Note: The following is dated Monday, April 27 as the mass protests in Baltimore were devolving into a riot that lasted until the early morning hours.
First things first.
Yes, there is a lot to be argued, debated, addressed. And this moment, as inevitable as it has sometimes seemed, can still, in the end, prove transformational, if not redemptive for our city. Changes are necessary and voices need to be heard. All of that is true and all of that is still possible, despite what is now loose in the streets.
But now — in this moment — the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.
If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.
Second thing second: The death of probable cause in Baltimore.
Third thing third: http://davidsimon.com/zero-tolerance-is-exactly-what-it-sounds-like/ . So eyes on the real prize here.
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As a former print journalist, do you find it ironic with the steady decline of newspapers and enterprise reporting (Sun’s investigations into $5.7M payouts for police brutality notwithstanding) that cellphone videos from citizens are helping shine a fierce light on a national problem? Granted, big media are onboard (TV especially exploiting for more viewership) and giving attention to longstanding issues of racial inequality and system failures. But without these cellphone and surveillance videos of atrocities, would mainstream news media give a damn about the disenfranchised? When visiting Baltimore, I was struck by the proximity of shiny tourist district to pockets of seemingly forgotten neighborhoods (and people). Almost shockingly nonchalant in its reality. Which leads me to this: After the news story fades and the national press circus leaves, won’t Baltimore be left to repair itself (or see a new wave of flight to suburbs) while a new video of police brutality in another city sparks the next chapter of fury, complete with repeat cycle of anger, protests and potentially worse?
Digital technology has opened up the small world of tyranny that always existed between police and citizenry at the street level. Absent a string of credible witnesses — and sometimes even with such witnesses — it was always the officer’s word against the arrestee and nothing else. No more. This is a revolution.
Good God, you’re spot on. Police brutality has been going on since there have been police, although it’s obviously gotten aggressively worse with the militarization of the equipment, tactics and mentality.
You hit on this in a previous column, and quite often in other mediums – obviously there is a huge racial component here, but even more so it is a class issue. Poor vs Well-off, educated vs uneducated, traditional family structure vs modern family, opportunity vs discriminated.
And kudos to every squid that can point that out. Now the question is posed to all the real intellects – what the fuck do we do about it? And it has to be revolutionary, outside the box shit to catch the attention of those that simply don’t have to care.
Thanks for fostering dialogue on this subject.
While I disagree with most of the backlash to what’s going on in Baltimore, I hear what you’ve said because I think it’s coming from a place of genuine hurt in not wanting to see your city destroyed as well as a genuine sadness in knowing that violence in this situation almost inevitably leads to an undermining of the cause of social justice. The riots create in the mind of most white Americans a justification for escalation of police presence and brutality, and it gives people a distraction to turn away from the real problems.
We see the same pattern over and over again of widespread apathy towards the problem until by a Michael Brown, an Eric Garner, or a Freddie Grey happens. Protests open up the possibility of reform, but when violence erupts, the narrative shifts to white people being angry and scared in reaction to that violence, which leads to a reinforcement of the power structure that’s designed first and foremost to keep ‘order’ (i.e. protect the property and the interests of the ruling class), which quells the protests and leaves a lingering tension between blacks and police that simmers until another needless death at the hands of police restarts the cycle. So how do we get off this fucking merry-go-round?
My gut reaction is to say to those who turned violent amid the protests, “Stop! You’re fucking it up! This is our chance to do something real and you’re fucking it up!” But, I know that as a white person of relative privilege, a) I would be speaking from a total void of moral authority when it comes to young black people in Baltimore, who have absolutely no reason to listen to me and b) I’m essentially playing into the hands of those who benefit from the attention being shifted away from the systemic violence against the powerless by those who remain in power.
So, while I hear you, I’m also wondering, from a standpoint of realpolitik, which you invoked earlier, what good does it do for us as white people of relative privilege, to condemn the riots? Can we honestly expect those who endure the continued violence of poverty, economic devastation, erosion of public education, police brutality, immoral housing practices, etc. to contain their rage to non-violent protests 100 percent of the time? I don’t think we can. I don’t think that means we have to defend or condone it, but I do think we have a responsibility to actively re-focus attention on the systemic violence which is at the heart of it all rather than the symptomatic violence which erupts in response to it.
For our part, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that we can do as white people to convince young black people to contain their rage in response to the violence that’s been perpetrated against them. We are ultimately powerless to have any effect on that particular piece of this cycle. There are leaders within the black community who are actively working to channel the anger of the youth in productive ways and I think we have to stand back and let them lead. While we certainly have a stake in what’s happening in our cities and we may feel like our opinions with regard to tactics are valid and should be listened to, from a realistic point of view, those opinions are worth exactly shit in the eyes and ears of those whom we hope would listen and stop the violence.
Our role as white people has to be elsewhere, to continue (as you have for most of your career) to expose the systemic violence against the powerless by those in power. And it is, most importantly i think, to convince other white people of relative privilege to direct their anger not at the riots, but at the people in power whom the riots are attempting to respond to. It doesn’t mean we can’t be angry or disappointed at those who turn to violence because we know that it’s ultimately self-defeating, it just means we have to be aware that the public airing of those feelings can inadvertently undermine our cause and give justification to those who would exploit the riots as an excuse to strengthen their hold on power.
So, ignore anyone who says that it’s not ‘your right’ to criticize because of your privilege, and ignore anyone who’s too focused on historical or ideological contextualization to see that riots are destructive and counterproductive. They’re probably full of shit. But staying within that realpolitik view, your voice carries weight and people listen to you; and when you focus attention and criticism away from the systemic violence perpetrated by those in power and onto the reactionary violence of the oppressed, it has the potential to undermine what you’ve been fighting for by helping those who want the riots to distract people’s attention away from the root causes.
There’s a lot of room for white privilege to be cited as a legitimate critique of certain white behaviors and attitudes. But if we’ve now extended that phrase to address anyone who lives in a city that is being burned and looted and says, aloud, please don’t do this — then at that point there is no heft whatsoever to the claim of white privilege. It has been emptied of all substance and meaning.
Thanks for your reply.
I agree with you about the erosion of the meaning of that phrase (and much of the rhetoric of the left these days, sadly), but I’m not looking at whether or not it is ‘right’ or an ‘abuse of privilege’ or whatever for white people in general to condemn riots. I’m asking, how does it help change the situation?
I think your characterization of yourself as ‘anyone who lives in a city’ is a bit incomplete. If that were true I wouldn’t have bothered to comment, but in reality you’re a person who has the attention of a significant number of middle-of-the-road-to-reasonably-progressive white people who are key to actual movement on this issue. Those folks aren’t going to listen to the chorus on the intellectual left who are trying to redirect attention towards the need to oppose police brutality, but they might listen to you, because, well, you made The Wire.
I could say something trite like ‘check your privilege’ or ‘speak truth to power, not the powerless’ but fuck that. I know it’s more complicated than that. I look at the rioters and I see what you’ve described: just what the doctor ordered to justify an escalation of police force without restraint or accountability, and it makes me sad and furious even without the personal connection you have.
I recognize I have no grounds to tell you what to say about a matter that affects you this personally, and I had reservations about saying anything at all for that reason. And even more than that, asking you to separate yourself from your personal connection to all of this and tactically prioritize your position as a swayer of opinions on the national scale is asking too much of anyone. If I were in your place I wouldn’t want to hear it either.
Rioters will keep rioting, those who can’t bear to see the movement self-destruct will keep condemning the riots, average joes will look at the media coverage and keep dismissing the whole idea of racism or police brutality, police will keep abusing their power when they feel threatened, (or just for kicks, if they’re one of the bad ones). It just feels like we’re trapped, all of us, powerless, to keep going round and round, and I wonder how can we shift course. I know I can’t stop the riots, or stop cops from beating on and shooting folks, but is there anything to be done other than gnashing our teeth and praying that we figure it out?
When I think about how I can affect change in this situation, the only thing I can come up with is trying to convince my friends, my neighbors, my family that we have to get all in on this or it’s never going to stop.
Again, I can’t help your perception. I can only tell you how I regard my own standing. I am a spokesman not for Baltimore, or for the protestors, and I certainly am not going to offer a great deal of apologia or rationalization for the rioters. I am speaking for myself. I live in Baltimore and I blog on topics that matter to me. I vote here. My child goes to school here. My friends and neighbors are here. I am vested in the city and its future and I am vested, presently, in the protests against the death of a fellow citizen in police custody.
And when some of us leave the realm of civil disobedience and dissent and begin to riot, I am supposed to say nothing because, why? I’m white?
Really? Nah, son. They told me that shit when the Baltimore Sun had me covering city crime, and when I went to Fayette Street to report The Corner and when I went to HBO with the Wire. I’ll be hearing it to the day I die. There are moments when we are all guilty of some interracial presumptions and arrogance, I am sure. Telling other people in my city that a riot is not a good thing and that if they can’t add to the dynamic of mass dissent without a brick, they should go home is not one of those moments. And if it is, then I could give a fuck about white privilege. At that point, white privilege is utterly devalued as a critique of anything.
If you didn’t have anything to say during the first week of peaceful protest you probably didn’t need to say anything at all.
Oh bullshit. I’m listening to dilletantes from thousands of miles away pontificate on the wages of white privilege because I expressed simple support for the protests and urged those rioting — contemporaneous to the looting and violence — to stop if they couldn’t contribute without the brick. And now, you want me to have been chiming in with white-boy musings on the organization, execution and worthiness of protests that were rightfully organic to the communities most affected? Which is it, kt?
Are the white people supposed to talk or not talk? Or are they only supposed to speak when they can say yes, or nod? The protests were sound and fundamental to the health of the city and officials were being pressed properly. We were all waiting for answers and actions. And then the riot, a tactical mess in terms of optics and moral high-ground. Go back and read the words themselves: Affirmation of all that has transpired with the protests including that day’s service at New Shiloh, and then a plea not to trash what has been built. And you need more? Or more nice stuff, faster? Or less criticism of the ugly bits, always? Sorry. Just stop.
I can only speak for my personal attitude but as for me, any white person that didn’t have fuck-all to say in the week between Freddie Gray’s spine being severed and the city being set aflame by children who were pulled off their schoolbuses by police and attacked?
I don’t really need to hear what they have to say now if it’s going to be as simplistic as you’re making it. That goes for you, my best friends, and my own goddamn mother if she weren’t more righteous than that.
Sorry to disappoint you.
Much appreciated, for real. I have faith that the next thing you say will be better. I still believe in you. I hope you still believe in Baltimore.
All that’s fair. I think you’re overestimating my affection for the white privilege critique, I thought I had made that clear in the second post but maybe not. Anyways, the more I read the reaction to all this the more I find myself agreeing with some of your assessments. Too much of the (pseudo?)intellectual left just seems lost in a wash of trying to out-maneuver one another to prove who is the most inclusive or least problematic, etc. Some are encouraging rioting as if it’s a glorious milestone on the road to a new revolution. It’s not. I’m skeptical of those who celebrate the ‘language of the unheard’ rather than seeing it as a tragic consequence of injustice.
