Baltimore: A Rumpus Roundup


On April 12th, four Baltimore bicycle police arrested 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

Gray sustained injuries while in police custody. He asked for medical assistance repeatedly before slipping into a coma. A week later, he died.

Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake insists Gray should have received medical attention sooner and launched an investigation. The federal government also launched an investigation to see if any civil rights violations occurred.

The arrest was videotaped. Gray is not seen resisting arrest and police are not physically violent.

Gray’s injuries are more likely to have come from a “Nickel Ride,” a punishment doled out by police during transport: Prisoners are not strapped in. The vehicle then speeds up and stops quickly, causing injury to the prisoner. There are no video cameras inside transport vans.

Six officers involved in the arrest and holding of Gray have been suspended.

Gray allegedly was in possession of a concealed switchblade. Concealed weapons are illegal in Maryland, however, laws prohibiting “gravity knives” are commonly applied by police incorrectly in order to make arrests.

Eric Garner. Michael Brown. And now Freddie Gray.

Gray’s death led to protests: protests against police violence, against racist policing, against a white majority oppressing people of color with the power of the law. A crowd gathered in protest outside of the Western District precinct. (Until this week, the Western District was better known as the setting for The Wire.)

Protests continued through the week. Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan sent state police to the city and the city itself called up 3,000 riot police. The heavy police presence lead to conflicts with protesters and at least a dozen were arrested, including journalists.

Gray’s funeral was held on Monday.

The city exploded.

Thousands marched peacefully, but violence quickly erupted. Stores were looted. Police threw rocks at protesters. Fires were started. One protester even punctured the fire hose being used to douse a blaze. The Baltimore Orioles postponed a home game.

The events of Monday night have caused an increasingly escalating police response. The Los Angeles police department has sent officers to Baltimore. The National Guard has been called. A curfew has been issued for the whole week.

The protests have raised questions. The violence has raised more.

Orioles owner John P. Angelos offered a surprisingly enlightened view suggesting the blame lies with the economic devastation of the city and militarization of the police. He isn’t the only one.

People like Freddie Gray’s twin sister are of course calling for an end to violence. So are celebrities like David Simon, creator of The Wire. Simon, it is perhaps worth noting, is white.

But violence in Baltimore is the culmination of a history of police violence alongside unkept promises of reform, explains Belén Fernández at Al Jazeera America.

The Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a damning rejection of nonviolence:

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.

Benji Hart echoes a similar sentiment at Salon:

Non-violence is a type of political performance designed to raise awareness and win over sympathy of those with privilege. When those on the outside of struggle—the white, the wealthy, the straight, the able-bodied, the masculine—have demonstrated repeatedly that they do not care, are not invested, are not going to step in the line of fire to defend the oppressed, this is a futile political strategy. It not only fails to meet the needs of the community, but actually puts oppressed people in further danger of violence.

For now, the city remains under a state of emergency.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →