The conflagrations that were Chicago and Detroit in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Los Angeles in 1991 following the Rodney King case show the potential for what Baltimore might have become. But Baltimore happened for a hugely different reason.
The issue in Baltimore is has long past being about Freddie Gray. It is about what is happening to the poor and middle class in America.
Income and wealth inequality and disparity in this country have been escalating for five decades or more. The problem is that only now is that happening so fast that we are beginning to take notice.
Inequalities in wealth distribution follow an exponential growth function — a mathematical model of "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer." In such a model, there is a point on the curve at which the growth of the curve begins to rise so fast that only a short period of time needs to pass before the inequality begins to double, then triple, then quadruple. I believe we reached that point sometime in the mid- to late 1990s.
Enormous inequality in wealth distribution can have only one result when those at the bottom are left with no jobs, education or viable means of support: Hopelessness.
Families not knowing where they might get their next meal, young people with nothing but idle time on their hands and no prospects for an education or a job, mothers and fathers unable to provide the bare necessities for their children.
Such despair has only two possible outlets — turning inward toward self-immolation or violence directed outward. When utter hopelessness sets in, there is no managing its effects; no restricting the damage it can do to the psyche. The entire world becomes the oppressor, applying ever more pressure to the space in which hopelessness has replaced self-respect and decency.
Many outsiders are lamenting that the people of Baltimore are only making things worse for themselves. Yet how many of us simply cannot fathom why entire neighborhoods would go on rampages that destroy what little of value they have?
The answer is that rage must have its due. When all hope is lost, so is the reason to live and to be responsible.
What we have seen in Baltimore may well be a microcosm of what is to come. As our government continues to take from the poor and middle class to give to the wealthy, to "balance the budget" on the backs of the poor and middle class, and to continue escalating the military industrial complex at the expense of social programs and education, hopelessness may well become pandemic in this country. Governments have been toppled for less.
Dennis Perkinson, Newtown Square, Penn.