As an outsider, it’s hard to tell what’s really going on; there’s so many conflicting stories. I heard today cops had blockaded kids in at Mondawmin Mall and wouldn’t let them on the bus to go home? basically turning the pressure cooker all the way up, all based on another one of these mysterious ‘credible threats’ like the blood-crip-cop-killing-conspiracy…
Regardless of all that’s been said here, I think your interview today was on point and that anyone who’s been quick to write you off as a reactionary traitor should take a look: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/04/29/david-simon-on-baltimore-s-anguish
I have my opinions about my own role and strategies as a white guy in this movement but yeah, keep doing your thing, it’s exposing the truth of what’s happening in your city and in our country and that’s what we need.
You’ll know when I go for reactionary traitor. There will be a big paycheck involved.
Thank you for the thoughtful comment.
As a black man, I would like to ask, wtf are you talking about? you’re focusing on the 100 rioters (actual estimated number) over the 10,000 peaceful protesters? what news source are you watching? lets completely ignore the 99% and focus on the 1% . who does that? jesus. humans aren’t a beehive, Im actually impressed there’s only 1% rioting, you can have one thing in mind, want to protest for a cause one way, but that doesn’t mean all 10,000 or 25,000 people will have the same agenda. the fact that 10,000 have come together for a cause is extreme and shows the spirit of Baltimore.
but alas that is ignored because YOU and the MEDIA choose to focus on the hoodlums.
The work of the protestors and the purpose of the protests is exhilarating and essential and I’ve expressed my support, and participated in fact, unequivocally. But what the fuck are you talking about? Do you think the media can avoid a four-alarm fire that lights up all of East Baltimore, or the gutting and torching of stores on the main drag in the center of a city? Do you think any of us get to choose what will predominate in the imagery of the news cycle?
When I wrote what I wrote, I was watching what the rest of the fucking country had been watching for hours. That’s the given, the certainty, that comes with the rioting. That’s why the rioting — and certainly not mass and non-violent civil disobedience — is so damn lethal to the actual cause of real reform, especially when the exact reform you are asking for is demilitarization of law enforcement.
Also, there were 250 arrests alone overnight during the riot. Fully agree that this is a minority of those engaged in dissent, but do you really think the Baltimore police arrested every rioter? Extrapolate from that number and certainly, there were far more than 100 people engaged in that unrest. That number is simply bullshit on its face.
With respect I must submit that (especially in light of Freddie Gray) we cannot assume that every single arrest the BPD makes is for a good reason, or, necessarily, any reason at all.
Of course. I’m sure no one was rioting. Kt, you’re scratching at the intellectual margins now.
I didn’t say no one was rioting. You’re putting words in my mouth. I said you can’t assume every one of those 250 arrests was a good arrest with cause.
I’d like to see the charges filed before I decide that.
I cited the actual number of arrests. The initial commentator claimed 100 rioters total, never mind the count of those locked up. And where are you hedging this?
By hedging do you mean where am I getting the idea that sometimes — in fact, probably fairly often — the BPD arrest people, particularly young black men, for no fucking reason at all?
His name was Freddie Grey.
No, you are hedging by attempting to parse how many of the 250 we know were locked up on the night of the riots might be good or bad arrests. This can certainly be debated, if you only have it in mind to try to marginalize what evidence contradicts your agenda. It is fair of me to say this because you simultaneously let pass without comment the fact that the original commentator claimed only 100 people total were involved in the rioting.
Both of us cited a statistic. One of us made the statistic up out of whole cloth. Yet, notably, you went to work on the accurate stat that had 250 in jail. Capice?
He was using hyperbole that’s understandable for a frustrated citizen to use in this situation. You’re trying to make Baltimore seem like a city full of thousands of violent rioters just waiting to bust the hood up at any moment, which coming from you is frankly unfuckingbelievable.
Extracting larger numbers of rioters based upon your own ideas (and nothing else) is not any more honest than diminishing the number.
Again, you’re shaving from one side only.
Thank you. My point as well.
I’m convinced that this administration had its Benghazi/WMD moment yesterday when they proclaimed that there was a “credible threat” from the City’s gangs to kill cops.
An unsourced statement (“someone who was right before”) was tweeted by Fenton to his 47K + followers. What value, from a public safety standpoint was this “credible threat” to the general public? Who attended the meeting? Where did they meet? What time was the meeting? Who was the source?
Couple this with the “purge” flyer being retweeted by the Sun without attribution (only noting that “this is what’s been circulating”) and a weak disclaimer that “these things pop up once every few months” again by Fenton, and now you have middle class hysteria and cops on edge.
By 2pm that afternoon, the downtown business district had evacuated and police were sent to Mondawmin Mall in riot gear. Meanwhile no plans were made by MTA or the school system to accommodate the hundreds of teenagers that were stranded at Mondawmin & Penn-North. I personally witnessed a half dozen people get off the train at Penn-North because the conductor kept telling people on the train the next opportunity to exit was West Cold Spring.
The stage was set for confrontation with all of those children stranded at those two stops after school. And when they came above ground from the station, they were met by a seemingly hostile police force occupying the bus stops.
We’ve seen several national media outlets interviewing gang members who are denying this sinister pact to kill cops. Who is going to press the police brass for answers for such a BOLD claim?
My bullshit meter kinda flipped on that one, too. That just sounded horseshit, didn’t it?
Is it fair to say that your suggestion of peaceful protest based on the likes of Martin Luther King and Madiba is unlikely to resonate with poor black youth who probably don’t have a decent education to understand their message? My bad if that’s patronizing.
We keep hearing how the education system is broken in Baltimore. How is a someone in the ghetto to understand the high-minded ideals you preach? Just saying.
Let’s not forget Madiba was a lawyer. Martin Luther King was a PHD. Where are Baltimore’s leaders? The type of leader a poor guy in the ghetto can say “yeah, that shit is real? I want to get behind that.”
Speaking from an outsider point of view….I don’t see any in Baltimore. Which is probably why bricks are flying.
“i used to be a fan. no more.
disappointed and sad
but what more can i do
than to leave a comment”
This is why i’m disappointed:
“I’m still very disappointed by david simon because i thought he would be the one who would understand the anger of the poor and under educated (just like what the councilman said). The property damages are just material things that can be compensated over time and that would never be more valuable than all the african american lives in Baltimore. My view is that, throughout history, unrest/rioting has happened when people rise against the system. It’s a price the system has to pay for serving injustice and David Simon, while probably understanding this, is merely castigating the victims of the systemic injustice through a short blog post.”
I have no problem seeing CVS burning or corporate windows breaking. That is what the corrupt brutal police is trying to protect. The act of destroying those windows and taking some toilet papers, doritos and booze is a way sending a message for those who are poor and under educated. They had never had the opportunity to get educated enough to create a TV show or write columns on news papers.
If you believe in peaceful marches, that is okay too. Why can’t you just march without denouncing the victims?
We must disagree. First, I believe in more than peaceful marches. I believe in mass civil disobedience. I hope the intersection at Pennsie and North is shut down every day by mass protests until the system yields some reform. I was out there today kicking in. But yes, I believe that disobedience should remain non-violent.
Second, I am denouncing not all of the victims of this systemic injustice. Nor am I suggesting that it isn’t understandable or inevitable that people under such pressure and for so long can and will be provoked to violence. But nothing in what you write can convince me that this violence isn’t heedlessly brutal and self-defeating — not just to the rioters themselves and their cause, but to the other protestors who are doing all they can to bring real grievances to the powers that be and demand redress. All of us are trying to demilitarize the police in this country, to end the drug war, to bring some of the 2.3 million people in prison, too many of them non-violent offenders, home. That just gets harder when the rest of America looks at the national news and sees burning and looting. Why, the rest of America begins to argue, should we demilitarize anything or empty any prison cells when what happened in Baltimore last night is possible?
Thank you for your reply, Mr. Simon.
First of all, I see that you care very much of the cause and doing lots of great work, so thank you.
I’d like to point out a couple things. First on education. Among numerous things one gets from education, one learns to take a moment before reacting to emotional stress. For people who grew up in an environment full of trauma, education is more difficult than those who grew up with no or less trauma. Do you know why? It’s because their fight or flight part of the brain develops more than the cognitive/emotional part of the brain. There have been research and even “This American Life” had an episode about it. Of course, brains are plastic and soft skills can be learned eventually. Needless to say, you know this already as you have covered the subject in Season 4 with the Naymond character. Therefore, as you said, this rioting is inevitable and I think that you are having a difficult time accepting this. This will happen to any community where economic & educational opportunities have been denied for so long. The reaction of people who likely have lots of trauma as a collective will immediately express their anger and will be throwing bricks before reading MLK or Ghandi and before listening to you. As you know, to iterate, trauma happens all the time, and it’s natural to develop the fight or flight brain.
What I believe you are unaware of is the fact that what you wrote on this post is the very thing that you are afraid of doing. This blog post is well intended but it is eventually harming the cause. This blog post is further marginalizing and demonizing the victims of the systemic injustice especially because you are an authoritative persona who created The Wire. Instead of raising a voice of understanding and providing some educational guidance for those who are angry, you are joining the group of privileged white men preaching and implying that they should be locked up.
When I read some history on black liberation of the US, I was surprised to learn that there were so many different views on how to see things and how the movements should progress – from separatism, to militancy (malcom x), to nonviolent civil disobedience, to twenty more different ideas. And the black lives matter movement is no different. I’ve read many different opinions on how it should go. I’m sure people criticized other sects throughout their efforts in history. But, I just think it’s classier to be more inclusive in the endeavor than to join the narratives of the oppressors.
“Instead of raising a voice of understanding and providing some educational guidance for those who are angry, you are joining the group of privileged white men preaching and implying that they should be locked up.”
The last I checked, the most privileged American in our national culture specifically called the folks burning and looting — not those protesting and engaged in mass civil disobedience, but those rioting — “thugs” and “criminals.” He used those words, from which I actually refrained. President Obama is not white. Neither is Congressman Cummings, or Baltimore’s mayor or some of the “Wire” actors or Ray Lewis or any number of black folk who have also pleaded for the rioting to end. Can I suggest that if the accusation of “white privilege” now extends to telling white guys who are citizens of a city that they have a lot of nerve telling anyone who isn’t white to stop burning and looting the same city, you’ve pretty much redefined white privilege out of all meaning and purpose? The phrase becomes ridiculous.
I don’t want to be “more inclusive” in my support for this endeavor, if inclusive means I am supposed to nod my head at the inclusion of rioting as part of the narrative of dissent that other people are admirably trying to create here. I think the rioting is harming the real fight here. And as I indicated above, the notion that rioting ain’t thee way — this isn’t merely the “narrative of the oppressors” as you narrowly define it. Unless Mr. Obama and so many others are now oppressors.
