The violence and looting in Baltimore yesterday recalled the start of the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Just as funeral services were wrapping up for Freddie Gray, a man who died of a broken neck while in the custody of Baltimore police earlier this month, police got wind of a plan publicized by high school students on social media for a “purge”—a supposed reference to a film describing the lawlessness that ensues after all crime is legalized.
Law enforcement officials were quickly outnumbered and outflanked by cinderblock-hurling youth, who went on to rob several convenience and liquor stores, check-cashing places, and hair salons. At least one building and several cars were set alight, and as many as 17 police officers were injured. No deaths were reported. Maryland’s governor called a state of emergency and made the National Guard available, while Baltimore’s mayor instituted a curfew.
Baltimore becomes the latest city to be convulsed by violent protests following incendiary evidence of police brutality. But though the kindling for the riots was clearly lit by the death of Freddie Gray, the riots themselves quickly revealed a more general feeling of grievance and frustration. The New York Times report carried a particularly illustrative anecdote:
A couple of the young men wore bandannas to hide their identity. The young men identified themselves as members of the Crips, Bloods and Black Guerrilla Family street gangs. One of the Crips members, who called himself Charles, wearing a red Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose T-shirt, said the gang members had taken to the street because “there is only so far that you can push people into a corner.”
“We’re frustrated,” he continued, “and that’s why we’re out there in the streets.”
Then he described how he and some Bloods had stood in front of black-owned stores to protect them from looting or vandalism. He said they had made sure no black children, or reporters, were hit by rioters. They pointed them toward Chinese- and Arab-owned stores. Charles said Mr. Gray had brought gangs together.
Stories such as this remind us that the promises of the Great Society have not been met, and that the economic situation of African Americans continues to deteriorate in many of America’s cities. It is also a sign of the blue model’s failure: Baltimore has had Democratic mayors and Maryland Democratic governors for years, and very little progress has been made. Martin O’Malley, the only alternative to Hillary Clinton on offer by the Democrats, was mayor of Baltimore from 1999-2007 before being elected governor of Maryland.
We don’t know everything about what happened to Gray or how the officers behaved yet, but his death is a reminder of a notable fissure in liberal thinking. The Democrats are the party that celebrates big government and public sector unions. But sometimes government exerts excessive force—as when it crushes a man’s spinal cord. A party that pledges to serve the poor and the weak, while granting the strongest possible protections to those who exert power over them, is going to wind up on both sides of a conflict between the two. That’s where the Democrats and their stand-by candidate are now, and it’s not a good place to be before election season.
[This post has been edited.]