Frequently, regarding politics, I find myself taking refuge in a sort of back-to-basics naiveté. I’m not dumb and am as capable as the next person of tying myself up in complicated justifications of my positions. However, more than anything, I want to see clearly.
First and foremost, the end does not justify the means. To be clear, I’m not talking about Machiavelli’s advice for individuals seeking to seize and maintain power. I am not a powerful person, nor do I seek to be. Whatever wisdom there may be in it for the powerful, it is altogether different for the general public. I hold my political positions because I think they are right, that they are of benefit to the polity in question, whether that be the city, the state or the nation, not because I seek political office myself. That gives me a great deal of leeway that an actual leader does not have. So while those seeking political office may need to engage in various forms of double-dealing to remain in office, I bear no such burden.
One of those intentionally naive positions is a firm adherence to the truth. Given the popularity of postmodernism, I should probably specify that I mean a vernacular notion of truth here, not far removed from the word “fact.” When people are lying, even if they are people with whom I align myself politically, I ask myself, “Why?”
There is a lie I have encountered several times. During the riots in Baltimore on April 27, 2015, the news media showed many images of a CVS on fire. (For my international readers, CVS is a nationwide chain of drugstores, they contain pharmacies within them and stock a wide array of other items.) Sometime, during the ensuing weeks, I was reading an article about CVS’s rebuilding of the store. In the comments, someone asked if anyone knew if the destruction had placed any real burden on the residents of those neighborhoods. Someone else replied to the effect that it wasn’t any big deal, that the riots weren’t as bad as the news media were making it sound, that it was just this one drugstore and the residents had several others in the immediate neighborhood.
Now, I don’t know if the person answering the question knew he was lying or if he was badly uninformed. I lived in Baltimore. I didn’t know many people who lived in that area, but I know people who do. During the riots and the during the days afterwards I talked to people who had first hand knowledge, so I’m pretty confident about my facts.
According to The Baltimore Sun:
Among 350 businesses identified by city officials as damaged in two nights of rioting were drugstores and grocers considered the lifeblood of some of Baltimore’s poorest areas. Many customers are elderly or have chronic health problems and live in “food deserts” with limited access to transportation and healthy food.
This Google map can give a notion of how widely the riots spread. They did not engulf the entire city, large areas, especially affluent suburban areas, were entirely spared any damage, but they were not confined to a single neighborhood either.
Why am I mentioning this now? Well, yesterday, in the comments beneath Conor Friederdorf’s piece on mandatory minimum sentences I came across this paragraph within one comment by “Dee-light”:
If the tactics in response to BLM and Occupy Wall Street were legal and moral, why aren’t they being applied to armed men who took over a federal building in Oregon? A CVS was burned down in Baltimore and you would’ve thought the aliens blew up the White House with the way the media responded. The choice is simple, either law enforcement should change the way it responds to left-wing protesters or apply the same tactics to right-wing protesters. The concept is not that hard and Conor spends way too much time hand wringing over minimum mandatory sentences to avoid it.
While the commenter doesn’t specifically say that it was only one business that was destroyed, it is strongly implied that the robbery and arson was not much more extensive than that. Ironically, if anything, the media images probably underplayed the destruction. I think the media took so many images of that CVS because it occurred relatively early, during daylight hours, and the presence of many police in the photos makes me think that the news crews felt comparatively safe there. Similarly, there were many images of a senior center that was on fire later that night. It’s very near where some people I know work and, they have told me, it was very far away from the main rioting. In fact, I was told that that area was surprisingly calm given the fact that it is normally considered a high crime area. Also, many of the streets in Baltimore are narrower than is typical in the U.S. The senior center was located across the street from a small triangular island that has been turned into a park and the images were clearly taken from that vantage point. The media’s choice of which of the many incidents to highlight should be seen as having been subject to circumstances; the choices were opportunistic in the most neutral meaning of the word. They had to know about it, have an available crew, be able to get there and get out safely, and be able to get a newsworthy image.
At least one person my sister knows who lived in one of the neighborhoods affected, phoned her and told her that she was actively scared. They talked about the possibility of her staying with my sister if the rioting didn’t stop soon. (Traveling during the night probably would have been more dangerous than staying put.) For those of you who think only white people are scared during incidents like that, I guess I have to point out that the woman in question is an African-American woman with two children, one a teenage son, who grew up in Baltimore. And for those on both the extreme left and extreme right who think all young African-American boys in the neighborhood participated in the riots, I can tell you that this woman’s son did not – and I’m sure he wasn’t alone.
It mostly seems to be people on the left who are lying about the Baltimore riots being confined to a single drugstore. I don’t entirely understand why they are lying, but it makes me suspicious. I’ve made no secret of the fact that the riots, or more accurately the left’s response to them, has been a large part of the reason I’ve been feeling distant from people with whom I considered myself to have been politically aligned in the past.
Friedersdorf, by the way, in his article refers to the Red Tribe / Blue Tribe dynamic I brought up the other day. I light of that context, I found the amount of tribalism in the comments to be disappointing.