We speak of the blowback that results from American foreign policy, the senseless, heinous acts of terror that represent an unfocused and irrational rebellion against American imperialism. We understand that calling it what it is, blowback — pointing out the causal relationship between American foreign policy and terrorism — is not an attempt to exculpate the people who commit these crimes. Looking for a motive that may aid in explaining these horrors is not looking for an excuse.
Similarly, the Baltimore rioters have found themselves on the losing end of a set of government policies that have consolidated wealth and foreclosed economic opportunities for independence and self-sufficiency. While so many Americans have been railing against welfare recipients, worried about the effects of food stamps on the federal budget, top American companies have worked closely with government for generations, guaranteeing the corporate welfare and special privileges that define the U.S. economic system.
The truth is that corporate capitalism has hung these rioting Baltimoreans out to dry, the American Dream being to them no more than a cruelly sarcastic joke, forever out of reach, mocking them. The prevailing story depicts the urban poor largely as the victims of “the free market,” dependent on a helping hand from government, be it education, job training, or just the bare necessities. In this story, government intervenes to file the sharp edges off of unbridled free market competition.
The problem with this story is that is recasts government in a role it has never actually played for poor and working class people — least of all black Americans. In real life, the state has intervened not to protect the economically powerless and penniless, but to serve to the needs of capital, to fence off resources and restrict opportunities in order to subject people to the control of a few giant employers. This coercive, state-driven process has nothing to do with a principled, libertarian free market today, and it never has in the past.
The result has been a permanent underclass, condemned to live in ghettos under quasi-military occupation, surrounded by violent crime that is the direct product of a failed war on drugs. And while the people who live in these communities are demonstrably no more likely to possess contraband than anyone else, they are far more likely to be stopped and frisked, arrested, and even murdered by increasingly militarized police officers.
The problems in Baltimore are historical and systemic. Everyone agrees that rioting, looting, and the wanton destruction of private property are senseless acts that ultimately can’t help anyone or create positive social change. We must nevertheless ask why these people in Baltimore feel so helpless, so abandoned and frustrated by the “proper channels,” that they find it is necessary to lash out and express themselves in this way.
Systematic state violence has left Baltimore communities barren, crying out for justice and opportunity. Anarchists believe that the dormant power of self-organization, cooperation and trade, once truly freed from aggression and meddling, is all the poor need to thrive. Through the anger and sadness coming out of Baltimore, it’s important not to lose sight of the larger, underlying issues.
Translations of this article:
- Spanish, Baltimore al límite.