Sunday, January 19, 2020
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Youth launch riot over death of Freddie Gray

The area around a mall in northwest Baltimore erupted in violent protests this afternoon over the death of a young black man while he was in police custody. Fliers telling of a “purge” by high school students made the rounds on social media.

Heaven Taylor, 54, holds a sign outside Baltimore City Hall before a protest in honor of Freddie Gray on Saturday, April 25. Gray, 25, was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife on April 12 outside the Gilmor Homes housing project on the city’s west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Mark Makela / Getty Images)

The flier announcing the high school “purge” said it would begin at 3 PM and march into downtown. Unlike protests two days ago, the “purge” was never expected to be a peaceful protest. Knowledge of impending violence forced many businesses, including those inside the historic Lexington Market and T Rowe Price; schools, including the University of Maryland, Baltimore; and the Maryland State Department of Education to shut their doors and send their employees home at about 3 PM.

Several police officers have been reported injured, including one who was reported to be unresponsive, and police and transit vehicles have been reported destroyed. Erica L Green, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun who is stuck in the middle of the mess, perhaps without riot gear herself, tweeted that it was an “all out war between kids and police.”

She went on to tweet that officers were being “pummeled” with bricks and bottles. In some cases, responses to her tweets said some of the police officers were throwing rocks back at the protesters, although there is no independent confirmation of this report.

Friends, neighbors, activists, and government officials from the local level to the White House filled New Shiloh Baptist Church this morning, filing past the open, white coffin with the body of Freddie Gray, who died on April 19. Many people claim his death was wrongful in that police acted brutally and with discrimination toward him while he was in their custody.

In his 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (pp 62-63), the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr wrote that violence often begets more violence. He wrote:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

In 2015, we seem to be in no better a place with respect to racism in America. Have we really learned so little? I was with these protesters—right up until the time when they started hurting people, especially when they took aim at police officers. Just as not every black man is a thug who deserves to be treated brutally by police, not all police officers have a desire to inflict violence on young black men. Yet, we seem to forget this obvious truth time and again.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Freddie Gray. May an eternal light shine upon him. We also wish a speedy and safe recovery to the several law enforcement officers injured in the rioting. May they continue to protect the rights of citizens to peaceably assemble and shine a light on their grievances. We also hope that people and their families who depend on their work as a source of income will not suffer too greatly as a result of downtown Baltimore businesses closing to protect the safety of their employees and customers.

Finally, Baltimore City schools will be closed on Tuesday after the rioting, and trips for proms or other school activities into Baltimore have been cancelled in Howard, Harford, Baltimore, and Anne Arundel counties, the Baltimore Sun reported. We hope these students find a suitable replacement for these opportunities.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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