As some Baltimore Orioles fans complained about protests around the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a fatal spine injury while in police custody, the team’s chief operating officer countered with a series of tweets expressing larger concerns about the plight of poor Americans. John P. Angelos, the Orioles COO and the son of the team’s owner, published the tweets Saturday night in response to a local radio broadcaster who had complained that the protests, which had shut down Camden Yards while the Orioles were still playing, were inconveniencing fans and other Baltimore residents.
While Angelos expressed a preference for peaceful protest, he tweeted that his greater concern was the loss of jobs, “economic devastation,” and an “ever-more militarized” law enforcement that has primarily targeted and affected “an unfairly impoverished population,” particularly in urban areas like Baltimore (the Baltimore Sun has a full transcript of the tweets).
He continued: “The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”
Angelos did not directly mention race in his statement, though Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones, one of the team’s two African American starters, did in post-game comments Saturday. But his words do tie into problems that have been highlighted in ever-more frequent protests of police killings of black men like Gray, including the militarization of police and law enforcement bodies and long-standing economic problems facing those communities. In Baltimore and elsewhere, the media has described these and other protests as “violent” even when police conduct wasn’t similarly scrutinized — as if the protests are more violent than police who injure and kill with impunity — while sports fans and others have treated demonstrations as inconveniences to their daily lives. In St. Louis, for instance, Cardinals fans taunted those protesting the death of Mike Brown and told protesters to “get a job”; in Baltimore, Orioles fans and local bar-goers confronted protesters outside Camden Yards with similar disdain.
Those frames and those confrontations, however, leave little room for even the brief consideration of the problems and the resulting attitudes that precede demonstrations like these. They don’t allow for the possibility that these are not one-off responses to problems in a single city or community. As Jones stated Saturday, what happened to Gray “can happen in any other city. An African American is an African American.” The injustice of police violence and surveillance, the targeting of poor (and primarily minority) communities as means of government revenue, the deep segregation and lack of economic opportunity that pervade urban (and again, primarily minority) communities most perniciously, and other issues that have received more attention throughout these demonstrations are not new problems facing the country or its cities. For black communities the problems are older than even the four decades Angelos acknowledges, and Baltimore is no different.
And decades, or more, without change through means that do not require taking to the streets have perhaps, in the minds of the demonstrators, left no other option. Peaceful protest, as Angelos notes, is preferable in nearly every instance, and despite media reports that typically focused on spates of “violence,” the demonstrations in Baltimore were primarily peaceful. But even to the extent they weren’t, it’s worth considering why. “Riot,” as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “is the language of the unheard,” the result of “intolerable conditions that exist in our society” that “cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention.”
Angelos, who cited King in his initial tweets but has not commented otherwise, seems to get that; at the least, he is making an attempt to consider the deep frustrations and reasons that underlie these types of demonstrations, and to put them, their portrayals, and the resulting “inconveniences” in a proper context. This is different, maybe even shocking, given that unlike other shows of solidarity and support from the sports world it is not coming from a player but from an executive with a presumed stake in peace and order around the ballpark in which his team plays. But in light of the deep-seated injustices driving the protests outside Camden Yards, Angelos is right that minor inconveniences to baseball fans could hardly be more irrelevant.