Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Letter 19 - The Burning of Baltimore

As I have watched the city of Baltimore burn over the past two days, once again displaying images of a savage and uncivilized United States across international media outlets across the globe, I decided that there are some issues here that are worthy of discussion for you.  It is quite evident as I write this that the United States is quite polarized concerning economic capital, political views and race, and the question often forms in my mind whether that polarization will continue to deepen, as it is at times obviously purposely incited by media and other outlets, or whether American society will develop methods, reform or reformations to relieve and deescalate polarization and better society by the time your children are born and raised.

The current rioting and destruction in Baltimore is loosely based on the death of a 25 year-old black American male named Freddy Gray.  While I do not place much stock in main stream American media, on April 21 2015 ABC reported a timeline of events pertaining to the arrest, and eventual death, of Freddy Gray:

“Sunday, April 12 8:39 a.m.: Police said officers were working in a West Baltimore area with a history of violence and drug deals, and a man, later identified as Gray, was seen at the corner of North Avenue and Mount Street.  The officers approached the man, who then fled on foot, but the reason for the approach remains a part of the ongoing police investigation, police said.  8:40 a.m.: A police officer was heard telling dispatch that officers had one person at 1700 Presbury Street, two blocks south of North and Mount, police said.  8:42 a.m.: A “wagon,” or van, was requested for transport, according to Baltimore police, and that Gray asked for an inhaler.  8:46 a.m.: The driver of the van believes Gray is acting “irate,” police say. An officer asks the van to stop so the paperwork can be completed, according to Baltimore police. At this point, Gray is taken out of the vehicle, placed in leg irons and then put back in the van, police said.  8:54 a.m.: The vehicle cleared Mount Street, heading toward central booking, police said.  8:59 a.m.: A request was made by the driver of the van for an additional "unit" to check on Gray, police say. There was some undisclosed communication with Gray at this point.  9:23 a.m.: Emergency medical services directed a technician to respond for an injured patient, as heard on a recording of the call that was publicly released.  9:24 a.m.: Police officers requested paramedics to the Western District to transport the man to an area hospital. In a subsequent charging document, police said, “During transport to Western District via wagon transport the Defendant suffered a medical emergency and was immediately transported to Shock Trauma."  9:37 a.m.: On-scene medical responders said Gray was not breathing, according to EMS reports. Thursday, April 16: Gray was said to be in a coma by his attorney.   Sunday, April 19:  7:00 a.m.: Gray died. A vigil has been scheduled for this evening and the six officers involved have all been placed on paid leave.” [1]

The first problem with this scenario is that the officers involved were suspended “with” pay.  If there was enough evidence to suspend an officer of law, then “with pay” should not have been an option.  It should never be an option when police break the law, when police commit sexual assault, or when police break the trust placed in them by the state and the people.  They are to serve the people, not oppress, extort, injure or take advantage of the people.  I understand the extremely difficult and dangerous situations that American police deal with on a daily basis and I respect the majority of them for it, as there are horrible elements of humanity in our society, but at the same time when a human is invested with the power to take a another’s freedom, has taken an oath to uphold law and justice and to protect the masses, and even hold the legal position take another person’s life (if the situation warrants it)….I believe that police officers should be held to the highest level of penalty for any unjust or illegal actions whether that is corruption or excessive brutality, any other infringement or civilized law or against basic universal human rights.  We have seen various cases of police brutality and outright police murder (Oscar Scott’s murder comes to mind) over the past decades, and we have also seen an increase in hostility and mistrust toward all police elements from vast percentages of minority communities in America, most specifically by the young and disenfranchised.  While there are indeed negative issues within police departments throughout the United States, there are also major social problems in the culture of the United States and we, as Americans, have yet to truly look in the mirror and assess our current condition with rationale, with realization of the negative trends we have developed, and react to improve ourselves.

The cell phone video footage taken by a witness of the Freddy Gray arrest doesn’t seem to begin with the original ‘suspect’ apprehension point and there is a verbal mention of Gray being tasered prior to the beginning of the footage by the person filming the footage.  Either the footage started after the apprehension point or main stream media is misrepresenting the footage, in which I am unable to offer an opinion.

The information on how Gray’s neck was broken, ultimately causing his death, has not been officially released (and we may never know the truth of what happened).  He looked functional on the original entry into the arrest van during the film footage, but there is also mention in the ABC report of Gray being removed from the van after an act of being irate, having leg restraints applied and placed back into the van.  Could the broken neck have occurred at that point, possibly due to police throwing him back in, or at the original time of apprehension?  There is a possibility that those facts will never be known in truthful entirety.  Gray has a long list of arrests, some of which were typical under the private sector-profiting “war on drugs” while a few of the arrests show a negative trend toward self- and community destruction.

