Ghavri: Nuanced Takes on Baltimore
On April 19 in Baltimore, a 25-year-old African-American man named Freddie Gray died as a result of spine and neck injuries he sustained while being arrested and transported in a police vehicle a week earlier. Details eventually came out implicating six police officers in police brutality, including giving Gray a “rough ride” — that is, placing him on his stomach in the back of a police vehicle while handcuffed and throwing him around by driving erratically. Since then, both peaceful and violent protests have occurred.
If you watched the news this past week, you would have seen demonstrators throwing rocks, slitting fire hoses, looting and setting buildings on fire. You would have also seen peaceful day protests in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New York City and many other cities across the United States. You would have seen political pundits, protesters and members of the law enforcement community siding with either Gray or the police. Often, however, taking sides oversimplifies the issues at hand and leads people to rashly and unfairly judge the situation and parties involved. The situation is far more complicated than could possibly be captured in a sound bite, and we must all give both sides the nuance they deserve. Otherwise, the cycle of violence, abuse and oppression will continue to spiral on.
Many nights during the week of April 27, which the Washington Post referred to as “the worst of the riots,” saw civil unrest reach a breaking point — this is when some protests turned violent and looting occurred. Thousands of police officers and National Guard troops were deployed. Both a curfew and a state of emergency were declared in Baltimore on April 28.
It can be easy to jump to conclusions based on these events. Even President Barack Obama called the looting rioters “thugs.” While I do not condone the looting and burning of buildings, calling looters thugs is not the right path — these individuals are still people with complex motivations. Calling them “thugs” dehumanizes them and makes their motivations seem singular, inhibiting a nuanced perspective. Many of the rioters who are looting stores are poverty-stricken young men who lack economic opportunity. While I do not condone many rioters’ actions, to call them “thugs” from such a detached perspective is vicious and unfair. We must fully consider the history of oppression and systematic violence African-Americans have experienced when interpreting the actions of individuals in the face of events such as Gray’s death. While I think the way to respond to injustice is not looting and setting buildings on fire because rioting only harms communities, I know I cannot judge absolutely those who choose that path.
But just as generalized hatred directed towards protestors or rioters must stop, generalized police bashing needs to stop as well. Police brutality is real, and the anger and frustration from African-Americans is palpable. That being said, the majority of cops are not racist bullies — most have families to go home to and are simply doing their job. One death as a result of police brutality is too many, but only the videos of police officers abusing their power make the news. A small minority of bad cops exist in police forces across America — the challenge is to root them out. This will help the great majority of community-minded officers better serve and protect their communities.
As of this week, I believe that the peaceful protesting, rather than its violent counterpart, worked. These prolonged protests have led to swift justice. On Friday May 1, Baltimore City State Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed charges against six police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. Mosby hopes to hold the six police officers involved in Gray’s death accountable for murder. In the weeks to come, community leaders should urge protestors, civic-minded citizens and law-enforcement agencies in Baltimore and across the nation to come together and review what is causing the instances of racially-charged police brutality that keeps making headlines.
Most importantly, Baltimore and the nation as a whole need increased dialogue between law enforcement agencies and the communities they are charged to protect. This must occur against the backdrop of peace — not violence perpetrated by either “side.” Not all protesters are thugs, and not all cops are bullies or racist. We must give both the protesters and law enforcement members the nuance they deserve.