Obama’s choice of words was poor (Respectability Politics strikes again, as with Mayor Rawlings-Blake and others) but I will blame CNN for cherrypicking those two words for their headline. It could have been “Obama says America needs soulsearching” or “Obama says we can fix this”, but nope, “condemns rioters as ‘criminals’ and ‘thugs'” gets those sweet sweet ratings from scared white people!
But I work next to CNN in D.C. and they’ve had a homeless camp directly across the street from their headquarters for three years that they’ve mysteriously failed to address so they were already on my shitlist.
Inclusive means working with the people and not demonizing them who can use some help. Inclusive means being constructive and starting conversations. Inclusive means showing some patience and working together.
The fact that it is sounding like you have given up already is why people like me are disappointed. I’m sorry.
Hey, Ms. Kang, whoever showed up on the day after the rioting to pick up trash at North and Pennsie and then participate in the non-violent shutdown of that intersection at the police line? I was proud they included themselves just as I was proud to include myself. And I asked no questions about where anyone was the night before, which I nonetheless think was a setback in strategy and purpose here. If they were there to progress this movement, then they were in the right place bringing the right stuff.
And when someone threw a bottle and someone else in riot gear fired off some mace, that was shit in a bag. But the next moment, when the 300 Men raised their arms and commanded calm? That was, for me, one of the best and most heroic moments of the day. I’m giving up on no one.
And if you read my language again, you’ll find no name-calling of the folks involved. No thug. No criminal. I called the actions of the riot out for criticism, but I actually refrained from language that our president and our mayor offered readily. I’ll stand by what I said and didn’t say, just as I’ll stand by my absolute support for a campaign of mass civil disobedience — which is non-violent, but never peaceful — until some measure of reform is won.
Thanks again for your reply. It’s a relief to hear that you are not giving up on anyone.
One last thing that I’d like to point out. I know that aside from being a high profile and respected figure as yourself, you’re an individual who can do as much or as little for the blackLivesMatter movement.
Having said that, just like how the actions of the 300 men touched you and empowered you, it would also be touching and constructive for everyone if someone like yourself could do more than not calling folks thugs or criminals. Can you imagine that you can do more than dismissing them by telling them to go home?
Thanks for your time & energy.
Ms. Kang, I engage with people in every way that I can and if you ask around Baltimore some, you’ll find that out. And lots of conversations happen in lots of circumstances. They’ve been happening for a couple decades now, to my delight more than anyone else’s, I’m sure. There is a lot that human beings can say and do for each other.
But I confess that when people, for whatever reason and under whatever duress, are falling into mass violence and civil unrest, my comment at that moment is always go to be something to the effect of saying please, don’t do this. If you can’t contribute to this movement without a brick, then go home. Please.
I feel like i’m repeating myself.. but.. my point is that people are not going to understand words like duress and redress. People are not as educated as you want. I guess someone else will eventually step up and can inspire people so that people will participate in some ways instead of being yelled at to go home. Dismissing them instead of providing anything else on your last sentence of the post, to me, that sounds exclusion. What Gandhi had was patience that I see a lot of people with strong voice these days lack as I can see from this post.
Understand your point. Thx for it and for coming, and staying, for a while here, digitally.
Also, you keep saying that you’re not using the words criminals or thugs. But, with your words, you’re painting the picture in your readers’ imagination as thugs and criminals with bricks in their fists. It is almost the same thing as using those words.
Perhaps, it’s difficult to have good self awareness in times like this. It’s too bad the damage has already been done. But, nothing we can do about the past.
okay. Thanks for being polite to me. Good luck with all your efforts.
Ms. Kang, I can’t go there with you. If I didn’t exist, if I never drew breath in this lifetime, the folks who participated in that unrest on Monday painted all the pictures that this country and the world ever needed to see. Understanding their desperation, or the inevitability of the eruption, doesn’t make that a good thing for Baltimore, or reform, or the people who are committed to protesting for and demanding that reform. It’s a bad thing. The pictures were painted before I ever said a word. And the word I did say was not to call names, but to say this is not right, this is wrong, don’t do this.
Helen, regardless of your personal beliefs, once you accept violence as a means to make a point, you’ve just given anyone who disagrees with you an easy out. You’ve basically given them a trump card, a symbol of their own sense of moral superiority. Yes, they think they are innately better deep down. They are wrong. Humans are humans. There is no culture, society or country on this planet that doesn’t have blood on its hands. But if you make your point with violence, you will only solidify the opinions of those who oppose you.
Think of the Lernaean Hydra – cut one head off, two more grow back. We’re seeing the same thing in the Middle East. All the people the US killed in Iraq (whether justified or not) had children and families, and now those family members are angry. When you get a large group of people who are angry, well… yeah. It can be very dangerous, especially since angry people are easily manipulated by corrupt leaders.
Of course, you might say war is an example of violence being used to create (positive) change… World War 2 and so forth. Sadly that is a part of human history as well. But war is about conquering others. Real change from within isn’t about conquering, it’s about protecting your home, your community, your family. A fine line, of course, and an excuse for going to war, too. However, I think future generations will look back at us the way we look back at slave owners now, and they will think that human beings were too eager to go to war or to fight in the streets. Beyond right or wrong, it really doesn’t fix anything. In fact it often delays your hard work.
Of course, it’d probably help if the 24/7 news covered these sorts of things once the riots end. But that doesn’t make for good headlines. The media doesn’t care about cause, they just want to capture the effect. We can say the media doesn’t really matter, but they do. A lot of people are heavily swayed by what they see on TV or online. It’s hard not to, honestly.
OMG, so much bullshit in what you wrote, i just cannot respond any further.
David, Have you been in contact with Melvin in the last 36-48 hours? Just curious because of his 1968 experience and leadership. Just heard Ed Norris on CNN dropping serious knowedge on folks.
Haven’t talked to Mr. Williams in a while. But indeed, he helped stop the riot in 1968 on the west side.
You want to bring Baltimore to its knees and to the negotiating table? Call in sick to work for the next five days. IOW, STRIKE.
How many black and brown people, in both the public and private sectors, are vital to the running of the city? You want to show people black lives matter, show them what the city would be like without them.
Now, of course, everyone can’t do this. But I’ll bet enough people can strike to make an impact.
That would be a great idea if the many service workers, cabbies, seasonal employees at the ballpark, etc etc in this city weren’t already going to fail to make rent this month because of this stupid curfew.
Strikes are for cities that don’t live hand to mouth to begin with.
Hello Mr. Simon,
As a former organizer, I tend to view the world in terms of goals, strategy, tactics.
Do you think the legalization and taxation of marijuana is a worthy goal to come out of this movement?
Here is my thought. Martin Luther King was a great leader and made the biggest results in the civil rights movement. The march from Selma to Montgomery was 54 miles. It made a huge impact. A peaceful march from Baltimore to the Maryland state capital is only 34 miles. They need to march the 34 miles and ask their leaders why these problems have not been fixed and what is their plan. Make them listen in the right way.
I’m wary of any “they need to” statements about any movement. If you’re IN that movement, it’s “we need to”.
If you’re criticizing tactics from the outside when you have no intent of actually joining in then it’s likely nobody wanted or needed your opinion anyway.
Strike what I said earlier. I’m not so optimistic now that I see that apparently they intend to put on a police press conference at 10 p.m. (or after) when the fucking citywide curfew is 10 p.m.!!!
THAT’s not a set-up. Unfuckingbelievable.
Same exact shit they pulled in Ferguson too. Just wait until the middle of the night to make your announcement and then pretend you had no part in instigating anything.
I’m praying I’m wrong about this but if not? Mark my words.
Yup. Here we go.
I’ll say it again: this isn’t on the citizens. It’s not on the protestors. It’s on the police who have been manipulating riots this ENTIRE TIME & then claiming they have no choice but to enact the same brutality they’ve been enacting for decades.
Hurry up on that essay Mr. Simon. Frankly we needed you on this a week ago.
KT, I’m watching it live on TV and also following the Sun’s Livefeed. I disagree with your interpretation. We must be seeing different things. I live in Charles Village, by the way.
Yes, a nice relatively safe white neighborhood. Your point is?
KT, it’s a mixed-race neighborhood (or maybe my black neighbors are a figment of my imagination). And my point was that while watching live coverage and following the Sun’s livefeed, I didn’t see the cops “manipulating riots this ENTIRE TIME.” I saw them being uncharacteristically restrained. As for their brutality over decades, we all know that here. You’re preaching to the choir. (Though perhaps if I go out and get myself beaten up, that will prove my bona fides. Just a thought.)
Lisa, if you’re trying to sell the idea that living in Charles Village puts you in the epicenter of what’s going on in the Baltimore hood, you have to sell it to someone who’s not also from Baltimore. I live in Mt. Vernon. By no means does that make me an authority on the West Side. It’s been quiet enough to hear a pin drop here the past two nights other than the damn choppers buzzing.
How about you, are the birds chirping in your neighborhood this morning?
Somebody find that Baltimore map with the JHU Fear Bubble on it, lol.
Can we stop playing this dumbass game of I was closer to the flames so I get to talk? We’re all Baltimoreans. Presumably we are all vested in the same city and everyone has sensibilities and opinions and hopes and fears. C’mon.
I’m saying very clearly that there’s not been a fucking thing going on in my neighborhood. Except a multiracial dance party demo on Charles & North that I can’t figure out how to post video of on this site.
First Amendment, everyone has a right to speak regardless of wherever and whoever they are (although I’ll say this, the people around the country who never gave a single rat’s ass about Baltimore before who suddenly have all kinds of bad opinions of it now that a CVS burned don’t get much respect from me). I wasn’t the one that brought up my geographical location as a qualifier.
Completely agree with you about the correlation between the distance a commentator has been himself and Baltimore and his willingness to be thoughtful and affirming about the reasoned response that a riot can be. As to the other part, I’m just saying that we’re all experiencing different things from different places in the city. None of them are invalid. And everyone’s dynamic is credible enough, as far as I’m concerned.
KT, I posted that map with the JHU Fear Bubble last year. Though it’s un-pc, I liked its dark humor. As for “Lisa, if you’re trying to sell the idea that living in Charles Village puts you in the epicenter of what’s going on in the Baltimore hood,” nope. Never said it, never implied it, don’t think it. Paraphrasing what David wrote, in my own, less polite way, if you could stop swinging your dick long enough to read what I actually wrote, you might not be so interested in picking fights for petty reasons. We are, indeed, all Baltimoreans.
If you think the Baltimorean who has the most media attention of any of us (by far) having nothing more to say about the Baltimore riots but “looters go home” so far is petty, well, I guess we disagree.
Is saying what I feel “swinging my dick”? In that case, the breeze on my nuts feels good.
Mr. Simon pathologized the Black Community in the completely overrated The Wire, now he continues the job by calling out the same community for reacting to the brutality and murder of their fellow human beings. It’s apparently okay for the “man” to spend the first half of the game committing violent aggression, but then call time out when the opposition fights back. Mr. Simon’s shameful self righteous analysis shows how corrupt the “left” is when when white privilege is threatened.
