As a fellow white person, I feel it my duty to publish a few helpful hints for my melanin-challenged brethren about what not to do when discussing recent events in Baltimore.
1. Don't assume you know anything about the situation. You don't. I don't. Us white folks will never be in this kind of situation, we don't have any perspective to offer.
2. Don't, in any discussion of the events in Baltimore, use the word "thugs." It doesn't matter what you mean by the word "thug." It doesn't matter if, when you think "thug," you picture someone like this:
The word "thug" has been used by white supremacists and their apologists to demonize so many dead black guys , from Trayvon Martin to Mike Brown to Eric Garner that it has become sort of a pseudo-polite version of the N-word. It doesn't matter how you mean it, just don't use it to describe the protestors or rioters or really any black person. Just don't. Besides, guys who would throw a man in handcuffs into a van, not buckle him in and take him for a "rough ride" are pretty much the dictionary definition of thugs. Although you probably won't hear them called that.
3. Don't reflexively defend the cops. Sure, the cops in your neighborhood may well be courteous professionals there to serve and protect, but your neighborhood isn't Baltimore. Here's a short excerpt from a recent Baltimore Sun article about their police department:
Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.
Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.
That's 25 people per year WINNING lawsuits against the police dept. Which is not easy to do. Juries tend to believe cops, and it's usually the cops' word against someone who has been arrested, so is likely not to be trusted? The fact that the police have lost 100 suits in four years should speak volume about the level of corruption and violence in the Baltimore Police Department.
4. Do not, and I can not emphasize this enough, do NOT invoke Dr. King to shame those who may be reacting less than non-violently. You only make yourself look like an asshole. Yes, Martin Luther King preached non-violence. And he was still murdered. And the only reason a white person ever quotes Rev. King to a black person is to be extremely condescending. If you invoke Dr. King, you're really just using him as a cover for your own desire to tell black people how they should and shouldn't behave.
5. Don't try to blame the victim. Don't ask "well, why did he run from the police?" Well, when the police caught him, they murdered him, so you tell me why he was running. Why do gazelles run from lions? Sure, maybe this particular lion isn't hungry, maybe she just ate, maybe she has indigestion or just doesn't like the taste of gazelle. But the gazelle has no way of knowing, so he runs. And no one finds it necessary to say #NotAllLions.
6. Don't say "violence doesn't solve anything" or "violence is no the answer." Everyone already knows this. And you weren't urging non-violence when it was the cops killing unarmed black men. It's only when black people get so fed up and frustrated that their rage becomes uncontainable that you suddenly turn onto Gandhi and preach turning the other cheek. (I know that wasn't Gandhi, that was Jesus but I was on a roll)
7. Don't act like the demonstrators/protestors/rioters don't have every reason to be furious.
8. Don't act like a CVS building or some car windows are more important than a young man's life.
9. Don't believe ANYTHING from official sources. The Police Department is going to lie. They will circle the wagons and defend their officers no matter what. And that apparently includes coercing someone into telling a bullshit story about Freddy Gray intentionally trying to hurt himself by throwing himself against the steel walls of the police van. A story which was almost immediately debunked.
10. Don't believe any e-mail forwards from your racist relatives. Especially the one about Gray supposedly having a pre-existing back injury. It is a lie. And even if it weren't, what's the point? Like if he hadn't had this injury he would have survived being beaten and thrown around the back of a van? It would only be a case of police committing assault and battery instead of murder?
11. Don't ask your one black friend, or the one black guy at work to speak for the residents of Baltimore. It's unfair and insulting.
12. Do not watch FOX.