The Riot, the Police and Some Music

I spend a lot of time on a web forum devoted to a certain great musician. Because some of the site’s visitors have ties to Baltimore, the riots and the effect they’re having on the city are being discussed — in a thread supposedly devoted to something else. Emotions obviously run high in such situations, which partly explains why one person who says he lives in Baltimore called for “the police and National Guard to show no mercy”.

I didn’t want to get into this topic on a musician’s website, but it eventually seemed necessary to add another point of view:


Since what’s been happening in Baltimore keeps being discussed, here’s something from The Atlantic:

Justice demands that participants in the riots are identified, arrested, and charged with whatever crimes they committed. Their unjustifiable violence endangered innocents, destroyed businesses, and harmed the economic future of largely black neighborhoods; they earned the frustrated contempt of Baltimore’s mayor and members of its clergy and strengthened the hand of the public-safety unions that are the biggest obstacles to vital policing reforms.

But a subset of Baltimore police officers has spent years engaged in lawbreaking every bit as flagrant as any teen jumping up and down on a squad car, however invisible it is to CNN. And their unpunished crimes have done more damage to Baltimore than Monday’s riots. Justice also requires that those cops be identified and charged, but few are demanding as much because their brutality mostly goes un-televised. Powerless folks are typically the only witnesses to their thuggery. For too long, the police have gotten away with assaults and even worse. The benefit of the doubt conferred by their uniforms is no longer defensible.

I didn’t realize until today that putting handcuffed suspects in the back of police vans without strapping them in and then driving with sudden stops and starts and making sharp turns so that the suspects get bounced around is common enough in cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia to have been given names like “rough ride” and “nickel ride”.

People have been paralyzed and otherwise injured in both cities and won millions of dollars in damages. The investigation isn’t over, but it’s reasonable to assume that this is how Freddie Grey had his spine and larynx destroyed while he was driven around the city in the back of a police van, before he fell into a coma and died.

The Atlantic article concludes:

I believe it is as necessary now as it was in 1968 [when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about such things] to simultaneously insist upon the following: that riots are to be condemned; that they are inextricably bound up with injustices perpetrated by the state; and that it is a moral imperative for us to condemn both sorts of violence.

The whole article [by Conor Friedensdorf], which isn’t very long, is here.

The Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke, “Stand By Me Father”, the early 60s

Ben E. King, “Stand By Me”, 1961


Well, it’s a music site so it seemed best to stay somewhat on topic.