Dear John,

Because you requested that I provide my take on two of the observations you included in a comment to my post, Condemning the Baltimore Rioters? Try Channeling Miko Peled Instead, I thought it appropriate to elevate the discussion to a new post. As you noted, blog postings are supposed to be about discussion. If a participant in the discussion is an elected official, the discussion should be made as visible as it can be.


Before responding to your specific request, I’ll provide some background and make a few observations of my own. 

The post which generated your comments was about trying to understand the Baltimore riots from the perspective of the rioters. I used the example of Miko Peled to give readers the idea of how this works in its most extreme form. Peled, for those who didn’t read the post, lost his niece to a Palestinian suicide bomber, and reacted by immersing himself in what would drive a young man to take his own life that way. I don’t think I personally would have the internal strength to do what Peled did, but I do believe his approach is to be emulated in less extreme situations.

One commenter, TS, engaged in the exercise I proposed. He relayed an interesting explanation of what sometimes is taking place when stores are looted for food and other necessities. He even demonstrated empathy, stating flat-out: “Some looters in New Orleans were in need of insulin to treat their diabetes, without it they would die, can we understand that? I would certainly loot under those circumstances.”

And TS was careful to qualify his vignette as not an explanation of all looting.

But it didn’t matter.

The response of other commenters, including you, John, was to justify the condemnation of rioters.

What’s the point in that? Of course there are things to condemn. In these situations, there always will be opportunists who use the occasion to benefit themselves. There always will be misdirected anger.

But if you obsess over condemning those who qualify for condemnation, you’ve accomplished zero in terms of understanding the dynamics of the situation and what can be done to take us off the ugly path we clearly are headed down. This may be hard for you to understand, John, but try. If the focus of our attention is to condemn the actions of Black residents of Baltimore, it will make it more likely, rather than less likely, that a racist cop in Kansas City or Philadelphia will kill a Black kid next month.

I agree that blog postings are supposed to be about discussion, but I disagree with you regarding the form that discussion should take. In my mind, the discussion should be proactive — that is, we bring our ideas to the table to enlighten others. You seem to think the discussion is reactive: “I need you to enlighten me by giving me your take on my observations.” I’m going to indulge your request, but if you want a real understanding, asking me for help in the comment section of a blog is not the way to go about it. There are books I can recommend in this area that you should read, but I can’t in the space of a comment impart to you even 1% of what’s in those books.

If you’re interested, for starters, I’d recommend The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, by Chris Hedges. If you need a teaser, I’ll tell you that both Hedges and Alexander have very unflattering things to say about Democratic politicians.

Regarding the proactive versus the reactive model, compare what you, I and TS each brought to the table. Although the approach I suggested in my post was not novel, I think the context in which I presented it, using Miko Peled as an example, was new information to at least some readers. Same for TS. He shared a perspective that I found interesting and that I’d never considered in the context in which he presented it. Then you jumped in and told us that President Obama and the Mayor of Baltimore had condemned the rioters. And you informed TS that his explanation of looting could not be applied universally, something he had acknowledged up front in his comment. Sorry, but I learned nothing about the subject of the riots from any of your comments. (I did learn a little about you, however)

That’s not to say I’m rejecting your comments because your views differ from my own. Although I don’t think he acquitted himself well in this comment thread, I’ve found very useful information in Steve’s comments, and he generally shares your views, not mine, politically.

On this topic, there are contributions for those on your side of the political spectrum to make. Ross Douthat in his column today makes thought-provoking points about the role police unions have had in creating the situation we face today. Do I agree entirely with Douthat? No. But I’m glad he wrote what he did and I’m glad I took the time to read it.

Although I didn’t find any new information in your comments directly, I actually did learn a bit about you from your comments.

In one comment, you actually asked for an explanation of how “throwing rocks and bottles at the police” fit the narrative of understanding the riots from the perspective of the rioters. I found that stunning. I’ll repeat my reply here to save readers the trouble of linking back to it:

You can’t even grasp how “throwing bottles and rocks at the police” fits the narrative? Really? The police are terrorizing poor neighborhoods, John, not just in Baltimore, but nationwide. And one reason this is happening is that legislators have cut taxes to the point where cities and towns are using fines and traffic tickets to make up for the cut in revenue sharing from the state. That’s what the Justice Department unearthed in Ferguson. And that’s contributed to the atmosphere in those cities and towns that has led to the death of Black citizens at the hands of the police. So, one could argue that if legislators had acted more responsibly, a few of those deaths may have been avoided.

