Friday, May 01, 2015

Well, It's a Start (And It's Due to Rioting)

Freddi Grey's death has been officially declared a homicide. The finding of homicide is not that big of a deal in and of itself (nor that unanticipated), as in this specific context the use of the term "homicide" simply means his death was ruled as not due to natural causes. Many in-custody deaths are labeled homicides yet no further action is taken nor is anyone punished for it. Really, a more accurate label would be to call them "death from something other than natural causes," but that doesn't really roll off the tongue as well.

The much, much bigger news is that 6 officers are being charged with crimes. The driver of the wagon, likely the most responsible for Grey's injuries, is being charged with second-degree murder, while 5 other officers face a range of charges including manslaughter and assault. While the cynic and the academic in me are quick to caution that charges are a far cry from convictions (and I would be willing to bet a very large sum of money on the charges being reduced at some point in the process, likely as part of a plea deal), this is still a huge victory for the people of Baltimore, and really all people everywhere horrified by our racist criminal justice system.

That police officers are rarely charged for what are obvious crimes is not something that even needs citation at this point (Eric Garner, for instance, was murdered on camera by an officer using a banned chokehold and nothing came of it), so again, the very existence of charges is meaningful.

But what's also meaningful is why the charges came about. Obviously we can't actually speak to the non-existent counterfactual situation in which Grey's death did not result in widespread demonstrations and some rioting. However, even the state's attorney, Marilyn Mosby pointed out in her press conference announcing the charges:
“To the people of Baltimore: I heard your call for ‘no justice no peace’,” Mosby said at a Baltimore press conference. Praising young people who had taken to the streets to protest over Gray’s death, she said: “I will seek justice on your behalf.
Granted, this is likely in part due to the ever-present need of politicians to capitalize on whichever way the winds are blowing, but it is instructive that she felt the need to cite the unrest as one reason the charges came about. And as many have pointed out, it's pretty difficult to believe anything would have come from this if not for those pesky riots. Riots which supposedly "accomplish nothing."

Even more interestingly, a surprising voice weighed in on behalf of those rioting and looting and how those actions are a very legitimate display of anger and frustration toward an oppressive and unjust regime. Here's what none other than villain-from-central-casting Donald Rumsfeld had to say about the events of Baltimore:
"While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime," he said. "And I don't think there's anyone in any of those pictures ... (who wouldn't) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom."
Rumsfeld was unusually exercised about critical press coverage of the lawlessness...saying coverage is repetitive and distorts what's really going on.

"I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny –- 'The sky is falling.' I've never seen anything like it!" Rumsfeld exclaimed. "The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases?'" 
Of course, ol' Rummy was actually talking about the rioting and looting in Baghdad following the fall of Saddam Hussein (I'm guessing he would not be quite so generous toward the people of Baltimore nor as critical of the media there). And yet, the sentiment is pretty dead on: when an unjust system continues to murder with no remorse, we should probably expect some anger about ti to bubble up sooner or later...

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