If it is white privilege for one citizen of a city to ask fellow citizens to stop burning and looting that city, then indeed, I am ready to swim in white privilege a good long while. The claim is such, Dr. Johnson, that you have emptied the term “white privilege” of all useful fucking meaning. No one called out anyone for reacting to the death of Mr. Gray. I want mass civil disobedience to carry the day in Baltimore. I want the protests to continue until reforms are undertaken. For fuck’s sake, I was at North & Pennsie today participating in what actually has the power and potential for reform: mass civil disobedience.
It felt very right, until some asshole threw a bottle at the police and another asshole in riot gear maced the front row of protesters. That was shit in a bag in the same way the riot was shit in a bag for anyone who believes in non-violent protest. I hope tonight goes better, and I hope the march to City Hall brings out as many people as possible on Saturday. And I hope the city — and by extension, the country — is further pressed for changes. That reaction to state-sanctioned police violence is being called out by no one. Certainly not me.
Looting a CVS and some liquor stores and burning a senior center site and the backs of some Federal Street rowhouses? Yeah, I got no problem showing my contempt for that shit. Every damn day.
Dave, do you think that it’s at all possible that there were paid agitators out there putting the match to the gasoline of anger?
No, I think there are plenty of Baltimoreans who are rightfully angry at the insistent misuse of force by the Baltimore police, not just in the case of Mr. Gray but in dozens of outrageous cases carefully documented by The Baltimore Sun over the last several years.
I agree with your sentiments David Simon and I believe massive civil disobedience is a more effective tactic than looting “some liquor stores and burning a senior center”….As a former reporter and writer/producer of The Wire, which was perhaps the best TV show I’ve ever encountered, I believe you have a unique and valuable perspective on this situation, despite your alleged “white privilege” as the commentator above has suggested….Obviously you do not need to be from a poor black community in order to march alongside the other protesters, facing the same risks as everyone else on the frontline, which is made even more dangerous thanks to the reckless and self-defeating actions of a few, and it makes me wonder if the good doctor is doing the same? What is going on in “B-more” is no game and as a health professional who pledged to “first do no harm”, I wonder why he would be so eager to advocate or defend violence….
Obviously its your website and people who come here want to know your thoughts. But in the broader world, why should anyone care about your “contempt”?
Why do you think the people on the streets should take orders from you? Or care how you feel at all?
As far as disrespecting Grey’s memory, I haven’t seen Grey’s family or friends clam that the rioters are disrespecting his memory, and they’re the ones in which it lives.
Actually, Mr. Gray’s family has expressed great dismay over the rioting. You are wrong to suggest otherwise.
As to standing, why should anyone care what anyone thinks about anything. I am a writer. I covered criminal justice issues as a reporter in Baltimore and have been advocating for certain changes in policy in other media ever since. I am interested in those issues. I have a blog. I watched the rioting, thought about the implications for those issues and I wrote a personal plea — I ordered no one, that is hyperbole on your part — for people to stop burning and looting. I affirmed my absolute support and admiration for others in the street engaged in mass civil disobedience.
“Pathologized the black community”?? Did you ever actually watch The Wire? Wow. Talk about having one’s head up one’s ass.
I think you owe it to all the other Dr. Wayne Johnson’s in the country to mention specifically who you are. People are inevitably Googling “Dr. Wayne Johnson” or “Wayne Johnson PH.D” to see who may have made the comment that you did. It’s unfortunate that all the other ones are going to have people consider even just for a little bit whether they said what you said.
That was funny, and I was thinking the same thing. In some few sentences “Wayne” managed to insult the blogger, employ the 60’s shtick of “the man”, condone violence against the innocent many for behavior perpetrated by the criminal few, and in true prick fashion entitled himself with his credentials in a scenario where none were required or desired….
“Mr. Simon pathologized the Black Community in the completely overrated The Wire”
I quit reading at this point.
Just as I should have.
i used to be a fan. no more.
disappointed and sad
but what more can i do
than to leave a comment
You could read what I actually wrote and what I support and explain to me where it leaves you so bereft, perhaps. I would be interested, to be sure.
David, just a thanks for engaging in this dialogue. It’s fascinating to read your well reasoned, candid and entertaining responses. Reminded of how effective the pen can be in the right hands.
“Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”
You are not really Jay, are you? There isn’t sufficient sarcasm in your post for me to believe it. Or maybe there is….
Just a grateful fan of your work (and concerned citizen who happened to stumble across your site last night). Not the real JL, of course….
History (my own) would indicate that the events unfolding in Baltimore may compel me to advocate for reform among the people I know – but likely, and unfortunately I will do little else…In light of that sad truth, please forgive me for knowingly stepping over the line concerning what is appropriate in this forum and suggesting something that could be a cool/small way to help out…
I (and many others) love each epigraph from the Wire. They all served the story you told in important and varying ways (profound, ironic, enlightening, humurous, poignant)…Perhaps you would consider selecting a few of them to throw on a black t-shirt (made in baltimore ideally) and sell them for $49 a pop via hbo.com or whatever. 100% of proceeds for a worthy organization in Baltimore….I’d buy one for myself, and probably a couple more as gifts….
apologies for coming out of left field. sorry if this idea sucks.
Well, maybe you could elaborate on why you are disappointed and sad, and no longer a fan. Otherwise, some people here might think you’re just trolling.
It’s a hypocritical situation. The black community does not want to be judged based off the actions of a few bad people and yet they judge the police based off a few bad officers. You’re right David Simon, the media has a job to do, it is essential, but I partially blame the media with today’s issue in race, crime, and justice. The media needs to hit all camera angles in order to offer an objective story.
Do you think there are many Americans who actually want an objective story? Just asking.
There is a totally different expectation for behavior between the police and the public. It is the job of the police to protect people and property from the actions of others while doing so in a lawful manner. They are given powers of arrest and detention by the public in the good faith that those powers will be used justly. Blatant and repeated demonstrations of the abuse of said power most powerfully demonstrated in the murder of a black man who was arrested merely because he ran away from them destroys all credibility in said organization. The police have a higher expectation for their behaviour than the public when acting in their capacity as police officers. Their entire existence and legitimacy is predicated on it. When one cop is bad it reflects poorly on all of them for tolerating it. When that power is routinely abused, there is no more good faith. And then you have wide spread civil rage because the people have lost their faith.
Respect authority as it respects you.
the only thing i am wondering is which city is next? guaranteed to see more of this.
Not just what city is next, but what will happen in Baltimore in 3 months at the height of summer if an indictment doesnt occur, which as of right now is a strong likelihood.
Based on what little we know right now, I am hoping for a negligent death or involuntary manslaughter charge and dismissal from the department for all involved. Perhaps there is a reason not to pre-judge this, and perhaps a grand jury will learn that reason. But right now, I think the only hope is that the officers who put him in that wagon in an impaired condition, those that rode him to the lockup, and those that didn’t address his medical needs immediately upon arrival are held responsible as the custodial agents they were.
Gonna be hell proving more than that, it seems. Criminal intent is going to be an empty hole, here.
But that’s just me thinking aloud on what limited information is now publicly known.
Due to the power of police unions, it’s almost impossible for any officer to get fired unless there is video of them committing a serious crime. At least that’s the way it is in most major cities in the country. Maybe it’s different in Baltimore but I doubt it. The same is true with other public employees, such as teachers. If there’s very strong evidence of very clear wrongdoing maybe one or two of these officers will get fired and hopefully arrested. But unfortunately, I think’s it’s likely that the rest may receive a slap on the wrist at most and keep their jobs.
It’s not the power of police unions per se. It’s the operant legal standards for defining intent. Absent evidence to the contrary, it always comes down to the statements of an officer or officers against those of civilians. And then here’s the legal hole so pick it can handle the proverbial trick: Is it reasonable for the officer to have believed that he or she, or fellow officers, or other civilians were at risk of serious or lethal injury from the suspect?
It is a legal standard that does not have to be answered empirically or proven. If the officer claims such a belief that he or others were at serious risk from the suspect, and if that belief can not be undercut by physical evidence or the testimony of credible witnesses, then a grand jury is going to be instructed by prosecutors not to issue charges. In light of the legal standards, anything short of a video, or a series of consistent unimpeachable witnesses contradicting an officer’s specific narrative, or physical evidence that renders an officer’s narrative false on its face — or a combination of such things — is unlikely to prevail and result in charges against an officer who uses force.
There’s a multiethnic dance party/demonstration on the corner of Charles & North right now so I’m feeling optimistic. If I can figure out how to post some video to this page I will.
Of course rioting “doesn’t work.” Unfortunately, in these regressive days, nothing else works either. There is no immediate solution. Good luck Bawmer.
Ron – your hopeless and apathetic attitude is the reason you have problems in your life. Raise your standards. Demand more from yourself and others – that is what works, not whining.
[…] Simon wrote a post in his blog that hit every marker on my mind. Have a look if you’re feeling […]
ooops, the link http://www.ebony.com/news-views/baltimore-been-burning-503#.VT_sR_nF-QD
David, have you read Jamilah Lemieux’s article “Baltimore is Burning” in Ebony magazine — I’m curious what you think about it
[…] Wire creator David Simon wrote a blog post denouncing the violence that followed the Monday funeral of Freddie Gray, who died in police […]
[…] The show’s creator, David Simon, posted a message about the unfolding situation in Baltimore on his website. […]
David, a blog piece I’m preparing that I thought might interest you (as it quotes you):
As Baltimore finds itself on the “business side” of a tipping point, reactions to the violent protests flood in from all corners. To many who feel a kinship with the recent victims of excessive force meted out by police, the Baltimore riots are a justifiable response to a painful history of unequal, often brutal treatment at the hands of those who are supposed to protect. Others, like Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, draw a distinction between peaceful protesters and the “thugs,” who, by burning down and looting the local CVS and other businesses, fail to act in their community’s best interest. “It’s idiotic to think that by destroying your city, you’re going to make life better for anybody,” Rawlings-Blake said. Others seem focused on African-Americans bringing this lethal chaos upon themselves by developing a knee-jerk culture of resisting arrest (no matter how unjust the arrest itself may be, they seem to say) while decrying the lack of equivalent rage for rampant black-on-black violence.
One thing is certain, emotions are at fever pitch. And while the moth of media focus, perhaps understandably, chooses the flames of Baltimore over the many well-attended protest marches that have taken place in recent months, what better time is there to take a deep look at not just why these emotions are igniting, but how they’re manifested?
Even if one believes the riots are justified (and historically, violent protests have unquestionably, if indirectly, helped bring about positive changes to society), one has to ask if those inciting and participating in the violence and looting were ever taught an alternate way to access and express their raw emotions. With so much focus on the quantifiable academic results of our education system, who is quantifying the emotional learning (or utter lack thereof)? Without institutionally instilling social and emotional tools into everyday school curriculum, from Pre-K through high school and beyond, how are young people expected to understand the linchpins of conflict resolution or learn to make values-based decisions?
