Rep. Lew Frederick speaks out about Baltimore

By Rep. Lew Frederick (D-Portland). Editor's note: The following is a remonstrance given by Rep. Frederick on the House floor today, and is re-published by permission.

Colleagues, I have to say just a few words about developments in Baltimore.

It would be easy to retreat into a complacence that says that, well, it’s not that bad here. It would also be easy, as many commentators have, to say that the rioters are just thugs. I am not going to make excuses for violence. There are no excuses. There are, however, explanations. Probably the most important thing to remember about this kind of riot is that this is an eruption of built up pressure. When people have nothing, or little, to lose, and lots to be angry about, it’s a dangerous condition.

A man in Baltimore was put into a police van handcuffed, and came out near death, his body showing the effects of hideous homicidal violence. No plausible explanation has been offered. His offense? He ran away. What kind of system of laws, or system of order, is that? How can anyone who believes in civil society not recoil in horror from this news?

But what we should really worried about it that people are not that surprised.

These riots are not a response to one incident. They are a response to sustained violence in the form of relentless oppression. Economic oppression and unfair targeting, including violence, are not separate issues, but part of a system that those targeted see as coordinated. When they lash out, it may seem indiscriminate, but when it seems that the whole world is against you, everything looks like an appropriate focus of rage.

And we should note that if you get beyond the so-called mainstream media reporting of the situation, you find that it’s a small contingent that is engaging in violent reactions.

Our media’s focus on the unusual to the exclusion of the everyday decency of most people takes away context, and makes rare acts seem to be the norm. And yes, there are provocateurs who see this as an opportunity to make trouble, and others who intentionally provide the opportunities. The whole picture is much more complicated than you will see on the news.

So, city leaders in Baltimore call for order, as they obviously should, and we all would. This disorder is an emergency. But what will they do about the disorder that some communities experience on a daily basis?

It’s a fairly recent development that we sometimes see video evidence when officers sworn to protect and serve instead target certain people for scrutiny, and in some cases for violent treatment. It’s a fairly recent development that we sometimes see what happens when officers stop individuals for just being, and deal out punishment, which is not their charge at all. It’s a fairly recent development that there is sometimes video evidence.

But with or without video evidence, these things fester. They get discussed around dinner tables. The experiences of “pretext stops,” “driving, walking or, I might as well say breathing while Black” are so universal in Black communities around the country that where an officer might see a Black man and see a likely criminal, I see a Black man and see someone with whom I probably share this life experience.

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