Beyond Baltimore: Analyzing Civil Disobedience

UPI/Bill Greenblatt /LANDOV

The alarm has been sounding for quite some time with respect to social injustices in America.

Sadly, it feels like we’re re-living the days of our ancestors and witnessing yet another wave of civil rights leaders who are forced to fight to prove Black lives are of value.

In the wake of the horrifying Freddie Gray case in Baltimore, and with mainstream media focusing on the actions of the temperamental to get a hot headline, it is critical that all world citizens gain a better understanding of the root of the issues.

This need was absolutely embodied in the look of irritation on Baltimore’s City Councilman Nick Mosby’s face as he tried to explain the depths and roots of the riots in Baltimore to a reporter who appeared dismissive of the important history lesson being imparted.

Instead the reporter, on live television, continued to point out the burning buildings and rioting happening on the scene.

Another missed opportunity of understanding the  ultimate effects of fundamental racism and economic inequality.

“People don’t really want to think outside of the immediate moment,” explains Professor Jane Rhodes, University of Illinois Chicago’s Head of African American Studies. “They want to think about the episode that’s going on right now and not really what the historical roots which are racial, social and economic inequality.  Most Americans, and this goes across racial groups, want to believe that racism is still not a fundamental problem and so when you have that resistance to a deeper understanding and when there’s a national lack of willingness to dig into it, then there’s not much of a mandate for media or others to really push the issue.”

So  with that, we enter the discussion of civil disobedience and further assess radical rebellion. Both are driven by frustration and anger. Both handled via different emotional streams. Both share a common goal: equality.

We’ve seen earlier examples of individuals peacefully rallying together in the name of change, however, we’ve witnessed, on numerous occasions, and most recently in the case of Baltimore, that activists voicing their demands in a so-called orderly fashion get overlooked.

TV microphones don’t amplify their fight for change and photos of their efforts are barely snapped by the hordes of journalists.

We hate to hear it, but in actuality the apathetic attitude the powers that be demonstrate toward peaceful protests by Blacks and other minorities fuels the move toward radical activism.


Ava DuVernay’s ‘Selma’ reminded us with the mission and message of Dr. King, one that showcases civil disobedience and persistence can lead to progressive solutions. Through his teachings and that of such groups as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) provides further evidence that during the civil rights movement of the 1960s passive aggressive resistance garnered attention while aiding in moving the political and legal environment forward.

On the contrary, look at the history of the Black Panthers. When it came to fighting racism, ending police brutality and the murder of Black people, their trajectory shows their attempts began with peace, education and confronting their oppressors with knowledge. However, their approach later transitioned by necessity, Rhodes reveals.

“What the Panthers and other radical groups argued was that there’s a limit to non-violent strategies and that those strategies always get appropriated by [people] in power, that it only does so much work,” points out Rhodes, who authored Framing the Black Panthers: The Spectacular Rise of a Black Power Icon.  “In this historical moment, there have been amazing protests around the world. The silent protest in every city, the gestures and all of the strategies to get the message forward but it’s a lot easier to dismiss the non-violence resistance because there’s a lot of people who simply refuse to believe or understand the dimensions of the problem of police violence and economic inequality.”

She adds, “In this historical moment, where groups like the SCLC appealed to a certain moral and ethical dimension in American society, most Americans want to believe that that era is over and that there’s no longer a moral and ethical deficit. They say, we had the civil rights movement, it succeeded, we have the Civil Rights Act, we have equality and the fact that economic inequality still remains is not a deep moral or ethical issue in America. It’s a problem that capitalism isn’t working for everybody in America or that African Americans or other groups aren’t able to work hard enough to reap the benefits of our economic system.”

On the opposite end of this act of denial resides a deeply rooted desire to tell the story of struggle and oppression that is embedded in Black and minority culture.

The point that an entire race of people are hurting is met with no compassion or curiosity to become knowledgeable about the issues.

This is why destruction engulfs a community. And as for looting, not to justify the actions, but historically, attacks on area businesses were targeted toward merchants whom residents saw “as outsiders who were exploiting the community,” Rhodes offers. ” They were often White, immigrant, who people felt were just another indication of segregation.”

It’s high time we started going beyond the criminalizing comments, apathy and ignorance in assessing public unrest around #Blacklivesmatter.

<> on April 29, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.

The so-called madness and mayhem is only an incident away in other American cities. Until officers start serving sentences for taking the life of another Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, civil unrest will stay awake and on the ready, while those in “power” sleep.

“One of the things that is very heartening is that in the communities where there’s violence, burning, rioting and looting, that the community rallies themselves to condemn it and police it and say ‘that’s not our struggle…that’s not the way to fight power and to achieve social change,” Rhodes insists. “And it can be, ‘we understand you’re angry and frustrated, we understand that you feel you don’t have any other outlet and that sort of rage spontaneously emerges but the full community has to come out and respond to that. The best way to respond to that is not to increase police presence and exacerbate already problematic conditions but for communities to do the healing themselves. ”

Your Turn: Do you think the mainstream media is providing fair and balanced coverage of unrest around #Blacklivesmatter? What do you think we can do to change perceptions and get justice?