The Riots In Baltimore Aren’t Revolutionary

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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Sophisticated thinkers want you understand that the mayhem unfolding in Baltimore is not a riot. It is an uprising, an intifada, a revolution, whichever hashtag works best for you.

Many quoted John F. Kennedy saying, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Variations of Martin Luther King’s “A riot is the language of the unheard” were also repeated frequently.

Salon published an article — “cross-posted with permission from the blog ‘Radical Faggot'” —  defending the smashing of police cars as a legitimate political strategy. “I do not advocate non-violence — particularly in a moment like the one we currently face,” wrote Benji Hart, latter adding “Non-violence is a type of political performance designed to raise awareness and win over sympathy of those with privilege.”

Slate magazine tweeted out a story complaining that “CNN’s coverage of the Baltimore riots was shallow and sensationalistic,” capped with a “Baltimore uprising” hashtag.

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates complains the “people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer” questions about 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s unexplained death at the hands of the police. “Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm,” Coates writes, in comments Vox described as “The most important thing everyone calling for nonviolence in Baltimore fails to say.”

Coates’ essay was titled, “Nonviolence as compliance.”

This type of commentary is nothing new. As Ferguson smoldered, Time published “In Defense of Rioting.” Author Darlena Cunha wrote, “Riots are a necessary part of the evolution of society.” Cunha went on to point out that the tea party was named after a riot in Boston.

But the American Revolution didn’t culminate in the colonists burning down Lexington and Concord. If anything, Baltimore resembles the ugliest phases of the French revolution. “The revolution is here!” Reuters quotes a demonstrator shouting at police officers. “I’m going to kill you! All of you — guilty!”

Parts of Baltimore have never recovered from the 1968 riots. Some of the businesses serving black residents of Baltimore that were ransacked and ruined in the latest upheaval will never reopen. Some of these buildings will likely remain boarded up for years.

Freddie Gray’s killing may well have been unjust and part of a broader pattern of law enforcement lawlessness in communities of color, just as Martin Luther King’s murder was surely unjust and part of Jim Crow’s last gasps. But the riots that followed the latter did nothing to improve those communities or lift their residents out of poverty. There is no reason to think the fire this time will be any different.

Instead, the riots accelerated the trends collapsing Baltimore’s tax base and perpetuated the cycle of violence. Gray’s neighborhood has a 52 percent unemployment rate among those aged 16 to 64, which cannot be solved by trashing a shoe store or burning down a CVS. The people romanticizing the violence in Baltimore are complicit in the city’s decline.

Revolutions are judged by their results, not their intentions.

“When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse,” writes Coates.

Are reporters covering what’s going on in the streets of Baltimore the aggressor? Is a store owner who is pulled from his business and stomped on the sidewalk the aggressor? Is a woman in a wheelchair who suddenly finds herself in the path of projectiles the aggressor? Are immigrant grocers the aggressor?

You don’t need much institutional power to smash someone’s head with a liquor bottle. And the power structure should be at least somewhat affected by the fact Baltimore’s mayor, police commissioner and a majority of the city council are black, just like the president of the United States and the U.S. attorney general.

Liberals have run Baltimore since the 1960s. The city hasn’t had a Republican mayor since Nancy Pelosi’s brother replaced Theodore McKeldin in 1967. How many of Baltimore’s problems can be solved by giving these same liberals more money and power?

Americans need to know the truth about what happened to Freddie Gray. Why was he arrested and what led to his death in police custody? But there is nothing revolutionary about yet even more self-defeating violence in a city with the country’s fifth-highest murder rate.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.