Forty seven years ago nn April 6, 1968, just two days after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, mass rioting broke out in many areas of Baltimore. It was a much harder time than it is now.
The unrest lasted four days, during which six people were killed and over 700 injured. Over 1,000 businesses were looted, damaged, or burned to the ground. The total amount of damage would today cost nearly $79 million. The violence was spontaneous and dispersed. At the time, the city was over 50 percent white, but it rapidly changed in just two years to be over 60 percent African-American, and less than 30 percent white. One thing that has not changed is that Baltimore was and still is heavily segregated. The state flower of Maryland is the Rudbeckia Hirta, or more commonly called the Black-Eyed Susan. The yellow daisies are much like sunflowers and can be seen along the road sides and in fields. The wild flowers are just one of the small things that is pleasant in the city, despite the present tensions.
Now today, so many years later, rioting has once again occurred; however, it was on a much lesser scale than it was previously in Baltimore. Approximately one week after Baltimore resident Freddie Gray was arrested, he fell into a coma during transport, and died as a result of injuries he suffered to his neck and spine while in police custody. He was reported to be in good health at the time of his arrest. After his death, peaceful protests were organized, but when the word of his death reached social media, violence broke out, starting on the west side near the Mondarwin mall, after which rioting started. There was reported looting and arson, but nothing like in 1968. The governor of Baltimore declared a state of emergency and issued a citywide curfew.
On May 1, 2015, Gray’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, and warrants were issued for the arrest of the six police officers believed to be responsible for Gray’s death. The officers are to be charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder or manslaughter chargers. During the rioting, which lasted several days, two police officers were reported injured, and almost 250 people arrested. Much of the violence was mostly in the African-American neighborhoods, but there was some violence downtown in the mostly white areas of the city.
Joseph Kent was acting as a good samaritan and came out in an attempt to defuse the situation. He also stood in as somewhat of a mediator between police and protestors. The failure of one police officer to communicate his good intentions to fellow officers resulted in Kent’s arrest. When the police at the precinct found out who Kent was, they expedited his release and he was only charged with a curfew violation. Kent’s mother spoke on camera saying how proud she was of him.
Both Baltimore riots started after a death of an individual; however,in 1968 it was clearly led to more violence and destruction, whereas now when there is a miscarriage of justice the anger is not as fueled. Today, there is more diversity in leadership. Baltimore has a African-American mayor and police commissioner, and they want to make reforms consistent to what the protesters are demanding. Peter B Levy, a historian at a New York college, is reported as saying that the present unrest is specific to the strained relationship between the African-American community and the police. The riots were a counterattack to the civil rights movement, and the over 40-year war on crime was set back as a result of this present situation.
By Katherine Miller-Chichester
Photo by swong95765– Creativecommons Flickr License