The ruling cartel seized upon a rumor of a "purge" of the police department by roving street gangs in the wake of Freddie Gray's funeral, and got the bright idea of closing the schools early and cancelling the public transportation that is the only way home for many of the kids. Instead of being greeted by school buses, students were greeted by a phalanx of cops in riot gear.
And what a surprise when the kids reacted by fighting back and breaking stuff. It's been a made-for-cable TV spectacle to make the rest of the world forget that a man had died in police custody for the crime of making eye contact with cops and then having the audacity to run away from them. It made the rest of the world forget that city and state officials have stalled on releasing an autopsy report, lest it foment further unrest. Lest it make them look bad.
Baltimore is only the latest, and so far the largest, front in the ongoing "hard war against disposable youth," as explained by writer and social critic Henry Giroux of McMaster University. Just days before the latest outbreak of state-instigated urban violence in Maryland, Henry had sent me a link to a recent CBC radio interview and SPUR talk he gave in Toronto. Listen to the whole thing in the context of Baltimore, and everything becomes disturbingly crystal-clear.
There is both a soft war and hard war against youth. The soft war, waged by the free market and the advertising industry, is an insidious way to infantilize young people, teaching them to become consumers instead of socially responsible citizens.
The hard war is a means of trapping them in the Youth Criminal Control Complex -- "a site of terminal exclusion" -- when they are deemed by cruel design to have become "failed consumers." This is not hyperbole. Every year, 500,000 young people are imprisoned, out of the 2.5 million who are arrested. By the time they reach the age of 23, one-third of Americans are arrested for a crime.
Using the tried and true neoliberal tradition of never letting a crisis go to waste, Maryland Gov. Larry "Law & Order" Hogan promptly suspended Habeas Corpus in the name of protecting the public from the public. More than 200 protesters arrested for disorderly conduct and other relatively minor offenses are being held on high bail that they can't possibly meet. One youth charged with theft, rioting and disorderly conduct is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail. Others, including first time offenders and even journalists, remain jailed because they are unable to pay a cash bond of $100,000. This, while the police officers temporarily suspended from duty while the death of Freddie Gray is being investigated, remain free while drawing their paychecks.
Once the Republican governor eventually rescinds his emergency order, the backlog of defendants awaiting bail hearings and arraignment will be a feature, not a bug, of how punishment is meted out to poor people.
"The plight of the outcast has expanded to include a whole generation," Giroux observes in the CBC program.
And the race to the bottom (or off the rails) of the Malthusian Luge Run is proceeding at breakneck speed, with the US going for the gold for highest death rates and most rampant child poverty in the civilized world. Eduardo Porter lays out the grisly details:
It's not just globalization and horrific trade deals like NAFTA and the looming Trans-Pacific Partnership and its grotesque cousin, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It's the fact that "government support for Americans in the bottom half turned out to be too meager to hold society together."American babies born to white, college-educated, married women survive as often as those born to advantaged women in Europe. It’s the babies born to nonwhite, nonmarried, nonprosperous women who die so young.Three or four decades ago, the United States was the most prosperous country on earth. It had the mightiest military and the most advanced technologies known to humanity. Today, it’s still the richest, strongest and most inventive. But when it comes to the health, well-being and shared prosperity of its people, the United States has fallen far behind.Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way.
Reactionary right-wing moralizing from the likes of Charles Murray and David Brooks notwithstanding, America is not a welfare state. At least, it's not a welfare state for its people. It is, however, a full-fledged corporate nanny state giving non-stop succor to the plutocracy, multinational businesses, and the permawar industry.
Meanwhile, the poobahs of the media-political complex persist in calling an abused urban population with a youth unemployment rate of over 80% a bunch of "thugs." It's made to order divide-and-conquer propaganda for the One Percent. Pit the poor whites and the poor browns and blacks against one another so that plutocratic power can remain entrenched. It worked for Tricky Dick Nixon and his Silent Majority, and it's working again. Archie Bunker lives, even in the elite educated reader comments section of the New York Times. Instead of police brutality and crushing poverty, we hear the same old themes of black-on-black crime and drug use that are the remnants of a slavery society. The Civil War never really ended.
It's been only a few generations since the phony truce was signed between a couple of generals.
Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, is announcing a presidential challenge (unfortunately within the cloying confines of the Democratic Party) to Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton, that self-styled Boudica of the hard-soft wars, gave a rousing speech for social justice. But she has also just hired Charlie Baker, whose lobby shop helped orchestrate billionaire austerian Pete Peterson's "Fix the Debt." That's the astroturf campaign against the already too-thin social safety net. Besides acting as her new chief administrative officer, says the New York Times, Baker will also coordinate
The truly damaging burning and looting -- and partisan rooting, and own-horn tooting -- continues unabated at the very highest levels.
The corporate media celebrate the concern-trolling elites at the same time that they force our glazed eyes toward the shell of a chain drugstore within the shell of a city neighborhood that itself has been smoldering and collapsing for decades. Visuals of destruction are engineered for blame-the-victim purposes. How dare the lower classes destroy a monolith of commerce erected just for them by their betters?
It's no accident that CNN was prominently looping film of a Newt Gingrich-inspired volunteer janitorial crew cleaning up the mess at "their" store as though it is a worker-owned cooperative and CVS isn't hoarding its insurance check. These are the "respectable" poor people told to be patient while the leaders engage in another National Conversation.
Meanwhile, for all those at the bottom, still resisting and calling out respectability for the sham it is, here's Bob Marley:
This morning I woke up in a curfew;
O God, I was a prisoner, too
Could not recognize the faces standing over me;
They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality.