Rioting and violence that broke out in Baltimore after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Grey while in police custody has to do with more than just Grey’s case.
Many residents of Grey’s neighbourhood have long been wary of police and are trapped in a cycle of poverty that’s hard to break.
Data from a new study that looked at the 100 biggest counties in the US shows that children face the toughest odds of beating poverty in Baltimore, The New York Times reports.
The study suggests that moving to a better neighbourhood as a child plays a big role in breaking the cycle of poverty as an adult, but many adults in Baltimore remain poor themselves and can’t afford to move their kids into nicer areas.
The Times reports that “the findings suggest that geography does not merely separate rich from poor but also plays a large role in determining which poor children achieve the so-called American dream.”
‘Fear and caution’
Grey’s death and the ensuing riots also suggest that police are suspicious of residents who sometimes aren’t doing anything wrong and that residents are in turn wary of police who have assaulted suspects who are later cleared of criminal charges.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, who grew up in Grey’s neighbourhood, wrote in The Atlantic: “Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution.”
Vaughn De Vaughn, a local teacher, told The Baltimore Sun: “This is about anger and frustration and them not knowing how to express it.”
Coates makes the point that “when nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”
The Baltimore Sun revealed in an extensive investigation published in September that the city has paid about $US5.7 million since 2011 over police brutality lawsuits. The wording of the story’s opening sentences seem like ominous foreshadowing today — the newspaper noted that “the perception that officers are violent can poison the relationship between residents and police.”
Michael A. Fletcher wrote in The Washington Post that “it was only a matter of time before Baltimore exploded.”
He continued: “In the more than three decades I have called this city home, Baltimore has been a combustible mix of poverty, crime, and hopelessness, uncomfortably juxtaposed against rich history, friendly people, venerable institutions and pockets of old-money affluence.”
Fletcher also noted that Baltimore is not Ferguson in that its primary problems aren’t racial. The massive gulf between the “haves” and “have-nots” seems to be the source of the tension.
‘Bitterness has boiled over’
Unemployment is sky-high, median household income is low, drug use is common, and most adults don’t have a high-school diploma. The report notes that these “challenges” “contribute to a cycle of incarceration, poverty, and lost opportunity” for the community.
At the conclusion of his column, Fletcher wrote: “Now all of the pent up anger and bitterness has boiled over into the kind of rioting Baltimore has not seen since the 1968 uprising that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Baltimore police officials said they arrested Grey “without force or incident” on April 12 after finding a switchblade knife on him. While in police custody, he suffered a “medical emergency” that severed his spine 80% at his neck, according to a statement from his family attorney, William “Billy” Murphy Jr.
It’s still unclear exactly what happened to cause the injury.
Six officers connected to the arrest and transport of Grey have been charged in his death.
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