Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The battle of Zip Code 21217

by Malik Sekou OSEI
Let us be clear: On Monday, April 27, 2015, Baltimore's slave youths went on a rampage. There were running battles with the city's police throughout the southwestern sector of the city. A few stores were looted and burned. Police were pelted with bottles and bricks and their vehicles were smashed. Was the night's rampage the opening shot of the Black revolution? Was it emblematic of Black political outrage and social readiness to confront The State?   

Our answer is an emphatic NO. The Baltimore uprising actually exposed the utter political disarmament of the Black working class and lower stratum. West Baltimore ablaze last night was only a smoldering social dystopia on a landscape peppered by the RUINS OF LANGUAGE.

Freddie Gray, already injured by Baltimore police, would end up in a hospital with his neck nearly severed less than an hour after this photo was taken..
Freddie Gray, age 25, is dead at the hands of the police. Accused of reckless eyeballing a cop, he was summarily and publicly executed. His murder was recorded by dozens of slumdweller on their telephone cameras.  Somehow his neck was crushed in the back of a paddywagon. It took a week or so for him to die in a hospital from his injuries. Gray's murder ignited retaliatory, spontaneous street actions against the police and some businesses. Given the locus of the fighting, the injuries and mayhem could have been far more extreme. 

(The initial looting sites were along West North Ave. at the Pennsylvania Ave. intersection. The riot moved west along North Ave. and north along Pennsylvania toward the Mondawmin Mall, the last remaining retail center in Baltimore proper. This CVS pharmacy was looted and burned. A tremendous amount of prescription narcotics were taken..)
In lock step, the usual cast of Black elected officials and preachers answered the uprising with quick denunciation. They insisted that the burning and looting was the work of "outside agitators" (Read: communists) and "thugs" (Read: gangbangers) who did not respect the death of Freddie Gray. City council members Bernard C. Young and  Brandon Scott went as far as to describe the street fighters as "cowards." But the issue at hand, understood in the slums of Baltimore, is that the police and their ostensible blackface political leaders never respected the "life" of Freddie Gray, nor lives of poor Black Baltimoreans.

As we write, 1000-plus people have re-assembled at the corner of Pennsylvania and North Avenue. They are attempting to march westward, but they are blocked by a line of riot police and national guard troops. Round Two has commenced. The National Guardsmen were recruited by the city's Black mayor, Stephanie Rawlings Blake and a phalanx of Black "civil rights" hucksters.

(MAP of the uprising's epicenter) https://www.google.com/maps/@39.3097196,-76.6425277,17z

Who are the people staring down the police today? West Baltimore, the site of the Freddie Gray execution (Zip Code 21217), in regards to population density and poverty, ranks among biggest slums in the United States.

Estimated Zip Code 21217 population in 2013: 40,443 (Landmass: 2.3 miles)
Median household income: $21,969 (Maryland: $73,971 / US: $53,657)
Median house or condo value: $43,104 / Renters: 70% (Maryland: 34%)
Median contract rent: $779
Unemployment: 20% (Grotesque under-estimate)
Residents below the poverty level: 37%
Median resident age: 39.3 / (20.2% Currently Married / 57.5 Never Married)

These are the people who have taken to the streets and who are battling police with their bare hands. They live in utter filth, surrounded by the torched hulks of abandoned buildings, ignored by the Black-run city government. Baltimore’s affluent city center, containing a world-class university and hospital system, is ringed by scenes of abject poverty; whole neighborhoods of decaying row houses, with tens of thousands living in poverty.

Baltimore is a fetid social scrap heap fit for demolition. 
Moreover and specifically, the corner of Pennsylvania and North is an open-air drug market where high-powered prescription narcotics are dispensed to neighborhood junkies and white suburban patrons by unemployed Black men like M&Ms. (More details at http://www.city-data.com/zips/21217.html)

Hardly a rampage of looters, the slumdwellers in the streets of Baltimore today are people who have been pushed to social desperation. They are indeed the Wretched of the Earth. The oafish Mayor Rawling-Blake recently chided the outraged street people, declaring,  "It's idiotic to think by destroying your city, you're going to make life better for anybody." For the residents of Zip Code 21217, the City of Baltimore is already a fetid social scrap heap fit for demolition. 

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the epitome of US urban failure.
It is within this context that police violence, revolving entrapment by the criminal courts system, poverty and the studied ineptitude of Black Democratic Party elected officials feed social rage like gasoline on a flame. The truth that is never spoken: Most of the social tormentors of the Black working class and lower stratum in Baltimore are themselves Black. 

The young people who have taken to streets of Baltimore today have witnessed the murder of Trayvon Martin by an out-of-work security guard posing as a law enforcement official. They have seen Michael Brown gunned down in Missouri. They were appalled to see Eric Garner literally strangled in the street like a dog by NYC policemen.  Then came the video-broadcast of Baltimore's Freddie Gray--just one of scores of younger Black men maimed and murdered by police in Baltimore every week. Baltimore has a long history of police brutality, which has resulted in $5.7 million in payouts to victims since 2011. The Baltimore Sun newspaper recounts that “Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.”

