Violent riots in Baltimore are senseless

Published 12:02 am Sunday, May 3, 2015

As Baltimore melted in chaos last week, most of us either ignored it or watched the sordid mess in disgust through video coverage.

Leaders in Baltimore lost control early last week as small gangs of thugs decided to take to the streets, taking advantage of the peaceful protests over the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody. Since the protests, prosecutors have charged several police officers in Gray’s death.

Like many Americans watching from the quiet comfort of my living room, my first reaction was simply disbelief, followed by a little disgust.

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Protesting is fine. It’s protected by the Bill of Rights.

But when protests turn violent and turn against the innocent, enough is enough.

As the city burned, the more frustrating thing was that the hoodlums were trying to prevent emergency personnel from doing their jobs. Protesters cut holes in fire hoses in an attempt to stymie firefighters.

How senseless is that?

None of it made sense.

Why would you burn down your own neighborhood?

It was simply too much to watch without growing emotional.

“Every person they can identify needs to be arrested and locked up for good,” I thought to myself. The scenes of young people who were throwing rocks at police and later looting stores were difficult to watch.

“What has American come to?” I thought.

For many, sadly, this became yet another racially divisive moment in our country’s history.

But the riots themselves were not race-based. It was something more difficult to solve — a sense by many in America of hopelessness.

Countless black residents of Baltimore condemned the violence from the very beginning, even many members of Freddie Gray’s family.

It’s hard for those of us who have never picked up a rock and thrown it at anyone — let alone police — to understand.

Many of us — most likely middle class or up — armchair spectators reveled when the video of the angry mother began being aired.

In case you didn’t see it, the footage shows Toya Graham yanking her 16-year-old son out of a mob and slapping him around.

She’s since been dubbed as “Baltimore’s mother of the year” and other such honors.

Graham has been interviewed countless times and appears to be a mom who truly loves her child.

But in some ways she’s no different than many, many moms — and dads — in America. They love their children so much that they’d run into the middle of a mob scene and beat the snot out of them on national TV.

Perhaps Graham’s love for her son made many people stop and realize the humanity behind the people we called thugs.

Their behavior was criminal, sure, and when laws are broken, the police need to enforce the law. If they’re truly hardened criminals, we should lock them up and throw away the key.

But as a society, we also need to ask: What’s the cause of the feeling of hopelessness and lack of respect for oneself and others that leads someone to take to the streets and break the law in the first place?

For Graham’s son, perhaps the embarrassment and attention that having your mother apply a bit of discipline on national TV is enough.

For the thousands of young people from Baltimore to Natchez, we need to reach out and seek to understand their motivations, before Baltimore happens again, maybe closer to home.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or