transporting Freddie Gray have been charged for alleged crimes that led to the Baltimore resident’s death in their custody. The news comes days after mainstream media swarmed in to cover those parts of the city that were awash in flames.
Spotlighting Baltimore residents involved in acts of looting, property damage and arson, mainstream media captured images of destruction, while politicians berated riot participants on national television.
And almost everyone ignored the pervasive and systemic devastation caused by police.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake faced heavy criticism after calling some residents of her hometown “thugs.” She soon apologized. “There are no thugs in Baltimore,” she later said.
But that’s hard to say. The Baltimore Police Department has dished out beatings to men, women, the elderly, and children. One of the largest police forces in the country, the BPD has maintained a culture of civilian abuse. According to a 2014 report from the Baltimore Sun, in just four years BPD cost the city $5.7 million in settlements in cases involving police brutality of mostly black people.
It would be asinine to digest the large sum of payoffs without understanding that police violence in Baltimore did not begin with Freddie Gray. It would be negligent not to consider how that violence affects Baltimore’s black residents … but that is the precise behavior at Fox News and even by hosts at CNN who wanted to hold protesters accountable for riots.
Many have praised community activist DeRay McKesson for his articulation of the black experience on CNN’s Situation Room. In one short segment, McKesson addressed the absent coverage of documented police terror on black communities. But beyond that, McKesson underscored one very longstanding American tradition: the devaluation of human life for property.
After rattling off some local statistics about police injuries and property damage, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer suggested that Baltimore had become victim to inexcusable violence at the hands of its own residents.
“I just want to hear you say that there should be peaceful protests, not violent protests,” Blitzer said.
“You are making a comparison. You are suggesting this idea that broken windows are worse than broken spines, right?” McKesson pointedly asked back.
Blitzer did not have to answer the question. But we got the answer all week from mega media, politicians, and certain Facebook friends who curiously remained silent on black issues before seeing buildings burn to the ground.
America’s critics have come out in full force to castigate a disenfranchised community over broken windows. “Blatant and rampant property destruction,” fired off Donald Trump in a series of tweets.
Blatant and rampant property destruction in Baltimore as the police stand by and watch. Should be a lesson on how NOT to handle riots. SAD!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 28, 2015
Comments on social media have been riddled with variations of “It’s wrong to destroy something someone worked so hard for. How would you feel?” and “They’re destroying their own community!” The latter is just a guise of empathy for Baltimore residents, whereas the former statement places concern for businesses and property owners.
Both are a distraction from the socioeconomic, housing, and educational disparities experienced by Baltimore’s low-income neighborhoods. Both statements show disapproval for the violent expressions of a community without condemning the police violence citizens endure every day. And both show that yes, many Americans inherently believe “broken windows are worse than broken spines.”
And this comes as no surprise. Historically, the value of property over human life is both intrinsic to America’s roots and central to white American ideology.
For much of its early history, the United States did not allow landless white men the right to vote. Voting rights for landless men were not recognized until around 1840.
In 1830, the Indian Removal Act led to the Trail of Tears, a series of procedures that systematically cast thousands of Native Americans from their homelands. (Never mind the centuries prior in which white Americans stole Native lands and called them savages.) The national campaign — which devalued Native American tribes — made way for Manifest Destiny, the immoral acquisition of territory on behalf of white people.
And of course there’s the period where white supremacy viewed black people as property. Preserving the lives of black slaves was an important task for slave owners, but only in the sense of increasing profit margins.
America has been on the wrong side of history time after time. Throughout its history, the humanity of people of color was ignored or intentionally diminished, always taking a backseat to the reverence of property. The response we’ve seen to the Baltimore riots has proven no different. The unrest in Baltimore shook up America — a country that was sleeping on the city’s dire conditions and protests for Freddie Gray.
But it also hit on a major bias that is rooted in this country’s obsession over property. Even after a public debasement, the people of Baltimore gathered in the streets to clean up the mess left behind by explosive actions of a few. We can only hope that America will get its act together, too.
*Featured Image Credit: www.occupy.com