It is only by prioritizing social emotional learning and community and team building skills on par with math and language arts that we can ever hope to give children the confidence that they have a choice when it comes to channeling their anger and dissatisfaction.
David Simon, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun and creator of the Baltimore-based HBO series, “The Wire,” recently commented, “If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore.” And in “The Disease of American Democracy,” Robert Reich argues that, “The only way back toward a democracy and economy that work for the majority is for most of us to get politically active once again, becoming organized and mobilized.”
We need to give young people the tools express themselves peacefully and effectively, or we can’t be surprised when they don’t.
Agree. I was just out at North and Pennsie today cleaning up trash and standing with the protestors. It felt warm and human and even moderately organized, but of course the street theater is delicate and it is only the first act of real reformist protest. But there were a lot of genuinely purposed young people.
I hope tonight is better.
By NPR’s reporting, it sounds like last night was more peaceful. Is that correct?
It was when I went to bed.
Karl Marx, 1862. Comments on the run-up to the American Civil War.
“Lincoln yields only hesitantly and uneasily to this pressure from without, but he knows that he cannot resist it for long. Hence his urgent appeal to the border states to renounce the institution of slavery voluntarily and under advantageous contractual conditions. He knows that only the continuance of slavery in the border states has so far left slavery untouched in the South and prohibited the North from applying its great radical remedy. He errs only if he imagines that the “loyal” slaveholders are to be moved by benevolent speeches and rational arguments. They will yield only to force.”
Source – https://marxists.anu.edu.au/archive/marx/works/1862/08/09.htm
He was right. Liberal notions of “moral force” mean nothing when faced with determined and aggressive resistance that is more than willing employ violence to secure their position and defend white supremacy. It took several years of brutal and bloody warfare for this lesson to be learned.
You are the master of absurdist historical non sequitur.
In this analogy to what is happening in Baltimore, Maryland, who plays the role of Jefferson Davis? Baltimore’s African-American mayor? Who is Robert E. Lee? Baltimore’s African-American police commissioner? Are you really suggesting that the comparable and unrelenting force of a civil war will be required to reform a criminal justice system in a nation that is no longer a slave empire? Shit, man, even Selma required only the heroism of a summer of freedom and bloodletting and that was a half century ago. Do you really believe that every battle for reform in these United States requires violence and burning and looting and blood? Where are you from, Mr. Ludd? Have you ever been to Baltimore? Do you understand that there is more nuance in the streets and in the ways that power slowly incorporates changing mores and standards than your sloganeering can dream of?
For Chrissakes, we’ve gone in a half dozen years from a national aversion to gay rights to comprehensive support of same. Do you really expect to make a historical reference to a 150-year-old national insurrection in a time of legalized slavery and apply the same ratios of bloodletting and political cost to the necessary and ongoing campaign to reform our laws and their enforcement in 2015?
Are you not embarrassed by this ridiculous hyperbole?
As a fan, it’s uncomfortable for me to challenge you, but as someone who cherishes nuance, shouldn’t you be more open to the possibility that the lessons of history are more nuanced than easy, made-for-TV mythology that peace is the one and only thing that addresses injustices, overturns corruption, and banishes evil? Does history really tell us that only the most favorable, glamorous figures on the tail end of a long movement deserve all credit for historic change? Were MLK’s actions truly bloodless, or did you forget the protesters?
I’m not saying what happened last night is the right thing or the correct thing. I’m just saying simplistic views of history don’t help.
I don’t think I’ve advocated for peace at all. Mass civil disobedience is not peaceful. It isn’t violent, either.
I am a writer and I have a unique script that I am sure you’d be interested in developing, it’s perfect for you and particularly in this climate of racial tensions.
Get at me man, anytime
Well David, not everyone is a white millionaire like you and can afford to take days, possibly weeks and months off to go do your civil disobedience.
You’re right. Better to do some quick, dirty rioting and then wait for the rest of America to watch it on the television and then realize they need to demilitarize the police, end the drug war, empty the prisons and begin carefully monitoring police violence. Let me know how that works for you.
Anthony Batts, the African American police chief in Baltimore, was previously head of the Oakland Police Department, a notoriously corrupt police department and city, that has had other African American chiefs and mayors.
While Batts was in Oakland, OPD remained under federal monitoring for not yet having implemented reforms demanded after the notorious “Riders” police corruption scandal in which a rookie cop blew the whistle after witnessing that officers in the department routinely made false arrests, planted evidence, beat up detainees, made false police reports and other egregious, abusive, dishonest actions.
Before during and after Batts tenure, Oakland has paid millions in settlements to citizens abused by the police, while also managing to protect officers from discipline and allowing abuses to continue.
Relevant to the current situation also is that under Batts tenure, OPD violated the rights of people protesting the death of Oscar Grant, by “kettle-ing”, that is surrounding and taking prisoner, hundreds of people indiscriminately in the streets. These citizens were submitted to tortuous conditions of imprisonment for days, although they were not found guilty of any crime, and the vase majority were not even charged with a crime.
Courts later granted a settlement to the victims and the city acknowledged that the action was illegal and outside of an appropriate, effective or legal crowd control policy (although before the the case made its way through the courts OPD again used the same illegal method to suppress other demonstrations, leading to another settlement but still no consequences for those ordering and carrying out the illegal actions.)
It’s really important to keep in mind that systemic abuses that oppress minority communities are not limited by the faces of those in high positions. The nature of corruption is to give a false appearance.
Also, please read and consider the response to another of your comments, in which, I acknowledge that your comments come from a place of care, but suggest that most helpful your voice could be is to remain focused on the 3 issues you had keyed in on that are essential here. The real problems:
1. The Drug War
2. Militarization of the Police
3. Mass Incarceration
Batts background is not irrelevant, in Oakland and Baltimore he has played the game with corrupt institutions that are the pillars of these 3 problems.
I am not a particular fan of Mr. Batts here in Baltimore. I raised him only to suggest that the historical-anaology-on-steriods nonsense of comparing the racial fault lines in an American city in 2015 to Lincoln’s Hobbsian choices amid the conduct of a civil war against a slave empire is, well, silly. I have no need or interest to address Commissioner Batts and his performance, one way or the other.
And again, I can’t make my rhetoric a la carte for what you might wish me to pursue and what you wish I would leave unsaid. The riot was shit in a bag. It doesn’t help but draw the wrong attention, and push the power of mass civil disobedience and the demands for specific reform below the footage of flames and thievery. That isn’t fair, you can assure me. And I will agree. But it is so nonetheless.
The purpose of the quote Mr Simon was to illustrate that the institutional racism which exists in the United States does give in to moral force and reasoned debate, and it never has. Slavery was not overturned by moral force – it took long and bloody struggle. The same is true of the the civil rights movement. It is not “hyperbole” to comment that the slaveowners of the Deep South would “yield only to force” – it was a sober assessment of the situation, by someone incidentally who lived his entire life in western Europe, one which in hindsight was utterly correct. It is not “hyperbole” to suggest that the out-of-control police departments of inner city America will yield to “moral force” either. People have seen peaceful protests ignored, and reasoned arguments dismissed, too many times to be condemned for taking things a step further.
Great emancipatory leaders such as King, Mandela and Gandhi had a much more nuanced and complex view of using violence than you seem to think. When their names are invoked to tell people to “go home” I think it’s important, infact it’s a duty, that those of us who value truth and objectivity in history try to prevent that sort of historical whitewashing from taking place. It’s essential that the long and violent history of people’s struggle and civil rights in this country is not distorted, or for it to be turned into stick with which to beat people into accepting their lot, to “go home” as you so succinctly and revealingly put it.
That’s why I posted the Marx quote, because it’s a wonderfully concise way to demonstrate the futility of this “moral force” nonsense, which has been around on the respectable, progressive, liberal left in America since the civil war and before, and as Marx understood it’s just as intellectually bankrupt today as it was back then.
I understand Mr. Ludd. In your world, moral suasion has achieved nothing. It is all at the point of the gun.
Given that the urban underclass might constitute at best five percent of the populace — and, regrettably, I don’t think an armed insurrection by the urban poor will carry the black middle-class, much less any confederation of the white poor, so we must leave it at about five percent — how do you think this reliance on violence as an agent of political reform works out? Who do you think the losers are going to be if this victory doesn’t transform not just the victims in this struggle, but also many of those who are now indifferent to their victimization or, indeed, some of their victimizers, tacet or otherwise?
No matter for you, I’m sure. You don’t live in Baltimore.
Can’t you at the very least recognise that “moral force” itself implicitly depends on the existence of some kind of “physical force” for it to be effective? That “terror without virtue is fatal, but virtue without terror is impotent?”
Doesn’t the failure of moral force as an effective strategy at key points in history, with the example of slavery and civil war being key, give you cause re-think the position you’ve taken? Don’t you realise how words like “moral force” are heavy with historical baggage and imbued with deep meaning in the history of the USA and the fight to abolish slavery? Considering how the contemporary problems we face were conditioned in large part by the legacy of slavery doesn’t invoking that failed doctrine seem a bit perverse to you?
Infact not even a few decades prior to this in England the exact same split which existed amongst the American abolitionists of moral force vs physical existed in the Chartist movement, the large British workers movement for universal suffrage in the 1840’s. Following some nasty riots, the physical force faction was denounced by the sensible wing, who favoured collecting vast petitions for universal suffrage instead of direct action. The petitions and “charters” they fastidiously collected were dismissed out of hand because there was no force to back it up, and the result was the movement collapsed and basic democracy wasn’t established for three generations! It wasn’t until 1918 that the UK would finally get something close to universal suffrage, and significantly it was the threat of outright revolution following the events of Russia in 1917 and Dublin in 1916, not reasoned debates and appealing to the morality of the oppressor, which forced the government into conceding the right to vote. This story, of the failure of “moral force” to produce the goods isn’t just restricted to the USA, you can look at practically every democratic, or socialist, or anti-colonial movement in the last 150 years and see the same pattern. Virtue without terror is impotent…
Now not everything that happens in a riot can be justified or defended, but the general principle of threatening law and order and destroying private property as a mode of political change is not new, and it is not something exclusive to the USA either, and it’s got a better track record than “go home” has in getting results. In a society where there is no effective unions then people have to “collectively bargain by riot” and burn down the bosses house, and without strong political and civil organisations that can actually make changes constitutionally then people will be forced to make political reforms by riot. It might not exist on the level of deeply thought out conscious strategy, it may be lashing out in some respects, it may attract people with nefarious intentions, but it’s not irrational behaviour, and for all your hand-wringing it might be exactly what’s needed to up the ante and force the US state to change. It certainly seems like a more viable option than hackneyed cries of “moral force” and “go home” that’s for damn sure.