In one of her comments, John, Donna tried to enlighten you about the “rough ride” tactic, which has been used by Baltimore cops for a decade. You acknowledged that the cops who did this should be prosecuted and punished, which I appreciate. But the problem goes so much deeper than that, John. On two previous occasions, Baltimore residents were paralyzed as a result of this tactic. Both collected millions in damages from the city, as well they should have. Yet the tactic continued. And it even continued on the heels of Ferguson, New York, Cleveland and North Charleston.

But I suspect what Donna was getting at here, John, was not the criminal nature of “rough ride” but what it says about our society. I’d put it next to the gross misuse of Tasers, a tactic commonly employed in North Charleston. John, these are tactics reminiscent of those used in the South in the early ’60’s and before. They’re not unlike some of the disgusting tactics used by the Israeli police today in the West Bank. But should we be hearing about their use in America in 2015?

So, yeah, those kids in Baltimore threw rocks and bottles at the police. I know you think that should be condemned, but where do you start the clock in your condemnation? Freddie Gray’s death was not some one-off event. Black kids and young adults have been losing their lives on the streets of Baltimore at the hands of the police for years. Condemn the bottle throwing if you want, but at least ask yourself, John, how many would have to die or suffer serious injuries at the hands of the Baltimore police before you would understand the urge to throw a bottle?

You made two observations, which I’ll repeat here for the convenience of readers:

Two observations on condemning the rioters:
1. It was ok for both sides to condemn the rioters (Fox News, President Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake among many others) until a liberal commentator declared it non-PC and the mayor and many liberals retreated from the statement. You have to wonder how much of that reaction was true re-examination of the position versus politics.
2. Are the rioters oppressed, at least politically, given that the city government, city attorney and police leadership are all black? How can a group in political control be oppressed, at least politically oppressed? What dynamic is happening there?

Here’s my take, as you requested:

Regarding observation #1: You’ve turned the “political correctness” problem here on its head. President Obama’s and the Mayor of Baltimore’s condemnation of the rioters reflects what has traditionally been the politically correct thing to do. My own reaction was: “Of course they’re rioting. The only thing that’s surprising is that it’s taken as long as it has for a riot to erupt. And if we keep sweeping murders of Black citizens at the hands of the police under the rug, there will be worse riots to come.” Whose reaction was politically correct, mine or Obama’s? What happened here is that the “liberal commentator” didn’t “declare it non-PC.” Rather, he called BS on what has been considered PC. As for re-examination by Obama and the Mayor, you’ve assumed that their first statements were a true reflection of their beliefs. You may be right, but I think that’s no less speculative than my belief that their first statements were canned lines that all politicians, left and right, have used in this context for decades. Only this time, some people, myself included, called the use of those canned lines into question.

Regarding observation #2: This observation says a lot about how you see the world, but not all that much about the world itself. You literally framed the problem of oppression, John, as “the Blacks against the Whites.” Wow! The problems here are systemic. They transcend any election and any elected (or appointed) official. If you want a glimpse of the systemic nature of the problem in Baltimore, check out Max Blumenthal’s piece here. I doubt this is true John, but your comment suggests that you, as a legislator, look at your job through the lens of being White. Assuming you don’t, why do you think those elected in Baltimore look at their jobs through the lens of being Black? What do you think they would be doing to lift the oppression of Blacks that a White person in the same job would not do? Did you mean to imply that White elected officials have a mindset of oppressing Blacks? If you want to understand the realities of the oppression, John, I’d again refer you to Michelle Alexander. The oppression is real, and electing Blacks to high office, by itself, does nothing to change that reality. Nor should we logically expect it to.

What we’re seeing here, John, very well could be the beginnings of a revolution. At some point, the concentration of wealth and income will bring that result. There are no immutable laws here that tell us precisely how much wealth and how much income we can cram into the top before the bottom explodes, but we do know that at some point that bottom will explode. Chris Hedges speaks to that possibility here, if you’re interested.

Truth is, John, you’re entirely free to reject everything I say. After all, you’ve won all or most or your elections, and I lost the only time I tried. So, you get to call the shots here. If you want to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, I can’t stop you. If you want to build prisons and stock them full of people of color, I can’t stop you. If you want to force cities and towns to resort to petty fines, traffic stops, and civil forfeitures to fund their budgets, I can’t stop you. And if you want to blame the oppressed for their reaction to the oppression, I can’t stop you. Heck, you can even use that reaction to justify further oppression. I can’t stop you there, either. You even could impose stiffer sentences for participation in riots. After all, if you can incarcerate all the Blacks, you won’t have any more riots to worry about, right? Oh wait, if all the Blacks are in prison, you won’t be able to rip them off with petty fines in order to offset the tax cuts you gave to your wealthy patrons, and those private prison contracts are expensive. Oh, but you’ll figure that part out.

All the best,