All Things Interrogated: Riot or Revolt? - Baltimore Fights Fire With Fire

Over the last couple weeks, Baltimore was set on fire. Another black male has been mysteriously killed in police custody. Angry, the community responded. Leading the charge is a temporary alliance between The Bloods and The Crips. Like most, I was initially surprised by the alliance between the long-term rivals, but after reflecting it makes sense. Both gangs have a common enemy. Remember this is the same city that the HBO’s The Wire was based. The gangs in the show, like the gang in most American communities are persistent yet unpredictable powder kegs. Let's not be too surprised when they explode.

Primarily organized around economic and racial solitary gangs claim city blocks or other arbitrary geographical boundaries as turf to act as a storefront black market business. Gangs re-purpose street corners from consumerism enhancing fixed capital to serve the dual purpose of gangways for pedestrians and runways for commercialism. But once a turf is acquired by a gang these same sidewalks multiplies the purpose of the pedestrian’s gaze. Hypervigilance becomes the new status quo. The junkie, church lady and gang leader all must now be aware of the potentiality of gang-controlled space.

Gangs attempt to maintain a superiority over their controlled spaces through interpersonal, social and political pressures. Using the threat of violence, the corner kid will use his body, gaze, body language, and gestures show pedestrians that the turf owning gang rules are in force. Even a simple moment where an exchange of words border lines on disrespect must be met with a response of shock and awe in order to stifle countering or divergent powers.

Even simple eye contact can be used to challenge a gang members power, and for a gang member to enforce his superiority over the disrespecting party. Where this is different from the angry parent attempting to control a child with a fierce gaze at the dinner table, is the gang member’s potentiality to back up his optical gesture with a spectrum of violence from assault to murder. Additionally, the parent is not held to the same extent to a culture's politics.

The parent can excessively discipline or fail to discipline a child without the fear of honor killings or beatings. Yet if the gang member fails to maintain his superiority, especially to rival gangs he or she instantly loses perceived and acquired honor.

Thinking from the perspective of the policing apparatus honor and respect are not part of the lexicon. A police officer embodies the discourse of the written and unwritten code of compliance. On the one hand, the police are actors in an ongoing struggle to maintain a status quo which they have no input. On the other hand, the police force compliance to a set of unwritten code embedded conspiratorially in the brotherhood of the badge. Police, like the military, enforce a societies rule at times through strict procedural codes only to the extent in which the suspect or suspected community submits to enforced compliance.

The police officer, like the soldier, is trained perceive, and articulate their community in a polarity. A set of rules to be enforced by engaging community members in various ways in order to reestablish continuity with the status quo.

This is not to say that the Gang is not interested in maintaining the status quo, but any given problematizing offense is wholly an internal matter. The police, on the other hand, are public actors engaging openly in a community.

Returning to Baltimore, the unification of the Bloods and Crips to engage in revolt against the established order unsettles both the police and the gangs. The privacy need to continue the conspiratorial mode of criminal production is turned on its head. The streets, or market in which they deal in drugs, racketeering ect… are no longer held to the gang’s code. Nor do the streets belong to the cops who retreat to create a plan to reestablish superiority.

The revolt turns puts the streets into control not of the gangs, but of the media and mass opinion. The meaning, and this discourse instigated by various news programs with their objective political bias perpetually spins repetition and divergence. The broadcaster quotes Martin Luther King, as if he grew up in the same block, that non-violence should be the order of the day. Non-violence is the most effective mode of political change. Flipping between channels, we find liberal media caught in the Republican trap trying to dig the protesters out of non-violence trap all the while complying with the republican demand for non-violence. The liberal argue, yes, of course, the protesters should be non-violence, but the republican demand for non-violence misses the point

But, what is this missed point, never truly articulated, by the barely left? I argue that there is no point. Or rather the dual agenda of the right and left is to provoke a political discourse that is about as nonviolent as waterboarding. The media’s goal in using the conservative/liberal dialog is to submit the discourse to the apolitical. Rather than help the general public gain enough information to understand the political ramifications of the citizens of Baltimore the topic is instantly jaded with a trivial debate over non-violence and the legacy of Martin Luther King. The only grassroots leader approved by the powers that be.

The problem of Baltimore is a problem of one word – riot. Baltimore is no more rioting than the citizens of Watts in the 60’s. Riot, as defined by the Merriam-Webster, is
: a situation in which a large group of people behave in a violent and uncontrolled way
Is an alliance between two gangs uncontrolled? Is the looting of stores or the burning of cop cars uncontrolled? For the politically naïve, the answer yes, of course, these are all deranged activities conducted by a mob of criminals with no purpose. What does it take to burn a cop car? At the very minimally it requires fire, of course. But to burn over ten cop cars requires organization. Much like the shock and awe campaigns conducted by the U.S Military against any given “hostile” country, the citizens of Baltimore launched guerrilla tactics intended to destabilize the policing powers terrorizing their communities. Most importantly, what is missing from labeling what happened in Baltimore as a riot is the commonalities of tactics between the protesters and the U.S. government and heart of the political challenge presented by the citizens of Baltimore to the police state they were living in. But if what happened in Baltimore is not a riot than what do we call it? A Revolt. Merriam-Webster defines a revolt as
: to fight in a violent way against the rule of a leader or government
: to act in a way that shows that you do not accept the control or influence of someone or something
Distinguishing Baltimore as revolt and not a riot is more than semantics. Riot is not just some absent-minded label used to describe Baltimore but an intentional controlling of the political debate in order to percolate meaningless dialog over anything but the “really existing” Baltimore. Let imagine for a moment what the political discourse would look like if revolt was the word of the day. Reports on Fox News would be terrified and scrambling to reframe the rioters in Baltimore as terrorists that need to be war droned and tortured for the common good, while MSNBC would be trying to distance themselves from the political leanings of Baltimore. I’d argue that if revolt, a clearly more correct understanding of “really existing” Baltimore, was the slogan the terrain of discussion would be very different.

Would the media’s discussion be more helpful to our revolution? Probably not, well at least not until, this blog is the central news sources for a majority of the planet. My fellow zombies, I leave this task for you.

Let me misquote Marx:
The oppressed have nothing to lose but your brainz.
They have a world to win!
Photos owned by someone on the internet. 


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