The rioting in Baltimore represents criminal culture writ large. It is what happens every day on a smaller scale in poor minority communities: theft, vandalism, and violence.
The flames in Baltimore hideously illuminate the fact that the culture of the welfare state creates the criminals and rioters that plague this city in my native state.
The ostensive cause of the riots was outrage at the death of Freddie Gray, a young black drug dealer with a long rap sheet, whose spine was injured when he was arrested.
Let me be clear that whatever the outcome of the investigation into this particular case, police overreaction is a real problem nationwide. And yes, most of those in Baltimore who protested excessive police force were peaceful. And also many responsible black community leaders were in the streets urging those bent on destruction to stop. Especially heartbreaking were Pastor Donte Hickman’s efforts to stop the violence as the senior and community center that his group was constructing burned to the ground. And yes, poverty and a lack of economic opportunities create frustration and a sense of impotence. And yes, the failed schools do not prepare young people for jobs. And yes, these factors contribute to inner-city crime.
The rioting was followed by anguished politicians, community leaders, and citizens coming together to declare that such violence does not represent the community and must stop now, and that the underlying causes must be dealt with.
But we see on a smaller scale such sad scenes of crime and violence all the time in Baltimore and other cities across the country. A child is killed in the cross-fire of a drive-by shooting. The killing is followed by candlelight vigils as politicians, community leaders, and citizens come together to declare that such violence does not represent the community and must stop now, and that the underlying causes must be dealt with. Yet little changes.
The rioters no doubt were frustrated, but so were the peaceful protestors and other citizens who did not burn and steal.
Most of the looters have the values and souls of thugs and criminals. It seems obvious that they had no moral inhibitions when they saw the opportunity—and perhaps when local politicos decided to “give them space” to destroy—to combine mindless destruction with targeted looting; liquor and hair-care products were much sought-after items. These rioters were not addressing the problems of the community. They themselves are the problems of the community.
The rioters were mainly from the same neighborhoods as those who abhorred the riots. They were not an army of outside vandals—though outside agitators egged them on. They were the sons, daughters, siblings, parents, and friends of those who say they want peace. They live under the same roofs. And this is the case not only for those rioters but for the criminals who plague Baltimore and other major cities in this country. Since Martin Luther King’s inspiring “I have a dream” speech in 1963, nearly 400,000 blacks nationwide have been murdered by other blacks, not by police.
But most local politicos refuse to acknowledge this fact or its implications. That’s why we saw the bizarre controversy surrounding even calling those rioting thugs “thugs.” Baltimore City Council President Jack Young apologized for using the “T” word and instead said the rioters were “misguided,” adding, “We are all Baltimoreans.” Really? No wonder the population has dropped from 900,000 in 1970 to only 622,000 today. If the rioters are Baltimoreans, no decent person would want to be one.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a black woman, initially called the rioters thugs but also apologized, saying, “We don’t have thugs in Baltimore.” No thugs? Perhaps she missed the 211 murders in Baltimore last year, or over 4,000 violent crimes and 24,000 property crimes. Just “misguided” but well-meaning Baltimoreans, no doubt. But hey, the number of murders in Baltimore has dropped in recent years and it now has only the third highest murder rate in the country after Detroit and New Orleans. I guess that’s progress.
This refusal to call a thug a thug is an attempt to evade another reality: the material and moral failure of welfare state paternalism.
For decades—in the case of Baltimore, since 1967—Democrats have run major cities and have carried out the welfare state agenda. They redistribute taxpayer money, taken from the most productive enterprises and individuals, to “the poor,” thus posing as wonderful benefactors. Their government employees, who provide them with votes, administer onerous regulations on businesses and entrepreneurs, all the while providing substandard services to the citizens.
And their public employee union allies, especially in the failed schools that are often as dangerous as prisons, block any possibility of reforms. Local economies stagnate. Productive enterprises and individuals flee the city for the suburbs, creating hardships that the same politicians then can promise to solve with more of the same failed policies. And so the cycle has gone on for decades.
The welfare system teaches those trapped in it that they are entitled to a living; that they need not work for it; that others owe them; that their economic plight is not their fault; that any misery they experience is because others are selfish and malicious. The system creates envy and resentment. If you don’t have it, it’s because others do. So either redistribute it yourself with a gun to a merchant’s head or as part of a mob breaking store windows, or let the government mob grab it for you.
The welfare state creates the thugs because its redistribution premises are themselves criminal!
The welfare state assumes that entire classes of people are too weak and stupid to take care of themselves without government assistance. But it is the welfare system that destroys moral character and creates weakness and stupidity. The strong and the wise would not need it.
As the flames of Baltimore’s buildings burnt out in the riots in 1968, the welfare state was offered as the solution. It has failed miserably and morally, in Baltimore and across the country.
Those in Baltimore who are honestly anguished by the destruction the rioters have wrought and by the plight in the inner city, there and everywhere, must recognize that same stale solutions will fail again.
A real moral revolution is needed that focuses on facilitating in the individual the morality of personal responsibility and autonomy, of true self-empowerment, of a desire to be left free to achieve and to take pride from achievements. Only then will the ashes of burning cities be relegated to the ash-heap of history.
· Edward Hudgins, “Martin Luther King's Dream and Today's Racial Nightmare.” August 27, 2013.
· William Thomas, “How Racist Are We?” Summer, 2010.
· Edward Hudgins, “Thoughts on Racial Thinking.” January 17, 2009.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.
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