Some Historical Perspective On Baltimore, Please

Jelani Cobb offers a very timely reminder at the New Yorker:

With the exception of the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., every major riot by the black community of an American city since the Second World War has been ignited by a single issue: police tactics. (The explosion in Baltimore occurred in the same week as the twenty-third anniversary of the Rodney King riots, in Los Angeles.)

But you have to go back a long longer than the 1960s, as becomes evident when you look at the connections between what happened in Ferguson and what’s happening in Baltimore:

Between 1980 and 2010, the population of Ferguson flipped from eighty-five per cent white to sixty-nine per cent black. At some point soon, Ferguson, like Baltimore, may have more proportional black representation, but the socioeconomic trends in that city won’t automatically change. Gray died twenty-eight years after Baltimore’s first black mayor took office, yet the statistical realities at the time of his death—a twenty-four-per-cent poverty rate, thirty-seven-per-cent unemployment among young black men—show how complicated and durable the dynamics of race and racism can be.

Uh, yeah. And it’s probably not a complete coincidence that Ferguson and Baltimore are both in former slave states where de facto segregation persisted nearly as long as it did in the Deep South. History matters.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.