So just to be clear on this, the riots didn’t start yesterday. Some media sources and observers would suggest that the riots in Baltimore started on 4/27/2015 around noon. However taking a more critical look it’s clear the riot in Baltimore had its genesis much earlier than yesterday. To understand this you must first know the definition of riot. Webster’s has both the noun and the verb definitions. Reviewing the noun version; Webster’s describes a riot as “a tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled together and acting with a common intent.” The verb is just the actual act of participation in the common tumultuous disturbance.
A tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons acting with a common intent actually started in the early 70’s. Shortly after the Kerner Commission released its findings in its 1968 Kerner Report. It’s most quoted line is “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” The findings of the report pointed out specifically that the federal and state government’s failure to establish social policy specifically to furnish blacks in major urban areas with adequate education, employment and economic opportunities would create a chasm in our society. But the Kerner Report just gave basis for understanding the problem facing blacks in urban areas of America. The group of three or more persons took the report, trashed it and its suggestions, and came up with their own common intent to deal with black and brown people in America. So who were those three or more persons and what did they do to act with a common intent?
Starting with the Executive branch of our Federal government under Ronald Reagan in the early 80’s designing and carrying out a war on black and brown people guised under the cover of a “War On Drugs.” This tumultuous disturbance took millions of Black men away from their families, branded them as unemployable, took away their voting rights, turned Black communities into economic deserts and formed the basis for a thug and drug stereotype that still lives on today. Instead of drug prevention and addiction care for crack cocaine, our government declared war and created a windfall for investors in private prisons and probation. Next up in the group of persons acting with a common intent is the local prosecutors and judges who quietly offered Black and Brown people different “justice” from their White counterparts for similar violations of the law. From alternatives to prosecution, to bond amounts, to sentencing, and even when Black and Brown people sought justice for their loved ones killed, they were offered no sanctuary in the courts. And let me not forget the final group is my brothers in blue. They actively patrol and protect citizens in the hoods starkly different than those they patrol and protect in the woods. Methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution is at an all time high yet there are no helicopters flying over the ranches and suburbs where it is. White kids are now opening Cannabis Clubs on main street and are featured on CNN as entrepreneurs carrying cash in duffle bags around while this country jailed and destroyed an entire two generations of black men and women for doing the same thing. There are two types of police patrolling our neighborhoods; those who participate in criminal abuse of discretion and scoff at the protections of due process and equal protection of the Constitution they swore to uphold and those who quietly watch those who participate in the abuse and say nothing. Where are the real police who should lift up a standard?
So I’m not “pissed off” at the out of control teenager looting a store or throwing rocks, whose mother struggled to singlehandedly raise him in an environment purposely stripped of adequate education, employment, and economic opportunities, while his father became the casualty of a system that systematically removed him from them both. I don’t condone his actions, but I understand his frustration. No, my frustration lies with those who chose to ignore the advice from some highly qualified social scientists who participated in the Kerner Report. These teenagers are just the last of the group of three or more persons acting with a common intent and causing a tumultuous disturbance of the public peace, so clearly they didn’t start the riot.
Jonathan Newton is founder and president of the National Association Against Police Brutality.