The Fine Line Between Insurrection and Riot in Baltimore

Ideas and Issues

26.siNew Orleans   Can we even keep count of the places that police have proven recently that they are out of control in recent months and targeting lower income and African-American communities in our cities?  Certainly there is Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, North Charleston, South Carolina, and now Baltimore, but that list is not exhaustive.  And, in most of those cases the police walked away with hardly a hand slap, essentially killing with impunity behind the shield of the law.

Is this a new problem?  Hardly.   Remember, I call New Orleans home where juries and judges are still trying fix the punishment to the crimes of police killing unarmed African-Americans fleeing the flood waters on Katrina on the Danzinger Bridge.   That’s the topline crime, but the daily problems with police are the bottom line, including the fact that the New Orleans police department is now under Justice Department supervision.  At every annual, big Year End/ Year Begin meeting we would have in New Orleans, we would ask the New Orleans staff to give a standard lecture to the organizers.  They were told that we knew of course that they would visit the French Quarter, but even when, and rarely if, they saw the police hassling or beating someone, they must NOT interfere or they would be arrested.  Organizers being organizers, they heard, but never heeded the warning, so invariably on one or more of the mornings, local staff would be calling lawyers and judges to try to spring an organizer who simply couldn’t walk away from a casual street beating being administered by a cop silently, so was pulled in.

Watkins, an author and native Baltimorean, writing an op-ed in The New York Times after going through a litany of his own experience over a lifetime with police harassment and violence, says it plainly:

The young uprisers of Baltimore have been paying attention to the peaceful protests in Sanford, Florida, Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, only to be let down by the end result, over and over again.  We are all starting to believe that holding hands, following pastors and peaceful protests are pointless.  The only option is to rise up, and force Mayor Rawlings-Blake to make what should be an easy choice:  Stop protecting the livelihoods of the cops who killed Freddie Gray, or watch Baltimore burn to the ground.

There is no question that mayors pay a price in getting their police under control, look at the blowback on Mayor DeBlasio as a case study.  Many, like New Orleans Mayor Landrieu seem to barely pretend they can control their police force and hold their breath that “it doesn’t happen here.”  Too many hold out hope for anointed community leaders or the “names” that parachute in to walk the headlines more than the streets in what a local activist tellingly called the “routinization of charisma,” which is obviously a contradiction in terms and no antidote for either anger or insurrection.

But, that’s the job, and it has to be done.As the Pretenders sang, “there’s a fine line between love and hate.”  When the police protest marches stops and the bricks fly at the blue line and riot gear in situations like these, our cities are the Gaza Strip, and this is insurrection. An uprising is different than a riot.  The anger is held in common, but the targeting goes from the specific to the general, from the police to the nearest whatever happens to be at hand that answers the red hot temper and frustration built to burning rage.

The answer to the innocent victims and collateral damage is not pointed fingers, but firm hands finally taking control of the police and changing their role as occupiers of an alien, unknown power.  Riots peter out like forest fires in the rain, but insurrections remain hot coals capable of quick conflagration until all of the kindling is picked up and put away.

The word is out on the streets now, and it will be heard and won’t be silenced by prayer, protests, or editorials.  Cities need to either control their police and finally change them from a hostile invading force to a community asset or count the days until the fire next time is not later or somewhere else, but here and now.


KRS One “Sound of Da Police” ‌‌