Baltimore: Impunity for the Police and Prison for the Resisters


“The rule of law must be upheld, and criminals who destroy property and jeopardize lives must be held accountable.”

— U.S. Attorney Rob Rosenstein on the Federal indictment of a third protestor in Baltimore

The cartoon character that Bill Clinton referred to during the Democratic Convention in relationship to how Hilary Clinton is depicted is not the only cartoon caricature in need of deconstruction. The cartoon that has entertained people around the world for the at least the last century has been the cartoonish depiction of the U.S. as a nation and culture committed to democracy, justice and morality.

However, the real “America” is the America of Baltimore where six cops escape accountability for severing the spinal cord of Freddie Gray. It is the America where the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), under its first black president and two black Attorney Generals, only finds cause to indict one police officer in response to the epidemic of police killings from across the country. And it is the America where the DOJ will unleash its full power against five young, poor, African Americans whose crime was that they did not resist in the approved manner in the aftermath of the killing of Freddie Gray.

And while the activist community was mobilized to condemn the outrageous charges brought against Jasmine Abdullah, the Black Lives Matter organizer in Pasadena, California, most people were unaware that Obama’s DOJ had “federalized” the prosecution of protestors in Baltimore by voluntarily intervening in the city to investigate and prosecute the resisters. Most don’t know because these young men were abandoned once they were classified as criminals by the state.

Just last month U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz sentenced Donta Betts, age 20, to 15 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for supposedly making a destructive device in connection with the April 27, 2015, rebellion in Baltimore.

The Federal government has brought various charges against four other young men that included arson, malicious destruction of property and obstruction of firefighters.  Raymon Carter, age 25, pleaded guilty to the federal crime of “rioting,” including the arson of a CVS Pharmacy and was sentenced to four years in prison and also required to pay a restitution of $500,000 to the CVS Corporation, an impossible and unfair burden for him and his family.

Trevon Green, age 23, was charged with malicious destruction of property by fire, for allegedly setting fire to a food store. Gregory Lee Butler, Jr., a/k/a Greg Baly, age 22, was charged with obstruction of firefighters during a civil disorder because it was alleged that he stuck a knife in a hose. And Darius Raymond Stewart, age 22, pleaded guilty to malicious destruction of property by fire, arising from the arson of a liquor store and will be sentenced August 3, 2016.

But it was not just in Baltimore that young black protestors were subjected to a form of state revenge. Coming out of the struggle in Ferguson a number of activists were charged with a variety of crimes including Joshua Williams.

Williams was one of the more visible activists in the protests in the aftermath of the killing of Mike Brown. He received a significant amount of press coverage and became a bit of a symbol for the resistance work in the Ferguson area. But Williams was captured on video entering a QuikTrip shortly after members of the community shattered its glass doors in relationship to another fatal shooting of a black youth. Williams was seen attempting to start a fire on the outside of the facility that even the prosecutor admitted cause very little if any damage. But small town justice can be even more repressive than the federal government. Judge John D. Warner wanted to demonstrate what happens when one of the locals thinks that they can become a national figure and escape the clutches of white power and so he sentenced 20 year-old Joshua Williams to eight years in prison.

Darren Wilson escapes justice, and six officers in Baltimore avoid accountability, but Joshua Williams and all of the others who dared to resist in non-approved methods are given draconian sentences in the nations’ mass incarceration system joining the hundreds of thousands of young black men and women already entombed in the dungeons of the America gulag.

For some it might seem ironic that the only individuals who ultimately ended up indicted, prosecuted and serving long prison sentences were members of the black working class. But for those of us who live the hellish reality of life in the U.S., there is no irony here, just consistency. It is what a racist, colonial state does. It is the de-historicized understanding of the role of the police and the state in the U.S. that shifts the discourse from a critique of domination and repression as systemic to the liberal notion that the current state can actually render “justice” to a captive, surplus population.

U.S. Attorney Rob Rosenstein is proud of the role that the Federal government played in bringing these “dangerous” individuals to what he and the state defines as justice.  He stressed on a number of occasions that “Anyone who considers participating in a riot should know that police, prosecutors and citizens will track them down and send them to prison.”

This is the real America. The sentiments of Rob Rosenstein represents the official credo of the U.S. state – the value of property over lives, especially black lives, and impunity for those representatives of the state who violate the foundational human right of all – the right to life!

The official invalidation of the value of Freddie Gray’s life, once again revealed to the world the lie of American democracy and the historical reality that black lives really don’t matter in the U.S. despite the demagoguery from Obama, the nation’s Chief of Propaganda.

Trump wants to make “American great again” and the sycophants who support Clinton and love Obama assert that “America is still great.”

Both visions represent their own versions of a cartoon reality.

From the young white slave owners known as the “founding fathers,” to the beatings, shootings and extrajudicial murders of unarmed black and brown people, the idea that the U.S. represents the best that humanity can achieve is a grotesque joke being played on the world and an idea, if believed by individuals in the U.S., only reflects the depth of the psychopathology that is the white supremacist world view. A world-view and ethics buttressed by violent state power and shared by Trump, Clinton and Obama.

And while Obama’s speech at the democratic convention last week represented another attempt to obscure the repressive nature of the police state that has black resisters in its’ cross-hairs, the words of the young activists of BYP 100 capture the spirit of resistance that has always been a part of the black struggle for human rights and social transformation:

“…we send a message back to the system: we will continue to organize and fight for our political prisoners and to disrupt the criminalization of all Black people until we gain full rights to a life of freedom and self-determination. We do so out of a spirit of radical Black love that is brave and unconquerable.”

Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch magazine.