“I contend that the cry of "Black Power" is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we've got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard." - Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader of the civil rights movement who delivered several significant speeches including the “I Have A Dream” speech and championed the idea of peaceful protest. While on his balcony at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, he was shot and later died (“Martin Luther King Jr.”). Conversely, Freddie Gray was a citizen of the black ghetto, selling drugs to support his family and illiterate mother (Karimi). Like King, he was killed, but by a fatal spinal cord injury in a police van that was later deemed homicide (“The Associated Press”). Despite the difference in their manner of death, both killings resulted in the same outcome: nationwide outrage, protests and riots among the black community, in 1968 after King’s death and 2015 after Gray’s.
While both riots were similar, causing massive amounts of destruction and chaos, there were differences in severity. The 1968 riot caused substantially more damage, estimated at $79 million in today’s dollars (Yockell). Meanwhile, the 2015 riot only caused an estimated $9 million in damages, as shown in the bar graph above (Bertlinger). Furthermore, the riot in 1968 lasted four nights and three days, with six killed, seven hundred injured, 5,500 arrested, and 1,050 businesses were looted, vandalized, or burned down (Yockell). In 2015, only 235 were arrested, and 144 vehicles and 15 buildings suffered fires (Toppa). Finally, during the 1968 riots 12,200 police officers, soldiers, and National Guardsmen were deployed to bring order to the streets, and riots and looting still continued for a week; only 8,100 National Guardsmen and police officers were deployed during the 2015 riots, which ended after one day (Bertlinger). While both riots resulted in millions of dollars in damages and at least hundreds of arrests, the 1968 riots caused the most monetary and physical damage to Baltimore, resulted in the most arrests, and took the most number of officials to quell.
While protests were started by the deaths of King and Gray, there were other underlying reasons for why riots and looting began during both periods. The book “The Other Wes Moore” mentions the 1968 riots in passing, commenting that, “The bitter riots were sparked by King’s assassination, but the fuels that kept them burning were the pre-existing conditions” (Moore, p. 18). Indeed, it was determined by the Maryland Crime Investigating Commission Report of the Baltimore Civil Disturbance of April 6 to April 11, 1968 that “social and economic conditions in the looted areas constituted a clear pattern of severe disadvantage for Negroes compared with whites…. Our investigation arrives at the clear conclusion that the riot in Baltimore must be attributed to two elements—'white racism' and economic oppression of the Negro. It is impossible to give specific weights to each, but together they gave clear cause for many of the ghetto residents to riot” (Yockell). Thus, the 1968 riots were caused not only by King’s assassination, but by the pre-existing oppression and racism applied to African-Americans. Officials and commentators on the riots in 2015 also point to similar causes, saying that young African-Americans, “feel as disenfranchised and disengaged as their counterparts did in April 1968 when riots broke out in the city” due to racism and police brutality (Saul).
While the riots in Baltimore were very different in their severity, the underlying cause of each was similar. Officials concluded after both riots that primary causes were disenfranchisement with the status quo among young African-Americans, who felt that the status quo was biased against them due to race. In conclusion, protests were prompted by the deaths of African-Americans, but were built into riots due to perceived oppression of African-Americans.
Anderson, Jessica. "Baltimore Riots Lead to 235 Arrests, 20 Injured Officers." Baltimoresun.com. The Baltimore Sun, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
The Associated Press. "Baltimore Riots 2015: 20 Police Officers Injured, More than 200 People Arrested." AL.com. N.p., 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Bertlinger, Joshua. "Baltimore Riots: A Timeline." CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Bmilitant. "Craziest Baltimore Riot Footage - Freddie Gray Protesters Go Violent." YouTube. YouTube, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Kali Holloway / AlterNet. "9 MLK Quotes the Mainstream Media Won't Cite." Alternet. Alternet, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Karimi, Faith, Kim Berryman, and Dana Ford. "Who Was Freddie Gray, Whose Death Has Reignited Protests against Police?" CNN. Cable News Network, 27 July 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
"Martin Luther King Jr." Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 14, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Moore, Wes. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010. Print.
Protestor durng 1968 Baltimore Protests. Digital image. Nathanielturner.com. Chicken Bones: A Journal, n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
Saul, Heather. "Who Was Freddie Gray and What Caused a Baltimore Neighbourhood to Turn on Itself?" The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Toppa, Sabrina. "Baltimore Riots Cost Estimated $9 Million In Damages." Time. Time, 14 May 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Yockel, Michael. "100 Years: The Riots of 1968." Baltimore Magazine. Baltimore Magazine, May 2007. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.