The other side of Baltimore

The other side of Baltimore
3 min read
05 May, 2015
Comment: The reaction of US officials to the Baltimore riots demonstrates huge hypocrisy in the superpower which portrays itself as a human rights defender.
Some argue that America should practice at home what they preach abroad [Getty]
Riots, clashes, stores smashed, schools closed, buildings burned, a state of emergency declared, curfew imposed, 200 people arrested and the National Guard deployed.

No, not a description of clashes in downtown Cairo, a scene closer to home - Baltimore, USA.

This was one of America's most horrendous events in its recent history. Peaceful protests turned into violent riots on April 25 in response to the death of the 25-year-old African-American Freddie Gray, who died after an unexplained spinal injury while in the custody of state police.

Following Gray's funeral, fuming protesters took the streets to express their outrage over repeated police brutality against black people. Instead of calming the angry protesters, police used a disproportionate level of violence which led to a quick escalation of the already tense situation.

The gigantic American media machine only added insult to injury, by working in perfect synchronisation to demonise black protesters - and ultimately justify further police brutality.    

African American protesters - described by President Obama himself as "thugs" - were blamed for being violent, pugnacious looters.

What the US president's position would have been if -hypothetically - the riots took place in Cairo or Amman or even in Kiev is clear. No moment or effort would have been spared to censure, condemn, and express the deepest concern over systematic police brutality.

Furthermore, Obama would have most likely asked for a transparent investigation to be opened and to hold the responsible people accountable, while encouraging the government of the given country to work closely with their civil society organisations to provide better living conditions to their nation.        

Overseas

Before blaming the Baltimore protesters for being so violent, let's first take a retrospective look at the 2011 Arab Spring, when President Obama harshly criticised the Arab dictators for calling protesters "thugs and criminals".

The White House criticism came after leaders in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria deployed police forces to crack down on protests, declared states of emergency, imposed curfews, arrested hundreds of people, used their media control to demonise protesters and mobilise popular support.  

But this is exactly what the Obama administration has also done during the Baltimore crisis.

I can't deny my bias. I have been in protesters' shoes and I know how it feels when you have genuine grievances. It was a shock to see and observe such a hostile narration -not only from the government's side - but also from the many "white Americans" who were more concerned about destroyed property than the soul of Freddie Gray.

Such a surreal scene should not have been experienced in a well-established democracy; Washington is a model that protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere were looking up to and hoping to learn from. 

In every way, violence is bad and must be proportionally confronted - but the conflagration of Baltimore riots revealed an important facet of social injustice and economic inequality that could undermine the integrity of US democracy.

It doesn't really matter how many black mayors, governors or even presidents there are, if no substantial efforts are made to redress the institutional and societal conduct vis-à-vis protecting fundamental democratic values that hold together the American dream.  

Abdallah Hendawy is a political researcher. For more than ten years, he has been working in governmental and non-governmental political entities in and outside Egypt focusing on the Middle East and North Africa region.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.