The anger at this routine injustice will no doubt take ugly turns at times, but that doesn’t mean you call it off. You need to hold your nerve. That’s where I think you’ve failed Mr Simon. Once the anger has died down a bit, as it apparently has done in the last 24 hours, out of this catharsis I hope there’s renewed vigour and organisation, and a realisation on behalf of the Baltimore Police department that if they don’t stop killing black people the city will burn to the ground. Putting that stark choice in front of them and the political leadership in the City is the only way realistic way forward I feel.
I don’t live in Baltimore. Neither do most of the people who comment on your blog and who bought The Wire. I’d like you to consider my arguments on their content and their merit than simply dismiss me out of hand. It’s a cop out.
I am not some violent sociopath craving bloodlust from the comfort of my suburban home. I’m not an armchair revolutionary. I’m politically engaged in a peaceful way on a day-in, day-out basis trying to make my community better and trying to do something about the poverty and human wreckage austerity and recession has brought to my community. That’s the long-term solution, organisation, but there are times Mr Simon when a well placed brick or two and a few burnt out cop cars can do a lot of good for a community that feels beaten and humiliated on a daily basis.
You living where you do is no reflection on yout arguments, absolutely. They live or die on merit alone. Fair play.
I wasn’t thinking or suggesting otherwise with the comment, but I have noticed in the last two days that those who see some plausible gain from the riots overall, or their necessity — and not merely their inevitability — tend to be from two cohorts. There is either an argument predicated on racial status — meaning, African-American commentators who see the action as a forced move based on the singular circumstance of those rioting. These commentators are from Baltimore and elsewhere, but generally American. Or white male commentators who are not from Baltimore and often from quite far away. Most of those who do not want to see Baltimore burn are both black and white and largely from Baltimore. I am generalizing, but that is my sense.
Here’s my heart. If you compare, say, the London or the L.A. riots and you think it gives you some thread for what is going to happen if Baltimore were to burn more badly than she is, I would suggest that you are lost in apples and oranges. London, or New York, or L.A. are international cities. Their ghettos could burn for days and short of a couple dirty bombs being delivered as well, their status would not change significantly. Their economies would rumble over the setbacks and their population would be retained.
Let me tell you about the city that you are, I think, abstractly, contemplating in the light of the historical use of unrest or force to achieve forward progress in human affairs. She has lost 40 percent of her population since 1960 because of continued white flight, and the greatest share of that happened after the 1968 riots, the scars of which are still evident everywhere from Pennsie to Gay Street. Moreover, she has lost most of her industrial base, so that there is, without doubt, less reason to presuppose her restoration after the trauma of civil unrest; industry, being less factory based and more mobile than in 1968, has even less reason to reestablish itself in the wake of mass unrest here. Only in the last decade has Baltimore stabilized itself in terms of population loss and right now there is even a small boomlet that is the result of her affordability for East Coast residents seeking an urban culture who are now priced out of D.C. or N.Y. Baltimore — for all of its residents, black and white, working class or affluent or poor — has, after a long fall economically, started to stabilize and improve. But if you think we are still anything other than a second-tier city that can be dropped by transient economic and cultural trends should we implode racially and violently, I’d ask you to look at Detroit.
The riots in Detroit in 1967 were unrest that was as inevitable and as righteous in their origins as anything you can conjure for Baltimore. On a national level, at that time, they were not unique, merely fierce by comparison with some cities that burned in 67 and 68. And Detroit did not come back. The threshold for losing a city to racial strife and economic abandonment is closer than you think for second-tier, post-industrial cities. And there is no one who knew or loved Detroit who will for a moment buy into your notion that a riot might be just the thing to make anyone’s circumstance better. They know too much.
Baltimore is not London or New York or Chicago or Paris. It’s threshold for survival is not as fixed and certain as those places. And for those trapped in the American underclass who inhabit a failing American city — think Detroit, or Camden, N.J. or Gary, Ind. — their lives are still battered by the same racial and class affronts that greet the poor everywhere in our society, but added to that is the crushing economics of broken economies and cities that can’t restore themselves as a whole. Stakes are higher here than where some people are writing and philosophizing from. And Baltimore has already been through a lot. I was out on Pennsie and North the morning after the riot with people, black and white, who were quick to pick up trash and hoping to deny all those television cameras more desolate and appalling imagery. And all of us understood why.
See if any of that can be factored into the political and social equations that argue for the benefits of a period of civil unrest.
“Baltimore is not London or New York or Chicago or Paris. It’s threshold for survival is not as fixed and certain as those places.”
Seeing as you live there, and based on what I know of the city which would appear to back you up on that particular point, I’ll gladly concede this point to you.
Sadly you’re probably right that Baltimore might not have the ability sustained burst of violence of this type. And I don’t mean this as criticism of you personally but The Wire probably doesn’t help in this regard, as for many Baltimore now exists as the archetype of dysfunctional American city, even though its problems are definitely not unique or even the worst.
As you’ve probably guessed by now I live in the UK, and although our police are by no means perfect, and the riots here in 2011 were actually more vicious in many ways than the ones currently taking place in your City (not that wish to turn it into a pissing contest) and also followed the suspicious death of a young black man at the hands of the police, but when I look and see that (according to some sources, I suspect they may not be 100% correct as I don’t think it includes Northern Ireland…) in the last 115 years the British police haved killed 52 people, whereas in the last 115 days the American police have killed 319 people, my heart just breaks. Even if it’s not an accurate statistic or open to debate I’m still willing to bet the genuine figures show the the sort of same disparity. Please don’t take that as some kind of insult based on shallow patriotism, I don’t wish to overstate the good behaviour of police forces here, because they can be real bastards here too and the Met police in London are militarised to an alarming extent – consciously imitating the “broken windows” strategy’s that has failed so badly in the USA. But despite this, there’s an order of magnitude of difference between the Met and how totally out of control the police are in many American cities. The only real comparison I can give you from my own experience is the behaviour of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Catholic/Republican areas of Belfast during the 70’s and 80’s, where the police really thought of themselves as an occupying power waging war against the population. You don’t need a history lecture from me to tell you how that worked out…
Violence on that sort of scale can’t be challenged with easilly-ignorable peaceful protest. Going home isn’t much of an option when that’s what you’re up against. In Rio De Janeiro for example, the numbers of people killed by police are even greater than in Baltimore or in just about any American city, and if you speak with Brazilian activists who’ve worked and organised in the favelas you’ll find the discourse of “moral force” to be utterly discredited, and I suspect amongst young people in the USA something similar might be taking place.
I accept that a period sustained rioting could potentially cripple the city for good. You are infinitely better qualified than I am at making such a judgement and I’ll take your word for it. I don’t relish that prospect at all. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but hope is precious at the moment and needs to be rationed carefully.
But on the other hand the status quo is simply not an option. Things have to change. You don’t need to live in a city to know that having a police department that routinely kills a subset it’s own population will have to be stopped, even if it means methods that are destructive, brutal even, methods that are not even guarenteed to work and could destroy the city!
Thanks for taking the time to discuss this and I hope I haven’t taken up too much of your time with my “Daily Worker circa 1929” style rantings. Let’s hope things can change substantively before the more apocalyptic outcomes I’ve been predicting come to fruition, and let’s hope I can be dismissed as a revolutionary fantasist living out my dreams vicariously through the people of Baltimore, and let’s hope I’ve got it all terribly wrong and that I’m not going to be vindicated by history in the way Marx was with his comments on the American civil war. All the best.
[…] Wire, the HBO show that chronicled the story of Baltimore’s police department and its gangs, has appealed for calm in the wake of violence following the funeral Monday of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who […]
Understanding the frustration and the despair but clearly not understanding the “call for justice” in the form of rioting. Rioting and destroying the very neighborhoods you must live in, destroying the very supermarket, pharmacy, corner store you must shop in! I watched a video footage of a gang member (a few gang members) standing together declaring that they did not come together to cause harm to cops but to stoop what was now happening in the streets…huh? prior to this what were you doing in the streets? Fund raisers, coat drives, raising money for your community? PLEASE! this is what I mean; we want “change” as a people, want to be seen as more than “animals” but yet are so devided as a people it is sad! you want to be heard put down that brick, go back to school and become that change. Become that attorney, judge, prosecutor, cop that will be different and give a shit! Change things from the inside. What is happening right now in Baltimore says NOTHING in my opinion,
[…] “The anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease,” Simon wrote on his blog. […]
Rioting as a reaction doesn’t seem to do much more than take away the credibility of those who have a legitimate beef and it blows hot air into the racist rhetoric muttered by those who feel that “they” are getting what they deserve.
After the Rodney King verdict when LA blew up I stood on my roof near 3rd and Crescent Heights and watched spires of smoke rise from downtown Los Angeles along Wilshire Blvd and up Fairfax. In my experience Los Angeles is extremely segregated and after they burned down south central the riots headed west and picked up steam along with participants who had no beef – they just wanted to break shit and steal as much as they could. As in Baltimore, so many of them were just kids, who got caught up in the energy of anger and the excitement of destruction.
So many small businesses were burned down and cars and property destroyed that belonged to innocent peoples from South Central to the Fairfax district – with damages totalling over 1 Billing dollars. People who had worked hard all their lives and were all different colors lost everything over those days.
LAPD did not or could not do much in south central and points east but when they got to La Cienaga and started looting the Beverly Center the riot squad came out like storm troopers and shut it down.
And they let the hood burn for six days.
Riots bring out the lowest common denominator and the very worst parts of a human being. The act of destroying or stealing cannot leave a person feeling vindicated – emptied out of their rage for a moment possibly, but then what? People who riot very rarely impact those who they are angry at. They hurt people who were just living their lives, who feel the same anger and frustration, but don’t consider that an excuse to go mess up random people because they don’t know what else to do.
What happened to Freddie Gray is immoral. What is happening to young black men in this country is an affront to human decency. There does need to be a rising up, but it needs to be done with the power of what is right.
Children rioting in the streets is just going to get more children killed. And it’s not going to change one thing.
I was in Baltimore last spring and my thoughts are with those people who get up every day and go to work
I don’t agree with rioting but for some people its their only voice. You have to understand that as African Americans in america we have been subject to police brutality since the inception of law enforcement, cameras and cell phone footage is new but police brutality isn’t. We have been beat down and killed by police for so many years and now its 2015 and people are finally listening? At some point people get tired of being tired. The issue is that its almost impossible for someone of another race to understand how we are treated by law enforcement in this country because the same office who will look at a caucasion person and greet you with hello have a nice day, will shoot daquan or Khalid with his hands up that night and its been happening for a long time before the recent media coverage. Is it a coincidence that our prison population is 60 to 70 percent African american males, that means only people of color commit crimes right? It only takes common sense to see that this is modern day slavery that we as African american people hope will come to an end. This country has benefited so much on the backs of our African american and indian ancestors who some will argue built this country for free only for caucasion Americans to come take it by force. I do not agree or condone violence but I do think people need to be heard ” by any means necessary “
Should Baltimore PD then just stop hiring African Americans? I’m really tired of the excuse that’s “the police made me a looter because I’m black,”. If the police department ,run by and staffed by a good percentage of African Americans, make a majority of arrests in a large population of African Americans, when does it become a problem of people not race?
they should shoot more whites.
