The Violence That Created Baltimore


“When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates

An April 29, 2015, New York Times article written by journalists (sic) Richard A. Oppel Jr and Alan Blinder, bore this headline: “Curfew Appears to Bring Calm to Baltimore After Days of Unrest.”

Days of unrest. 

Imagine that. Imagine if life for the non-White residents of Baltimore only involved days of unrest. Not weeks or months or years or decades. Not even centuries… as the Susquehannocks — the original inhabitants of that geographical area — can attest to. 

In 1600, as many as 7,000 Susquehannocks lived in about 20 villages in what we now call Baltimore. Within one century, a lethal combination of smallpox, colonial conquest, and white supremacy had reduced that number to 300. In 1763, the last 20 or so surviving Susquehannocks were massacred by a white lynch mob, thus rendering the tribe extinct. 

That final act of genocide was probably labeled: days of unrest.

Later in the Times article mentioned above, Oppel and Blinder reassure their nervous readers that: “A measure of normalcy was to be restored on Wednesday morning.”

What the newspaper of record neglected to mention is that “a measure of normalcy” in Baltimore means roughly 25 percent of residents live below the poverty line, the unemployment rate is 19.1 percent, and less than 60 percent of high school students graduate.


“Normal” in Black Baltimore means AIDS cases are nearly five times more common in the African-American community and Black infants are almost nine times more likely to die before age 1 than White infants.

If that’s what passed for normal in your everyday life, I’m guessing you’d be a lot less likely to vent about “looters” and “thugs” from the safety of your smart phone. Obama’s using your money 24/7 to launch drones, mountaintops are blown off to generate power for your computer, workers are oppressed and exploited all across the globe so you can sport the latest fashions, and billions of sentient beings are slaughtered for your food, but when People of Color rise up, you suddenly become a Quaker?

Don’t Flatter Yourself
To all those who identify as pacifists, I submit:

The vast majority of “food” we consume results from unspeakable animal cruelty, environmental devastation, and the use of exploited human labor. This “food” contains toxins and chemicals and pesticides and GMOs that rain violence down upon ourselves and all living things and the system that controls access to such “food” perpetrates the daily — hourly — brutality of poverty. Every single bite you take contains the not-so-hidden ingredient of violence. 

But you practice Ahimsa?

The clothes we wear and the gadgets we worship also contain myriad toxins and these ubiquitous items are usually manufactured by the equally ubiquitous sweatshop labor, prison labor, child labor, and slave labor. 

Yet you’re the non-violent type?

The products we use to clean (sic) ourselves and our homes don’t just contain toxins, they are toxins sold in toxic packaging — and they typically involve the scientifically specious and morally indefensible practice of animal experimentation. 

And you shudder in horror at the mere mention of diversity of tactics?

Every time you flick on a light switch, you can thank the mining companies literally blowing the tops off mountains to reach coal and then dumping the toxic waste into the valleys below, polluting the headwaters of rivers that provide drinking water to millions of people. (Other violent energy options: fracking, nuclear plants, tar sands, off-shore drilling, etc.)

Meanwhile, your life is peaceful?

Do you live in the United States and pay taxes? If so, you are not only funding all I’ve mentioned above but also the increasingly militarized and unaccountable Blue Bloc of law enforcement from sea to overfished sea — and their Prison-Industrial Complex accomplices. You help finance the criminal regimes we call “allies,” all across the globe. Then, of course, at least half of your federal tax dollars are openly used to subsidize the most violent institution on the planet: the U.S. Department of (so-called) Defense.

Still… somehow… you remain a pacifist and believe that’s automatically a good thing?

Don’t flatter yourself.

Violence as the Norm
You may opt to call yourself “non-violent,” but that designation will do nothing to stop the other side from using force — often in your name, using your money. The 1% has relied on violence for centuries and will continue to do so until it runs out of weapons. It’s both counterproductive and arrogant to assume you can dictate the terms of any engagement in which one side is fully committed to violence as the norm.


Also — bringing it back to the broader sense I introduced above — to claim pacifism is to ignore the implicit daily violence of modern human culture. The primary reason why so many of us play along with the current system (pay for food and water, pay rent, etc.) and often tolerate the intolerable (toxins in our food, reduced civil liberties, etc.) is because if we didn’t, we’d eventually face violence from the State (eviction, arrest, detainment, prison, etc.). 

We could go on — the examples are virtually without limit — but to sum up for now: 

The violence in Baltimore didn’t begin with the protestors or looters. The Blue Bloc of law enforcement is always the most dangerous gang of “thugs” in town. This equation will not change after the riot chasers move on from Baltimore to the next media-saturated “crisis.”

The violence in Baltimore didn’t begin with the Blue Bloc murder of Freddie Gray. The United States is built on and based on and functions on overt and covert violence. Any discussion of violence, non-violence, and social justice that ignores this reality is an exercise in deep denial.

Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recentlyOccupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here and here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.

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