The Baltimore Riots: Legitimate Protest or Criminal Action?


Riots have spread across the city of Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25 year old black man who died due on 19 April due to spinal injury received while in police custody. Some view the riots as a legitimate form of protest against police brutality unfairly doled out to blacks across America, whereas others view the course of events as a form of criminal action that will only worsen the situation.

It seems there is clear evidence the rioters have a legitimate grievance. The American Civil Liberties Union filed as class lawsuit in 2006 claiming a pattern of false arrests in the city. Although the city agreed to change some of its policing practices in 2010, a six month investigation by the Baltimore Sun newspaper conducted last year found that over 100 people in the city won court settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations – costing the city $5.7 million since January 2011.  Perhaps more worryingly, the investigation also uncovered the impact of excessive police brutality on members of the public, with reports of broken bones, organ failure and head trauma.

Data on arrests made in Baltimore in 2005 (Image: Vocativ)

However, many believe that the riots are unnecessary. A national telephone survey of Americans found that only 25% of adults consider the riots to be a legitimate form of action, while 63% thought of them as criminal behaviour that was taking advantage of the situation. Looking at comments on social networks such as Twitter provides a mixed picture, with some support for the actions of the officers involved in Gray’s death and condemnation of the riots as criminal mixed in with the support for the protest.


There is also a marked difference in racial opinion, with 55% of black adults viewing it as legitimate outrage compared to 68% of white Americans considering the riots to be criminal activity. The annoucnement last Friday by one of Baltimore’s top prosecutors of criminal charges varying from assault to second-degree murder against six police officers involved in the death of Freddy Gray, and that the state are considering the incident as a homicide due to the findings of an independent report, suggests that the cause for protest is now being considered more legitimate and being taken more seriously by the government. The curfew that had been put in place across the city during the riots has now also been lifted.

Protesters believe that they have won a small victory as the officers have been charged. However, the Baltimore case is just one in a long string of incidents in which police officers have injured or killed blacks purportedly without reason. In terms of ending these issues, and healing the divide between law enforcement and America’s black communities, there is still a lot to be done.


Deputy Editor 2017-18, International Editor 2015-17. Languages graduate interested in Latin America, world news, media and politics.

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