Thanks for your concern. I got up in Baltimore and went to work this morning. It looked like this (photo courtesy of Liam Flynn’s Ale House on North Ave):
I wasn’t too worried about it. But maybe that’s b/c I boycott CNN (and all TV news, really) and their fearmongering bullshit.
Susie, thank you for your words. I wish I could upvote your comment a hundred times. I also live in Baltimore, and it breaks my heart to see the destruction. And it infuriates me to read all the comfy-in-my-armchair, testosterone-soaked, faux revolutionary exhortations to violence all over the blabbosphere, by people who hide behind cowardly internet monikers no less.
Rioting plays perfectly into the hands of the racist, authoritarian, hyper-militarized power structure in this country. It’s handing them a gift on a silver platter.
[…] David Simon Responds At Length To Those Who Responded To His Posting About Baltimore […]
The riots you deplore, David Simon, are nothing compared to the riots that are legally sanctioned, endorsed, and worshiped by the powers of the capitalist corporate system. It is they who own our screens, the forefront of our minds, our hands reaching for money or bitcoins to purchase things of no substance or value, while our food sources turn to ash, our children bend and fail for lack of nourishment of mind, heart, soul. The riot on your phone, in your apps, on your television, radio, movie theater, the riot on Wall St.., in boardrooms, at fine corporate retreats, the soul searching nonsense of business leadership, the cheesy nothingness of NPR, there’s your riot. The folks in Baltimore aren’t having a riot. They’re not organized. They’re mourning and avenging. A political riot and a capitalist riot is something altogether other.
Mourning and avenging is too enobled by half. They were rioting and destroying, and taking real reform off the table at a time when the drug war, the militarization of police and mass incarceration was back on its heels for the first time in fucking decades.
I just spent the morning cleaning up trash along the North Avenue riot corridor then happily joined a mass demonstration of civil, non-violent disobedience at North and Pennsie. It was grand, and meaningful and committed. But then someone tossed a bottle and a cop fired off mace. And I left.
The bullshit hyperbole of comparing all that is wrong in the world in your opinion so as to rationalize some folks in Baltimore who spent last night burning and looting is just absurdist. I’m sorry. Shit is right or it’s wrong. It isn’t less wrong because the rest of your political agenda is in tatters. I live in Baltimore. I don’t want to see it burn. I don’t want people hurt. And at the same time, I want to leverage this political moment so that there is a fighting chance at some actual reform. That’s simple language, which is wholly absent from the pyrotechnics you are using to justify destruction.
“Shit is right or it’s wrong.”
There goes the possibility of dialog. Of learning to distinguish a tantrum from profound systematic cruelty. Of finding simple things to be complicated.
Right you are.
Perhaps. Or maybe there goes the chance for more sophistry about how burning and looting is shit that can be shined into gold by rationalizing its actuality.
Struggling to comprehend the number of posts on here rationalising the (sorry, capitals for emphasis) BURNING and LOOTING of places which had fuck all to do with Freddie Gray’s death.
It’s not an expression of “enough is enough”.
No matter what your agenda is, if you set fire to something you’re an arsonist. If you steal from a small business, you’re a thief.
These are opportunists that are riding this thing out, but it’s the poor people who are left picking up the pieces.
If it was my city, I’d be in tears.
Clear and calm voices are needed here, as is change. I think you are rising above as usual, David. Good for you.
Remember folks, the revolution will not be televised.
Calm voices would have been a lot more helpful in the many harsh years before the police brutality culture in Baltimore got so bad that people like Freddie Gray — despite not being guilty of any crime the cops can name — began running from the police as soon as they saw them.
(Not that Mr. Simon hasn’t been explaining this reality carefully in his work all along for those who cared to see it.)
So I shouldn’t go for a drink at Liam’s after work or what?
You do well to focus on the real issues here:
1. the drug war
2. the militarization of the police
3. mass incarceration
I am not sure that these things were “on the table” with the possibility to being scrapped by those at the levers that have set them in motion. If it was “on the table”, it is still “on the table”, whatever that might mean. If it was not ever something that was being willing to be conceded, the processes is continuing as it had.
I see you are stating your feelings in strong terms because you care. But I suggest that you continue to focus on talking about those 3 issues that are central to what we are facing at this point in history, and be mindful not to join the chorus of voices in the corporate mass media that sensationalizes, decontextualizes and even fetishizes imagery of the African American as violent “thug”.
We don’t have to condone behavior to truly ask “Where does the desperation come from that leads to this kind of conflict?” An individual in a state of desperation will do anything: it’s not a state of reflection or morality. More important than simply judging the moral character of those who engage in desperate acts, is to investigate the source of the desperation. If a system produces conditions of desperation, desperate acts are the symptoms, the inevitable byproduct or fumes of this system.
No successful person gains moral authority by offering their judgments and condemnations of the desperate, as if saying “shame on you” is enough to stem the tide.
Mass media is a key element of systemic oppression. Not only does it serve to gaslight those being oppressed in their daily realities by pretending that it’s not happening. It also conditions people with a script of responses, most of which are a version of blaming oppressed communities, by shifting the focus from systemic issues to “individual responsibility”, and creating a worldview in which oppressed people must deserve their oppression.
There is a mass welling of anger around individual cases like Rodney King, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Eric Garner, not just because of the individual details of those cases, but because thousands and thousands (nationwide, millions) of people have experienced being abused by police forces and they found out that they didn’t have the rights they thought they did. When you are a prisoner or violently abused by police or prison guards, you don’t have any rights they don’t feel like granting you in that moment. Most internal affairs departments and citizen police review boards are frauds that very rarely follow up on complaints. Even those who have access to lawyers (only the most high profile cases), may receive only meager monetary settlements and the abusive individuals are protected and retain their positions in a system which itself is abusive.
The anger is the streets is likely much more personal than on behalf of Freddie Gray. To be abused by the system that says its protecting you, to have your rights violated and there was no consequence, to be dehumanized as a prisoner, on a large scale and over time, its not hard to imagine that not everyone can bear their suffering with calm and equanimity and there may be some desperate acts.
For those of us not in a state of desperation, while not condoning or apologizing for these acts, how can we bring empathy for the larger situation and bring awareness to the real systemic issues that are leading to our youths dying and unrest in the streets, and not just bring awareness but affect the change of the conditions?
What does it mean for change to be “on the table”, and if that change needs to be systemic, are we wise to trust that those faces of authority (European descended or African descended) are dealing in good faith?
If the solution means eliminating the abusive structures, dismantling the abusive apparatus and opening up spaces for the community itself to be empowered and supported to be able to meet its own needs, is that solution “on the table” for those with their hands on the levers?
Be advised, Mr. Robinson, that it is impossible for me to engage with these issues a la carte, to suit you or anyone else.
Those issues matter to me. It is infinitely harder to move the American center off of the militarized social control in which law enforcement is engaged when legitimately aggrieved people from Baltimore go beyond the moral rigor and discipline of mass civil disobedience and instead feed the national consciousness a diet of looted liquor stores and burned buildings. That doesn’t bother black folk and lefties like myself — we’re happy enough to contextualize it to our heart’s content. But there aren’t enough of us to achieve a national political consensus that might actually reform some fucking thing. And that’s all I actually care about here: Seeing if what has gone hideously wrong for decades now can be walked back any distance at all. Not your Alphonse-Gastone routine of who should talk about what, and who gets to talk about whom, and whether some white boy writer asking other residents not to burn and loot stuff is inappropriate. I couldn’t give a fuck about all of that class-conscious, racially conscious etiquette.
I went out to demonstrate today, after spending a couple hours cleaning trash off North Avenue. I want the disobedience to continue and I want power to yield. But if its impolitic or privileged for me to discomfit anyone by saying the rioting is shit in a bag for anyone hoping for law enforcement reform, tough shit. It is. And it’s harder to convince anyone that a militarized law enforcement culture isn’t just the ticket when an American city is burning on national television. Realpolitik, Mr. Robinson. The drug war and mass incarceration has its hand around the throat of these communities; a riot doesn’t induce reason in those who are being urged — and it is a matter of law, of legal reforms — to let go of the death grip. If that can happen, then a lot can change. If that doesn’t happen, then the loss and sacrifice all of these young men dead of police violence, Mr. Gray included, is being sold cheap by the people who profess to champion their cause. Sorry.
[…] Wire, the HBO show that chronicled the story of Baltimore’s police department and its gangs, has appealed for calm in the wake of violence following the funeral Monday of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who […]
As usual, the greatest part of my anger turns not to the rioters nor the oppressors, but rather towards those who casually and callously document from a distance without providing even the barest hint of context. An endless stream of horrible images runs continuously on CNN, while the accompanying audio spends far more time on conversations about the safety and bravery of the reporters on the ground than on the underlying causes of the actions to which they bear witness.
Hour after hour passes with the viewer learning nothing more from the situation than how endless is the supply of shock that exists within Anderson Cooper. Rather than taking the opportunity provided by the unfolding horror to provide context to the rising audience, instead we hear the impossibly handsome and gobsmacked Mr. C again and again express his concern for Jake Tapper’s safety, urging him to not worry about us getting the story if it endangers him.
Good thing Anderson and Jake were not covering London in the 1940’s.
So, yes, I do agree that social media can provide a false sense of unreality that makes it easy to view unfolding real life horror as if it were just another crowd scene from an Avengers movie. But while I am continually appalled by the way some of my liberal friends get distracted by videos of an older woman knocking some sense into a son she caught throwing a rock at a policeman, I know also that to lose the wide array of discussion currently happening online would be to leave us at the mercy of Anderson Cooper’s concern for Jake Tapper to the exclusion of all else.
It may be difficult to find the meaningful and relevant needles in the haystack of internet commentary, but at least here there are needles to be found. In the mainstream media, no matter which political leaning it favors, not so much.
Don’t shoot any messangers. Without the media out there, and without the cameras of social media, the authoritarian version of what happens in the street will always prevail, regardless of its merit or accuracy. The media has a job to do here. It is essential, in fact.
I did not mean to imply that I want to the media to vanish, nor that I want to shoot any of them. Well… none of them in particular.
I agree they have an essential job to do, Mr. Simon. I just do not believe they are doing that job. Or at least they are doing it very, very poorly, at best. The simple fact that they show up is not something I can agree is a credit to them. Far from being there to provide a public benefit, they are there to train cameras on terrible images, the distribution of which makes them ungodly sums of money. That acting in their financial interest can occasionally provide public benefit is, at this point in time, merely a coincidence. Or at least it is so far as in judging how well they do their jobs. Since just showing up is to their own great benefit, the standard for evaluating the job they do should be much higher.
And since that job does indeed generate such an enormous sum of money, they could more than afford to devote the time and resources needed in order to do a better job by providing context and balance (which I actually think is supposed to be part of the job description even if they don’t make any money). Instead they eschew such balance and dispense with all complexity and context at every opportunity, preferring instead to sensationalize, simplify, and pander in a way that acts as a multiplier on the sum of money they can generate.
