When reading Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, I was struck by the parallels between the conditions that led to the protests in Birmingham and the conditions in Baltimore. King addresses the people who are concerned by the violence taking place there in order to subsist the segregation taking place.(Cummings 579) Though the sections caused by redlining in Baltimore are not actual, physical red lines drawn plainly in the dirt, West Baltimore is like a world away from the rest of Baltimore. Many people there live an impoverished existence. Their homes, reminiscent of shacks many times, stand close by things like museums. There was a highway built there that stretched twenty blocks, displacing thousands of black families. It would seem that black families again should not be allowed property, and without property, what sort of worth did they hold in society anyway?
Going back to redlining, in the 1940s, and 1950s, following WW2, banks gave mortgages to white families and a reduced rate that enabled them to buy homes. Black were most times excluded from this privilege, and pushed out into zones around the suburbs which became overcrowded. The people of Baltimore today continue to be affected by the events of yesterday. For them, the structural racism in our society is still very much alive. When they destroy the property all around them, many Americans watching ask “why would they destroy their own property?” Not realizing that a lot of those places belong to corporations, not the people. The right to establish and maintain property as continually been taken from the people. Why should someone follow the law when the law does not benefit them, but only the people who yield property? Why, as Dr. King said, are we not looking at the conditions that resulted in a police state that thinks it isn’t okay to break windows, but not okay to break black bodies? Why instead, do we not question the power our military industrial complex and our police alike have over the rest of the state?
The racism is so embedded, that when I was at an event yesterday at Lawrence University discussing the Baltimore riots, one student said “They not only take away the rights the Constitution says we are allowed. We are convicted upon sight – as soon as our black skin is seen. The media has it so that we fear ourselves.” One major difference between 1960 and today is the way that the media has perfected demonizing the poor of America. They had game before, but today words like thug, which, let’s be honest, is really the new N word, and “riot” are made to strike fear in Americans, so that Americans fear their fellow citizens and not the government, not the corporations that constricts our freedoms and airways like an Anaconda takes its victims – like a police state takes another black life, like Eric Garner, wheezing “I can’t breathe.”