The killing of Freddie Gray actually mirrored a 2005 police murder in the city, in which Dondi Johnson had his spine fractured after he was given an intentional “rough ride” in a police van that arrived at the station in half the time it would have taken if it were driving at the speed limit. His family received a $7.4 million judgment, which was consequently reduced to $200,000.  In the Gray and Johnson cases, police were forced to admit that, contrary to protocol, they did not use seat belts to restrain the handcuffed prisoners. In fact, the city of Philadelphia has also been forced to pay  over $2 million to settle lawsuits alleging that “rough rides” left two people paralyzed.

Consequently, these victims and their supporters have now made Zip Code 21217 ungovernable. It is a reflex of outrage. They have no political agenda, no revolutionary program, not even a coherent set of demands for reform. This reserve army of labor, these utterly de-classed youths only possess their bodies and fury.

The homicidal character of the police officers’ actions underscores a fundamental reality of American life: in Black  working-class neighborhoods throughout the United States, the police function as de facto death squads, treating workers and young Black people as an occupied population, to be put down with arbitrary arrest, violence and even murder.

The antisocial views promoted among the increasingly militarized police were reflected in the revelation this week that the National Guard officers overseeing the crackdown in Ferguson, Missouri referred in official documents to peaceful protesters engaging in their constitutionally protected right to free speech as “enemy forces.”

These conceptions, and the murderous actions that accompany them, are the expression of a society deeply corrupted by vast levels of poverty, social inequality and racism, in which the police increasingly see themselves as the “thin blue line” separating the impoverished masses and Black people from the financial oligarchy that has enriched itself fabulously at the expense of the 99 percent.

Baltimore is representative of the massive decay and deterioration of Black working-class living standards over the past several decades, leading its population to drop by nearly a third.

Demolition of Bethlehem Steel's "L" Blast Furnace is emblematic of the economic rot in Baltimore.
Since 1970 the city has lost more than 84 percent of its manufacturing jobs, while the official general poverty rate has hit more than 25 percent. The beginning of this year saw the demolition of the towering Blast Furnace, once the heart of the Bethlehem Steel mill at Sparrows Point, which employed thousands of people over the course of a century.

Conditions of social misery are accompanied by extraordinarily brutal and repressive policies directed against the city’s Black population and the poor. Last year, Baltimore enacted a law fining the parents of children who violate the city’s 9:00 PM curfew up to $500. But the city has no coherent youth policy whatsoever. After a day in confinement in the city's dilapidated and poorly run schools, what are children to do? In Baltimore, nobody gives a damn! Likewise, advocates for the homeless denounced the curfew, which allows police to detain any young person caught outside after hours, saying it will push the city’s 2,400 homeless youth “farther into the shadows.”

In perhaps the most draconian attack on the city’s population, the city administration last month announced that it would begin shutting off water to as many as 25,000 poor residents, triggering protests.

These egregious attacks on the social rights of the Black people takes place in a city where the mayor, police commissioner, and the majority of city council members are African American, and which has been run by the Democratic Party for decades, exploding the claim that electing minority candidates of this big-business party is a means to improve the lot of Black members of the 99 percent who, if lucky,are given the privilege to work at sub-survival wages at dead-end jobs.

The uprising in the wake of Freddie Gray’s murder is actually a social referendum on Baltimore's affluent Black elite which has lined its pockets for decades with federal and state funds in the name of improving the lot of the Black masses. These Democratic Party elected fakirs and assorted poverty pimps have delivered nothing but an army of occupation to the streets of impoverished Baltimore.    
The brutality meted out against the Black population of Baltimore, both by the police and politicians, is a concentrated expression of the assault on the working poor that has taken place nationwide, resulting in an enormous collapse in living standards and the effective halving of wages for manufacturing jobs.

The growth of poverty and social inequality has been accompanied by the militarization of the police, which has been coordinated at the highest level of the state by the Obama administration. Even while categorically refusing to even track police killings on the national level, the Obama regime has transferred billions of dollars in military hardware to local police. The White House has repeatedly refused to bring federal charges against killer cops, including former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, the killer of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

 Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that despite its claims of sympathy for the victims of police violence, “at the Supreme Court... [the Obama administration’s] Justice Department has supported police officers every time an excessive-force case has made its way to arguments.”While thousands of people have been killed at the hands of police over the past decade, only 54 officers have been charged for killing people in the line of duty, of whom only 11 were convicted, receiving mostly wrist-slap sentences.

War, exploitation and racism are the inevitable by-products of the capitalist system. The defense of democratic rights, including freedom from police violence and poverty cannot be separated from the struggle to overthrow this corrupt and brutal system of race and class-driven terror, and actual social development of a genuinely egalitarian society—REVOLUTION. 

For history is on our side, but not time…

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