In much the same way you indicted the forces that came to control the media outlet for which you once worked, I likewise (although far less eloquently) indict the overall media institution in general, which seems to me no less corrupt and corrosive than the governmental and business institutions that it covers. That the raw material they process and spew can sometimes be of benefit to the public is no different than those occasional benefits provided to the public by government and business institutions as they go about their primary mission, which is the consolidation of power and wealth.
I have listened to you speak intelligently and passionately on the inequities of our times, the effects those inequities have on our society, and on the devaluation of individuals, which I believe causes the desperation and alienation that leads to explosions like the one we saw last night. But as hour after hour dragged on, I heard not a single word uttered on those issues last night. Knowing a large and rapt audience was tuned in, they took no opportunity to educate or provide context, content instead to tut-tut and gasp, reinforcing at every turn the stereotypes now ingrained in our public debate.
I find it an outrage that the greatest and most pressing issues of our day, those that could possibly lead to the disintegration of our society, get no time at all on the major media outlets during a conflagration that is the direct result of those pressing issues, let alone on a daily basis when no urgent event is driving their relevance to the fore. Instead the media spends countless hours covering invented “scandals” and false “controversies” that do nothing but make things worse, and they ignore the serious benefit they could provide to the public by shining a light into the places where everyday people cannot go. Places that many people are even unaware exist.
So no, I do not want the media to vanish, Mr. Simon, and I think it was a bit of a straw man to frame it that way. I don’t want the media to vanish, nor do I want the police or the congress to vanish. All three are necessary, and all three provide benefits at times. But that doesn’t mean I do not strongly believe that all three are equally responsible for the mess in which we now find ourselves.
Of course, I don’t take every member of the public off the hook either. This fact deserves more than one small note at the end, but obviously we get the government and the media we deserve. I do realize that. Poor choices by the public lead inexorably to poor results. But I can see no reason why the media should be spared the same harsh examination we give to government, business, and the people. And I am a little surprised that you do.
Sorry if I misunderstood what I thought was implied in your complaint.
Hey, no problem. Sometimes I do go on without finding a way to make my specific point. I know I have a habit of using forty words when four would be sufficient.
And thanks for keeping this blog active. I rarely post comments, but I do read it regularly. That you engage makes it all the more valuable.
I’ve watched about two hours of CNN’s coverage of this. They’ve discussed plenty of context. I don’t know what you are talking about.
Hello Mr. Simon,
If you had the time, I was wondering if you might comment on this 1965 essay from the Situationist International in response to the Watts Riots. http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/10.Watts.htm The link is to Ken Knabb’s translation (which for whatever reason is on a cyan background). Apart from Chris Hedges’s latest piece about “The New Black Radicals,” few people seem to be filling in the blanks of anti-capitalist struggle with regard to the civil unrest resulting from extrajudicial executions. I saw your comment about the meeting with Obama, Gingrich, etc. about changing sentencing guidelines. That would be a positive reform.
However, we treat “issues” in isolation and insist on missing the forest for the trees. What do mass incarceration, climate change, and the drone war have in common? A globalized capitalist system controlled by an unaccountable, transnational ruling class. If the goal is to modify conditions within the elitist framework, a riot is a hindrance because it makes the cause look bad. But should that be the goal of leftists, progressives, etc.? By what monstrous act of doublethink can Barack Obama decry the destruction of a CVS when he cavalierly destroyed Libya? The contradictions are endless and absurd and the only way to avoid them is to address the roots of the problem – a hierarchical society based on the production/consumption of commodities and the accumulation of capital by an elite.
Anyway, thank you for your time. I hope you do read the SI piece because it is more articulate than my comment.
How far do you think any of us get railing about an “unaccountable, transnational ruling class.” You might as well be on a soapbox at Speaker’s Corner for all the political effect you can manage with that rhetoric.
I’m just a dumb farm boy from Silver Spring, Md. I’d rather talk about cutting the federal prison population by half, or removing militarized tactics and weaponry from everyday domestic law enforcement, or creating a national databank on police violence, or changing the sentencing guidelines so as to marginalize federal involvement in drug prohibition penalties. You know. Realpolitik. Shit that is actually achievable and specific.
Thanks for responding to my comment. I support all of the things you mentioned and I don’t think those efforts are at all mutually exclusive with an open discussion about the discrepancy between corporate power and the power available to the average citizen or oppressed minorities. Is it too complex to talk about specific policy goals achievable in the short to midterm AND a gradual dismantling of an unjust capitalist system that thrives on resource extraction and war?
I don’t think it’s fundamentally pretentious to talk about the capitalist context for isolated instances of oppression. Maybe my rhetoric is highfalutin. Sorry about that.
[…] Wire creator, David Simon, released a statement on his website calling for the Baltimore rioters to go […]
[…] over Freddie Gray’s death. In his video, Lewis calls for the kids to go home and reiterates what many have said in the wake of these riots: that the city’s systemic problems cannot and will not be cured by […]
[…] Wire creator, David Simon, released a statement on his website calling for the Baltimore rioters to go […]
[…] No, of course not. Do I think the rioters are right to be angry? Yes, I do. David Simon summed it up about as well as any white person could hope […]
Destruction. Wanton pillage. Slicing fire hoses. Throwing cinder blocks at fire trucks. Gangs uniting to attack police. Welcome to downtown America. Sad, but true. If you want to disband the police as a few real lefties preach, can you imagine the end result of all this without them? On and on and on.
But the saddest of it all. Yes, the most heart wrenching of it all, are those black mothers and fathers, who, as a family unit with their children, are trying against seemingly insurmountable odds to live decent, positive, fruitful lives. They both work and put food on the table as they pay their bills. Their kids know right from wrong. They dress and act like humans, not animals. Most importantly, they give advice, and love, and tenderness to their children in the life-long quest most families have: to try to help them have a better life than we. Those are the ones who will be tarred and feathered along with the Crips and other thugs who just destroyed millions of dollars of property. They will be looked at and scorned the same way as those brash-talking criminals will who are right now out bragging what death and destruction they did on the man. It has happened time and time again all over the world. The wild men go nuts, and anyone the same color or religion or even looks the same gets smeared the same way. That’s the worst of it.
That stuff about Bloods and Crips uniting was just bullshit. Back away from the hyperbole trough.
Stereotyping people is simple enough, but what are you accomplishing? Do you not understand that the same vernacular could be used against the average Baltimore police officer, or the average white suburbanite without the slightest empathy for the poor and marginalized? Do you need to shit all over The American Other to feel better about your stance here? Why?
Turn around and go home??? Where have I heard that refrain before, and for how long have my people heard it in this country??? I have great respect for you, Mr.Simon – as an artist and a man of good conscience and deeds. But after reading some of the comments herein, and engaging in that redundant and empty “debate” endorsed, I have come to a different place in mind and soul. I (after 50 futile years of the same empty debate with no real change in sight) and many of my like-minded brethren can see over the horizon – to where the time is rapidly approaching for America’s “chickens” to start coming home to roost. Slowly, but surely.
“We should make efforts. In the Islamic Republic, the great and important feat is that all of us–anyone at any level and with any capability in this regard–should make efforts to introduce original Islam, one that supports the oppressed and that opposes the oppressor,” said the ayatollah. “The youth who live in Europe, America and distant countries become excited about this kind of Islam.”
(-excerpt from a speech delivered on March 12, 2015 by Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution)
[…] Wire creator David Simon wrote a blog post denouncing the violence that followed the Monday funeral of Freddie Gray, who died in police […]
There was a state of emergency in Baltimore long before it was declared yesterday.
I’m continually impressed by your ability to make the words do your bidding. I enjoy it immensely.
I said this last summer and, sadly, I feel like it will always be applicable. Only the places and names are different.
“This is what happens when people are pushed, and pushed, and pushed. The citizens of Missouri have been failed on almost every level by the systems that purportedly exist to support their society.
When the bulwarks of civilization become prison walls, human beings will inevitably, violently lash out.
The chaos in Missouri is not entirely because a policeman shot an unarmed assailant eleven times; that’s just the match tossed atop the decades of dry timber that’s been systematically piling up. While talking heads grotesquely fill 24 hours of programming by debating the appropriate number of shots to fire into an unarmed assailant, there are millions of people being suffocated. Trapped by generations of red lining, depressed wages, failing schools, oppressive bureaucracy, avaricious prisons, a dismissive overclass, and antagonistic police, it’s not surprising that the people are taking to the streets. It’s unfortunate that this incident sparked the protests. The people should have been out protesting every single day before, then, and until.
Protesting. Not looting and burning. Opportunistic assholes make everyone look bad, whether the excuse is a people who feel they have no recourse against a system built to keep them down or a hockey team winning an ultimately meaningless trophy.
The people should be fighting back against the systems that are holding them down. They should be doing it at city hall, and the voting booth, and in the press, and even in the streets. They should be raging against the machine. They have been failed by the police. By the courts. By local government. By state government. And by a weak Federal government. And the fact that Missouri burns right now is both incredibly sad and depressingly expected.
The Morlocks will eat the Eloi when they’re pushed far enough; when they’re hungry enough. That was true before Wells said it and it will be true as long as there are unequal humans. Governor Nixon telling the people to go eat cake, while Confederate racists gleefully donate hundreds of thousands of dollars and stormtroopers lob teargas into people’s front lawns, only exacerbates things. I’m only surprised that there are not more fires. More protests.
All it will take is a Robespierre, or the fictional Destiny Ajaye, before the protests and fires move from the people’s communities to the gated communities.”
[…] wrote a brief post on Monday on his blog “The Audacity of Despair” about the widespread unrest in the city stemming from the death of Freddie Gray, an […]
[…] Wire creator David Simon wrote a blog post denouncing the violence that followed the Monday funeral of Freddie Gray, who died in police […]
[…] Wire creator David Simon wrote a blog post denouncing the violence that followed the Monday funeral of Freddie Gray, who died in police […]
[…] Simon’s stance is the same following Freddie Gray’s death. He strongly criticized the violent reaction on his blog. […]
No se puede acabar con la violencia sin antes acabar con la pobreza.El mundo de las drogas esta relacionado con la pobreza, porque a los que más le afecta son a los abajo.
[…] Simon’s stance is the same following Freddie Gray’s death. He strongly criticized the violent reaction on his blog. […]
[…] Baltimore (The Audacity of Despair — David Simon) […]
My 23 year old daughter reports from Mondawmin, where she and other student teachers joined the clean-up effort: Busload of Anne Arundel riot cops just arrived–and “taking f*king selfies in front of Mondawmin.”
Another teacher told the cops to stop.
County troops on a field trip. Oh boy.
Postcard for the folks back home. Shades of Abu Ghraib.
[…] Simon’s stance is the same following Freddie Gray’s death. He strongly criticized the violent reaction on his blog. […]