Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore and Ferguson: Compare and Contrast

Compare and Contrast Remember those high school compare and contrast papers intended to test your analytical abilities? How about compare and contrast on current events? That’s tough because we don’t know all the facts, but that doesn’t stop us from looking at the current riots and looting in Baltimore. How does it compare to Ferguson? Some similarities exist, but the differences are great. Both cities, as all many others, were tinder box ready to explode. Both arose out of the death of a black man apparently at the hands of the police. We still don’t know for sure the reason for Freddie Gray’s severed spine. Michael Brown was shot by Darren Wilson, a white officer, but the story fed the public was a false narrative uttered by Brown’s partner in crime. The popular narrative became “Hands up’ Don’t shoot!” The killing, however tragic, was justified self-defense by the officer. Both cities lagged in getting the facts out. Both were followed by peaceful demonstrations and horrific riots and looting. Ferguson may have initially over responded, but Baltimore under responded. Both Ferguson and Baltimore called in allied police forces and the National Guard. Ferguson used both police force and conciliatory acts to quell the violence. The response in Baltimore Monday night was very different. The public watched on national TV the looting and arson while the police stood back. 19 buildings and 144 vehicles were burnt. 20 police officers were injured, mostly by rocks thrown at them. Commentators asked two questions: Why weren’t the police acting? Why didn’t the Governor call up the National Guard? Now we know. Mayor Rawlings-Blake told the police to stand down Monday and hesitated in asking for the National Guard. Governor Hogan had prepared the activation of the Guard, but was waiting for a request from the Mayor. The delay in response and the Mayor’s statements served as an open invitation to the looters. They knew they would get away with it. Innocent, often minority, merchants were wiped out in both cities. Both Baltimore and Ferguson suffered, in part, by flash mobs initiated through social media. In both cities a still unknown amount of the messages came from an outside source. Both cities witnessed outside agitators and looters entering the chaos. The authorities in Missouri used video recordings to subsequently arrest looters. We will see if arrests follow in Baltimore. Protestors in both cities cried out for social justice. Both are majority black communities. The political structures are different. Ferguson has a white power structure and Baltimore a black power structure. Ferguson had a majority white city council, a white mayor, a white police chief, and only 4 blacks on the Ferguson Police Force. Baltimore has a black mayor, a 100% Democratic, majority black city council, a black police chief, a black state’s attorney, and 41% blacks on the police force. Compare and contrast? They’re both American tragedies.

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