Following the death of Freddie Gray, some protesters in Baltimore turned violent, looting and burning local businesses. The context of this violence is critical: In Freddie Gray’s neighborhood, Sandtown-Windchester, 51.8 percent don’t have a job. The average income, $24,000, is below the federal poverty line and less than half of the national median income. About one-third of the homes are vacant and 7.4 percent of children have elevated blood-lead levels from lead paint, a serious condition that can cause developmental problems.
Sandtown-Windchester has the highest incarceration rate in the State of Maryland — a recent study found 458 people from the small community were locked up. Among juveniles 10–17, more than one-quarter were arrested.
Speaking to reporters in 2003, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explained that rioting is an understandable consequence of decades of social and political oppression:
“While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime,” he said. “And I don’t think there’s anyone in any of those pictures … (who wouldn’t) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.”
Rumsfeld, of course, was talking about Iraq. Today, life expectancy in 17 Baltimore neighborhoods, including Freddie Gray’s neighborhood, is lower than it is in Iraq.
Media coverage of the riots in Baltimore mostly depicts the participants as irrational. A mother who publicly slapped and berated her son for participating was lionized in the media as “Mom Of The Year.” Those who seek to explain the riots as the predictable result of years of economic and social oppression have been harshly criticized.
Donald Rumsfeld has not weighed in one way or another.