Gray Arrest Record:

“March 20, 2015: Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance.  March 13, 2015: Malicious destruction of property, second-degree assault.  January 20, 2015: Fourth-degree burglary, trespassing.  January 14, 2015: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute.  December 31, 2014: Possession of narcotics with intent to distribute.  December 14, 2014: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance.  August 31, 2014: Illegal gambling, trespassing.  January 25, 2014: Possession of marijuana.  September 28, 2013: Distribution of narcotics, unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance, second-degree assault, second-degree escape.  April 13, 2012: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance, violation of probation.  July 16, 2008: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession with intent to distribute.  March 28, 2008: Unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance.  March 14, 2008: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to manufacture and distribute.  February 11, 2008: Unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance.  August 29, 2007: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, violation of probation.  August 28, 2007: Possession of marijuana.  August 23, 2007: False statement to a peace officer, unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance.  July 16, 2007: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance (2 counts).” [Maryland Department of Justice]

The Isolation Process and the War on Drugs:

Let’s analyze a few things concerning these reported arrests.  If Freddy Gray was 25 in 2015, that places him at approximately 17 at the time of his first reported arrest.  Was this another lower economic young man influenced by glamorized Hollywood images such as ‘The Wire’ or modern so-called Hip Hop?  We do not know, because we did not know him as an individual person, nor in reality would we probably want to due to his recorded history.  But there are some things we can study here.  I tell you now and from experience that drugs, whether one’s opinion on whether drugs are harmless or bad, are a sure shot way to closing opportunities for advancement in society, becoming isolated from advancement in society and an eventual destination inside the private prison system or the grave.  When the police make mention of ‘high drug areas’, they usually are referring to lower economic areas.  Yet, our young men in this country are foolish, uneducated and often influenced by the self-destructive so-called entertainment industry to think they can carry drugs in public or in automobiles at all hours of the night (which will eventually result in a random police stop and arrest).  It doesn’t matter what people think.  Drugs are illegal in this republic, and nothing good can come of being arrested for drug possession or distribution.  The largest misconception by young people in the United Sates is that they have been hoodwinked into thinking that they live in a free country.  There is no such thing, and certainly not in the United States.  Yes, you can make choices that people in other countries are not allowed to make, like will I work today or not, or will I go to the bar tonight or visit my kids, but you are not free as no society throughout history has ever been free of laws and structure.  How do drug arrests impact society and individuals of lower economic society?  You must study the so-called war on drugs that was implemented in the early 1980s.  This was a massive privatization scheme aimed to develop private prison systems on the stock market and has advanced over the past three decades into a massive laundering process of taxpayer’s money into private sector coffers.  The private sector prison system basically works as follows:  At some point during the late 1980s, individual states stopped building state owned prison systems and privately owned prison systems began to rapidly increase in number, while tougher drug law sentences were implemented across the United States.  As drug arrest incarcerations began to spike, the state prison systems could not house the inflow of inmates (under tougher drug sentences and a growing population) and individual states were required to house the increasing overflow of detainees in private prison facilities instead of overcrowded state facilities at maximum levels.  The state, using taxpayer dollars, were required to pay the private sector prison corporations for each inmate housed and fed in those private prisons (per day).  The so-called war on drugs and the private prison system in the United States is something that should be mercilessly taught to the children of lower economic communities and all American youth.  As the United States continues to compile an unrealistic amount of national debt (due to domestic policies of subsistence, excessive DOD spending, and two of the most expensive nation-building processes in history (Iraq and Afghanistan)), recent trends of incarcerating non-violent criminals for drug related charges have been drastically loosened because the individual states are unable to afford such high incarceration levels at private sector pricing under trickle down budget cuts.  One last point concerning the so-called war on drugs is that a high incarceration rate in the United States actually diminishes the true unemployment rate in the United States, as it is actually much higher than statistics show.  The prison industry itself creates jobs.

