In the wake of the riots in Baltimore, Crystal A. deGregory, historic black colleges and universities (HBCU) expert, college professor, radio personality, and founder of the HBCUStory Symposium,posted a Facebook status that speaks in a very down-to-earth manner addressing those misguided individuals who want to lump all African-American protests together:
"Baltimore ain't no New York. New York ain't no Ferguson. Ferguson ain't no Miami. Miami ain't no Jena. Jena ain't no Selma. Selma wasn't no Freedom Summer Mississippi. [Freedom Summer] wasn't no March on Washington. The March on Washington wasn't no Freedom Ride. The Freedom Rides weren't no sit-ins. The sit-ins weren't no bus boycotts. Montgomery Bus Boycott wasn't no Little Rock...."
Now what does that mean. Well, what deGregory is trying to say is we do not have to compare every "black people are angry" situation to the next, especially when we don't take into consideration the reason why a particular case of unrest occurred in the first place. I bring this up because as the world turns its attention to the death of Freddie Gray, many people are trying to compare the Walter Scott murder that happened in North Charleston a month ago.
Yes, a black man died at the hands of the police in both instances, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. In the case of Scott, we have footage of the crime being committed. Putting aside the fact that the former North Charleston officer apparently lied about what happened that fateful day (and how that lie would have sufficed had there been no video evidence to suggest otherwise), the video allowed for charges to be brought, bond to be denied, and a city to temporarily move on until more information is received.
Now compare that to what happened to Freddie Gray.
Because no video has been released showing what happened in the police van after Gray was placed in it, we have been forced to take the Baltimore police at their word — and many don't believe what they have to say, including Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby. As a result, anger has taken up residence in the minds and hearts of a Baltimore public that already has a deep distrust of law enforcement, and that anger is now spilling out into the streets.
I've seen many in the black community speak on the subject of riots. These people generally say that riots are dumb because these people are "burning down their own." Sometimes they point out that riots are a waste of time because they don't really solve anything. Many are also quick to refer to Dr. Martin Luther King and his non-violent acts of civil disobedience as an example of how protestors should conduct themselves.
On the other hand, I've seen many of my people salute the rioters. These individuals believe that the only way to stop a bully is to punch a bully right in the face. Instead of quoting Dr. King, they hold up Malcolm X as their icon of choice. "By any means necessary" is their battle cry, and they scream it at the top of their lungs (or, more realistically, from behind passionately crafted tweets and Facebook updates). It is these people that North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Chief Eddie Driggers had in mind when they swiftly acted after Feiden Santana's video went viral.
I certainly understand the desire for peace. And I understand that in most instances riots only lead to destruction and very rarely to the revolutions the protestors hope to catalyze. Even still, my sympathy lies with those rioting in the streets. Let me explain.
I've been bullied before; in my case it was in elementary school. One day during recess I decided that this was the last time that my tormenter was going to call me "The Colonel" and ask me where my bucket of chicken was. I remember that while repeatedly pile-driving his head into the ground, I felt a strange mixture of white-hot anger and euphoria. I also remember snapping out of my rage, seeing this boy crying his eyes out, and fearing the punishment that was to come. I ran behind a tree and cried too.
My point is, like the citizens of Baltimore, I understand that hopelessness can cause you to lash out in an effort to exact a personal measure of revenge that, in the end, doesn't do anything but get you in trouble. My guess is that many of you understand this as well.
Secondly, I think the "there are better ways to handle it" theory is laughably bad at best and misguided at worst. This country was born from violent protests. Think about it like this: If peaceful demonstrations were truly the answer, then many of the social injustices that have plagued this country would have been addressed earlier. If peace was truly the answer, then there would have been no Revolutionary War, no Civil War, and no Bloody Sunday in Selma. I understand that riots aren't a perfect way to resolve a conflict, but as a black man in America, I also understand that my rights aren't going to be given to me because I ask nicely. Just ask Dr. King.
So if riots are bad and peaceful protests could get you shot in the face anyway, what advice can we give those residents of Baltimore who are hurting after decades of police brutality that will help bring awareness to their situation? I'm not sure exactly. Maybe they should take notes from our Founding Fathers and politely dump some tea in the harbor. That seemed to go over well 200 years ago.
KJ Kearney is a Charleston native and teacher's assistant at an alternative behavior middle school. He is also the founder and executive director of H1GHER LEARNING, a nonprofit organization that uses hip-hop and sneaker culture to teach life skills to students at Title I schools.