As in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's remark that “What happened with the rioting and destruction of CVS [drugstore in West Baltimore] is senseless. It is destroying neighborhoods."
"Senseless" is the word of choice for many authorities and leaders and residents when they speak of fiery days of rage such as these, when people torch their own neighborhoods. It has been the chosen word for decades for riots and insurrections in Baltimore and Rochester and Los Angeles and Newark and anyplace else where poor people explode on the very streets on which they live -- and then must live with the rubble, the smoldering ruins, the loss, and the brokenness of the ensuing days and years.
But that is where the word "senseless" becomes code for a taboo: the rule that one must not speak of the unchanging realities that make an uprising such as that in Baltimore perfectly sensible. Because in fact the city's leadership has for decades presided over "destroying neighborhoods."
What the mayor and the police commissioner and the business leaders who lead the city's broken economy and broken politics refuse to face is that it is completely sensible for people in perpetually-ignored war-zone communities to finally act out their rage in the one way that will gain attention: burning houses and cars, trashing and emptying stores, and upending the city's oblivious sense of order. It is a perfectly logical response. True, it has not succeeded in the long run in lifting entire communities out of generations of poverty and violence, but then nothing else has, either, and that is a structural problem having to do with who pays for political policy and who is present (and who isn't) in the economic conversations that shape the city. Fact is, tragically, the one thing that will at least draw global media attention to a disastrously depressed black community, and that will push politicians and police to make at least a symbolic try at facing endemic poverty and abusive policing, is a horrific hellfire uprising that makes the long-running war between militarized police and poor communities of color officially visible along its battle lines. Complete with riot gear, tear gas, and the National Guard.
There is nothing "senseless" about people doing the one thing proven to work as a way to draw national notice to the particular form of economic and racial apartheid that has become routine in cities like Baltimore. It in fact makes tragically good sense. And when our society has the courage, if ever, to replace class/race apartheid with approaches that create fairness in education and job creation and law enforcement, the uprisings will cease.
For a glimpse of what the perennial prosperous/poor dichotomy of Baltimore looks like, and how the logic of black insurrection actually works outside the bubble of racial and class privilege, watch the following May 7 airing of PBS News Hour. The segment on Baltimore begins at 31:30. It includes this quote from a young black assistant minister at a large black church: "When they are at that boiling point and it comes to them lashing out -- What's the worst that can happen? [Our community] is already falling down around us."