BALTIMORE – As pieces of America burn, this city instinctively winces. This time the anger follows a Minneapolis man named George Floyd, murdered in front of everyone’s eyes. But here we still remember five years ago and the televised rage and rioting that followed the death of Freddie Gray.
In fact, this city is still trying to recover from the nights of protest that followed poor Gray’s death while in police custody – and now we’re bracing ourselves all over again.
The image that will haunt America is not only a cruel Minneapolis cop heartlessly crushing the life out of Floyd – but other uniformed officers standing a few feet away, letting it happen, and the killer cop knowing instinctively that he could get away with it, no matter the people with cameras pointed at the murder in progress, and hollering for it to stop, and still the slow, agonizing killing went on.
One more black man killed in public by a white cop, and a nation desperate for healing gets a man in the White House, Donald Trump, sending out messages that offer not an ounce of empathy.
He tells us the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. Nice timing, Prez. He summons his supporters to mount a counter-demonstration. Yes, by all means, let’s make it even more dangerous out there. He sends out tweets echoing racist taunts from the past equating looting and shooting. He boasts that any demonstrators getting near the White House would be met by “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.
Way to bring back images of Alabama and Mississippi 60 years ago, when “vicious police dogs” tore at the bodies of black people who wanted nothing more than the right to cast a vote.
This president offers no acknowledgment of the ongoing history of racism manifested by the killing of George Floyd, nor the pain expressed by those who want it to stop.
“This was a murderer in a police uniform,” Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said on CNN Sunday morning.
There, was that so hard to say, President Trump?
What might convince this president of the deliberate pattern of rogue white cops killing innocent black men?
If police instead committed such acts solely against white Republicans?
If police committed such acts solely against men with preposterous comb-overs?
So now we have demonstrators marching through more than two dozen cities the past several days and nights, burning buildings, smashing windows, confronting police.
Much of the demonstrating started peacefully, and then some of it went violent and destructive and stupid. Why taunt police who had nothing to do with Lloyd’s killing? Why destroy the work places of innocent citizens?
Why alienate millions of Americans who would take your side if the protests stayed civilized?
Why? Maybe because, in the midst of thousands of mourners, there were those – from both extremes of the political spectrum – who agitated for trouble because it suits their own needs.
And maybe because some of these demonstrators are young people out on a kind of freaky holiday. In city after city, these crowds have been racially integrated, and they’ve been young. And, in all the ongoing drama, they’ve lost track of the killing and the grieving that motivated them in the first place.
As this is written, Sunday morning, Baltimore’s been relatively calm. Oh, we’ve had hundreds marching through the streets, and they’ve made a lot of noise and gone eyeball-to-eyeball with uniformed cops outside City Hall.
But the damage has been small enough – certainly not as damaging as five years ago – so that now you could sense some city leaders almost sighing with relief after the first few nights of protest didn’t get a lot worse.
The truth is, five years after Gray, Baltimore is still trying to recover. And we wonder how long it will take America – not only to recover from the rage of this weekend and the rioting that followed George Floyd’s death, but how long it will take to acknowledge the ongoing racism that set off so much trouble.
Donald Trump’s not going to change. But surely America’s got more heart than this man who only pretends to be the nation’s leader.s
Feature photo: George Lloyd protest screenshot from YouTube.
Michael Olesker, columnist for the News American, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Examiner has spent a quarter of a century writing about the city he loves.He is the author of several books, including Michael Olesker’s Baltimore: If You Live Here, You’re Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s, all published by Johns Hopkins Press.