Even as the riots in Baltimore Monday night left a string of injured bodies and burned businesses, voices on the left were out in public defending the chaos.
Marc Lamont Hill appeared on CNN last night saying we shouldn’t “romanticize peace.” Hill then proceeded to say the very thing that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not say, i.e. that we needed to allow space for people to destroy the city.
“You can’t tell people where to die in, where to resist, how to resist, and how to protest. Now, I do think that there should be an ethics attached to this. But we have to watch our own ethics and be careful not to get more upset about the destruction of property than the destruction of black bodies,” Hill said.
Hill’s warning about “the destruction of black bodies” is a reference to the death of Freddie Gray, a case where alleged police misconduct resulted in a severe injuries to a 25-year-old man, who died a week later. The Baltimore PD still have to answer for that, regardless of what happens in the streets this week. That said, Hill didn’t mention the 15 police officers who were hospitalized yesterday with injuries including broken bones. Presumably some of those broken bodies were also black, but as with most black-on-black violence, those crimes aren’t worth mentioning.
Hill’s defense of the riots was so extreme that Van Jones, the former communist street agitator, actually took issue with it. Calling for moral leadership, Jones said, “I don’t think that property destruction in poor communities that are trying to come back, is a valid form of protest’.”
Marc Lamont Hill wasn’t alone though. At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates also defended the violence:
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.
Coates is a clever writer — which means he is careful not to say outright things which he really believes but which are hard to defend at a respected magazine. So here he calls appeals to nonviolence in Baltimore a “ruse” and a “con.” Ruses and cons are traps, things you avoid. In this instance, he is saying the rioters should avoid them, i.e. should keep rioting. He immediately tempers this advice by saying “none of this can mean that rioting or violence is ‘correct’ or ‘wise’.” But of course he puts “correct” and “wise” in scare quotes to indicate that such judgments are suspect.
Coates has, in the past, written that the essence of racism is treating people as undefined members of a group (i.e. blacks, Asians) rather than as individuals. How does that square with comparing rioters in Baltimore to “a forest fire”? Coates has not only stripped the rioters of individuality but of human agency. Forest fires, after all, don’t make choices they respond to prevailing conditions. This is akin to saying rioters are a plague, and it’s hard to believe Ta-Nehisi Coates would miss the racial connotations of such a statement if it were being made by someone else.
Vox jumped on the bandwagon with a piece titled “The important thing everyone calling for nonviolence in Baltimore fails to say.” Author Dara Lind quotes David Simon (creator of The Wire) saying “this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory.” That’s actually close to what Freddie Gray’s relatives are saying today. But Lind prefers Ta-Nehisi Coates’ take on the situation, the one about the “ruse” and “con” of nonviolence.
Vox followed up that piece with a re-write of Coates entire piece by Ezra Klein. Both Coates and Klein cite the same Baltimore Sun investigation into police brutality and cite the same instances of police abuses. And both articles reach approximately the same conclusion. Klein is even more circumspect than Coates. He doesn’t want to say he thinks riots are justified but he places an image of a burning car under a heading which reads “The bigger cost of police brutality.”
Not to be outdone, Salon published a piece which is even more explicit than Marc Lamont Hill was in its support for riots:
When the free market, real estate, the elected government, the legal system have all shown you they are not going to protect you—in fact, that they are the sources of the greatest violence you face—then political action becomes about stopping the machine that is trying to kill you, even if only for a moment, getting the boot off your neck, even if it only allows you a second of air. This is exactly what blocking off streets, disrupting white consumerism, and destroying state property are designed to do.
Black people know this, and have employed these tactics for a very, very long time. Calling them uncivilized, and encouraging them to mind the Constitution is racist…
The Left still wants to talk about ethical violence or property damage but does so without admitting we’ve already gone beyond that here. How exactly are people throwing bricks at cops supposed to do so ethically? The riot’s defenders don’t have an answer.