Black Baltimore Residents Aren't "Animals". We Punish People for Killing Animals
After massive protests in the streets of Baltimore to raise awareness about Baltimore City police practices and to demand answers and accountability in the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man whose spine and neck were severed in 4 different places while in police custody – eventually resulted in the destruction of property and serious injury to some police officers, the protesters’ frustration prompted many white people (on blogs and in social media) to refer to black Baltimoreans as “animals” for their actions.
But “animals” is a misnomer. People – including police officers – are punished for killing or doing harm to domestic animals. Baltimore has busted dog fighting rings and sent offenders to prison for animal cruelty. In 2014, former Baltimore City police officer Alec Taylor was sentenced to a year behind bars for killing a dog. That might not seem like much, but it is longer than the sentences given to the killers of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd or 7-year-oldAiyana Stanley-Jones.
“Animals” seems to have become the new epithet to use to refer to African American: we have gone from being called “niggers”, to “predators” in the 90s, “thugs” in the 2000s and now “animals”.
If African Americans were indeed animals, perhaps they would have organizations like People for the Ethical Treatement of Animals to stand up for their “ethical treatment”. Peta has 3m members and a yearly revenue of over $30m; it engages in multi-pronged attacks on what it calls “speciesism”, and its influence has made many people spring into action and even adopt vegan diets (despite questionable health benefits). Though Black Lives Matter has white middle class and celebrity support, I do not believe very many white people have changed their entire lifestyles in order to ensure the dismantling of racism.
The state and private animal welfare organizations both protect animals, and do as much as humanly possible to ensure they have access to food and shelter. People who victimize animals are held accountable. Animals – even ones who kill humans like Tilikum, a SeaWorld orca who has been involved in the deaths of three people – are spoken of with more compassion and understanding than young black boys who shove a store clerk or take pictures giving the middle finger on social media. Tilikum is said to be a victim of his captivity and environment, and former SeaWorld trainers have said that, were he in a more humane or free environment, he would have not harmed a human being.
Black Baltimoreans who are venting their anger at their decades-long economic and social marginalization are not given the benefit of the doubt like Tilikum.
The city’s 8.4% unemployment rate is well above the state average of 5.4% – and exceeds the rate in neighboring cities like Philadelphia andWashington, DC. Fully 20% of Baltimore’s residents live in a food desert, without access to fresh and healthy comestibles – and 26% of the city’s African American residents do. Despite an abundance of vacant housing – one estimate suggests that there are 16,000 abandoned homes in the city – there are still people who camp out under the Jones Falls Expressway for shelter. Almost 24% of people live below the federal poverty line, 33.2% of the population earns less than $25,000 annuallyand it is the sixth poorest large city in the nation. The young people have also bore the brunt of the mass exodus of jobs that pay a living wage, deindustrialization and the disappearance of a viable tax revenue base in the city:36.5% of children in Baltimore live below the poverty line (which is about $24,000 for a family of four). In 2009, Baltimore had the fourth lowest graduation rate in the country, though it’s improve a bit since then.
Combine these conditions with mistrust of police due to years of alleged abuses and you’ve got a virtual powder keg: the anger displayed on the streets of Baltimore was about far more than Freddie Gray – though Gray, a Sandtown resident with a record of minor arrests, was by all accounts innocent of any serious wrongdoing before his death (with the possible exception of being in possession of a small switch blade).
Still, the initial demonstrations were largely peaceful as the people of Baltimore took to the streets in the civil rights tradition of nonviolent assembly and demonstration; according to eyewitnesses, the disarray only began when outside provocateurs began shouting racial epithets and throwing objects at protesters. The Fraternal Order of Police didn’t help an already-tenuous situation when they released a grossly insensitive letter in which they vowed to have unwavering support for the officers involved in Gray’s death and to be unconcerned “with the community’s confidence in the investigation”.
Yes, there has been violence on Baltimore’s streets, but African Americans cannot be compared to animals. Animals don’t have to march to make others concerned with their welfare and wellbeing. Their actions, even when violent, are met with compassion. If you are looking for a pejorative term to call black people, you may as well stick with “nigger”.