Gray’s arrest record, if accurate, shows an increase in criminal activity that begins with narcotics and ends in 2015 with alleged burglary and assault (not that the circumstances of those events are documented to my knowledge).  Perhaps this young man was one of the many socially and economically isolated young men in society with no technical skills, no education, and a criminal record and was facing hopeless circumstances.  Maybe he was simply an uncivilized thug.  The point of this letter is not to judge, but to discuss and learn from.  We have talked about the importance of technical skills and/or trade skills in previous conversations, and this is one of the most important forms of value for a person in society that possesses no capital.  Remember that in a capitalist society, one must have capital to generate capital….and a person with no capital only has his own labor to generate capital.  When considering education, it is not the degree or the systematic process that is important.  Self-education is a vital process to develop one’s understanding of society and sociology, history and current events, political systems and processes, capital, and many other areas which dictate a person’s thoughts, actions, goals and planning.  If a person only listens to self-destructive rap music or watches dancing with the Stars, that person’s thought process will be just as shallow or self-destructive as those things that he or she concentrates on.  Out of all areas within the United States, it is the lower economic communities that should be engaged in self-education and determination…as self-education not only improves oneself, but their children through the knowledge of the parent.  It is difficult to break a vicious cycle because when a parent is uneducated or uninvolved, a child is left vulnerable to the next negative cycle development.  Last, but not least, the arrest record.  All people, especially the young male or female in society, make mistakes and bad judgments in life under various circumstances, but continual degradation of situation and risk further isolates a person with each arrest until finally there is no possibility of a future left.

The Futility of Destruction and True Value:

Over the past few days, violence has erupted in the city of Baltimore and buildings burned to the ground.  Indeed, the corporate advertisers have been extremely happy as the nation has tuned in to the national news networks to watch the destruction.  Similar to Ferguson and other areas that have erupted in violence, original peaceful protests were at some point aggravated into violence which began to channel and release deeply rooted anger, resentment and outrage over social, racial and economic conditions that exist in American cities.  Internet supporters of the Baltimore violence claim that the violence will get national attention that will bring needed change to these pent up issues, but I disagree with these sentiments.  Burning down buildings in a community only hurts that community, and many people in the American black community have openly voiced this common sense.  One problem that should be identified with this realization is that when the sentiment is stated that “the rioting and looting is only destroying black communities”, it hints at taking the destruction to other communities and that simply points to a much larger racial divide than may be in existence.  The size of the racial divide in the United States is a topic up for debate, and I will not engage it in this letter, but I often see a great promise in what the United States could someday be.  At the same time, I would be a liar if I said I have not come across statements of hatred from white Americans, as well as black Americans.  In any case, the destruction of community during rioting has many flaws and is not a form of power in my opinion.  First, when you burn businesses to the ground it takes services and jobs from the community.  In Baltimore, a CVS was burned to the ground.  The owners of the CVS were not “taught a lesson of power” by this destruction nor did it hurt the state establishment in any manner, as it is common sense that those businesses are fully insured.  The corporate owner will be paid in full through an insurance claim for that particular destroyed store and will probably choose not to re-open in that area, utilizing his capital to a better area of town.  What many American people do not realize is that when a lower economic community is riddled with drugs, violence and crime….these negative elements assist in capital flight (meaning a draining of remaining capital in that particular lower economic community).  Businesses close down and do not re-open, which results in job loss and less taxation to be reinvested into the community, streets, schools), and no intelligent business owner is going to open a new business and create jobs in a high crime area outside of liquor shops or pawn shops, and even those businesses that were possibly foreign owned have American insurance policies in case of destruction.  What else was senselessly destroyed in Baltimore?  A laundry mat was destroyed, which was probably pretty important in a lower economic community for those without a washing machine.  A senior center for old people was burned and destroyed (man, rioters, way to stick it to the man on that one!).  Apartment buildings were destroyed (in which the people who lived there now have no place to live any longer, but the building owners have insurance).  Lastly, there is the subject of looting and stealing from those destroyed stores and this lack of discipline is what separates the individualistic United States from states like Egypt, whose people united peacefully to remove a dictator from power during the original Arab Spring.  It seems that in America, no true cause can be undertaken by the people before a good majority of people begin looting and grappling for individual gain (like the animalistic images from the annual Black Friday at Wal-Mart).  What has been occurring in Baltimore is simply destruction and the sad part about it is that it is incited and carried out by those that have no true understanding of the destruction, no desire to improve society during times of calm, and no historical knowledge of Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Banneker , George Washington Carver, WEB DeBois, the evolution of Malcolm X after Mecca, the speeches of King, Harriet Jacobs, the various economic and political levels of American slavery and American segregation and the ramifications of those periods, or any of the other great peoples that changed history for the better by rising up and reforming the system with the goal of bettering society in a positive manner.  There are those that have recently made statements such as “people power”, but mass violence (the hurting of others) and the mass destruction of communities is not power.  Knowledge of self and knowledge of one’s surrounding systems will open avenues of power and positive reform within the system.  Self-education is true power and creates more value in self-determination than any materials that can be purchased from capital, or destroyed.

[1] Katherine Faulders.  2015.  Timeline of How Freddie Gray's Arrest Unfolded in Baltimore a Week Before His Death.  ABC News, April 21, 2015.  http://abcnews.go.com/US/timeline-freddie-grays-arrest-unfolded-baltimore-week-death/story?id=30479617


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