Drive up normally-jammed Charles Street in downtown Baltimore on this first night of what will be called the 2015 Baltimore Riots, and there are a thousand open places to park and two shiny black police cars with flashing lights pulled beside each other in the middle of the street comparing notes.
"They live for this," a guy said to me tonight about Baltimore cops and mayhem. "This is what they want."
Some, no doubt. Their record in this city bears it out. And how many jobs are there in America where a high school graduate can lord it over a thousand people a day?
But whether Baltimore cops like it or loathe it, tonight they were on the receiving end of mayhem aplenty in the opposite of its routine direction. More than a dozen police injured, with broken bones of various kinds and least one cop "unresponsive," according to the Baltimore Sun. Lines of kids lofting every heavy object they could find at phalanxes of cops while the police, looking more vulnerable than I have ever seen them, scrambled backward ducking the fusillade. It gives the briefest glimpse of what the power of sheer human numbers might look like on some unknown day when, say, tens of millions of Americans decide that they have simply had enough.
So begins Curfew Week here in Charm City. Seven days, declares our city's mayor, of 5Am to 10PM allowed public movement. Along with, our governor reports, the activation of the National Guard.
This is now a national story. A shared trauma, a city's public disgrace, a spectacle of failure. It's hot. It's news. It's what matters this week.
But where was the national story, the shared trauma, the spectacular attention-grabbing disgrace, when we needed dedicated reporters rather than cell phone cameras to show a nation how one black kid at a time was trained to write himself off, to hunt for his daddy in a gang of kids strutting guns and streetcorner product, to hate the guts of the police, and to spitefully cooperate in marching off to the new mass plantation of for-profit prison to live out the assigned role of kamikaze outlaw? Where were the cameras over the years as tens of thousands of black boys and men, including me and countless others, got merely mistreated by cops if we were lucky and deposited six feet under if we weren't?
I am writing this to you, tonight, from a relatively safe place.
But for countless kids, some of whom you watched on television tonight daring riot-equipped cops to kill them, there is no such place. Not tonight or ever.
That is the real riot, the real carnage. And until it stops, the amply-televised loop of what we are seeing tonight will not.
Gil Scott-Heron told us about what gets televised and what doesn't. And it's still true.