Yesterday as the civil unrest in Baltimore was unfolding, I noticed a departure in how some journalists and activists were reporting activities in the “Charm City.” Sure, there were some who insisted that what was happening was a riot, but there were also some people characterizing the events as an uprising, a popular revolt against the government.
Juan M. Thompson of The Intercept was one of those writers:
— Juan M. Thompson (@JuanMThompson) April 28, 2015
Human rights attorney Noura Erakat, whose work and commentary usually centers on the the Israeli occupation, tweeted using the Arabic word for uprising, intifada:
— Noura Erakat (@4noura) April 27, 2015
Darnell L. More, the senior editor for Mic News, attributed the uprising to years of maltreatment by the police:
Most folk I've talked to in Baltimore say this uprising wasn't sporadic. It's a response to yrs of police maltreatment. #BALTIMOREUPRISING
— Darnell L. Moore (@Moore_Darnell) April 28, 2015
In any movement to bring about change, framing the narrative is key. Writer Michael Gould-Wartofsky says that “riot” assumes that the incidences are random and that they are characterized by their irrationality when instead these actions are a reaction to structural racism. In the Baltimore neighborhood of Freddie Gray, the man who died in police custody earlier this month, over half of the residents did not have jobs between 2008 and 2012. In that same neighborhood, 60.7% of people aged 25 and over have less education than a high school diploma. Clearly, there are systemic issues at play in this locality. We have seen uprisings before in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating verdict in Los Angeles in 1992 and in Oakland in 2010 after the verdict in the police shooting of Oscar Grant. The notion that these incidences of unrest are random is misguided.
Photo credit: @rousseau_ist via Twitter