Baltimore: The Line Between Civilization and Barbarism in America

If society decays, nothing else is safe, least of all property rights and personal security. While the police have to be given whatever they need to hold the line against the barbarians, the nature of the society being protected must also be strengthened and extended to drive back the menace at its source.

By William R. Hawkins l April 29, 2015 


The rioting and looting in Baltimore show the kind of “community” that the police have to deal with every day. According to the FBI, Baltimore ranks 7th on the list of the most dangerous cities in America, with the 6th worst murder rate. In 2013, there were 233 murders; 37 for every 100,000 residents, nine times the national average. There was a violent crime for every 80 residents. And that is only for crimes reported. Many acts of violence go unreported by citizens who are cowered by local thugs in the worst parts of town.

The vast majority of those who watched cars and buildings being set on fire and looters cleaning out shops on TV never have to personally encounter what the police have to deal with as their job. They are the “thin blue line” that stands between the barbarians and the civilization the rest of us enjoy. A friend of mine from college changed her major from business to criminal justice in her senior year. She eventually joined the Sheriff’s Police in Cook County, Illinois to patrol the perimeter around Chicago. She told me she only dated fellow officers because only they understood the stress they faced in the field.

I have to confess to a bias. Even though I have never served in law enforcement, my grandfather was a deputy sheriff and my father was a reserve police officer. My father was also a newspaper reporter. Today, this would be considered a conflict of interest since so many journalists think they have to strike a pose against authority; but my father thought both jobs were compatible ways to serve the public. Suffice it say, he did not care much about how the journalism profession evolved over his long career.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (who is African-American) said that the city is being “destroyed by thugs who in a very senseless way are trying to tear down what so many have fought for.” In comments to the press Tuesday morning, she cited the burning of a CVS pharmacy. She noted how much effort had gone into convincing CVS to invest in the black neighborhood; to take a risk to provide a vital service. How difficult will it be to convince other business firms to move into the area and create jobs? Yet, as a good liberal, she had hesitated to use the power of the police, reinforced by the National Guard, to protect the area from the mob. She told the press, “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.”

Black lives matter, but not if you’re a business owner, honor student or normal resident trying to build a better life. The “community organizers” favored by politicians prefer to make thugs the poster boys for the neighborhood. They are the martyrs; their demands are to be heard. They who contribute nothing but trouble to the community, and who prey on their neighbors, are held up as the examples to rally around. There had actually been some good news in Baltimore in recent years. The high school drop out rate had declined significantly. Only 12% had failed to finish in 2013 compared to 23% in 2010. But Al Sharpton didn’t come to town to hail this sign of progress.

The most ominous development is that the Baltimore police have received credible intelligence that major street gangs are joining forces to attack officers and other symbols of authority. The police said in a statement that members of “various gangs” — including the Black Guerrilla Family, the Bloods and the Crips — have “entered into a partnership” to harm police. Other law enforcement agencies around the country acted as well to possible threats from the gangs that effectively control major urban areas. According to the FBI, “Some 33,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs with about 1.4 million members are criminally active in the U.S. today. Many are sophisticated and well organized; all use violence to control neighborhoods and boost their illegal money-making activities, which include robbery, drug and gun trafficking, fraud, extortion, and prostitution rings. According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment report, gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions, and up to 90 percent in others.”

Drugs have been at the center of gang warfare. It is estimated that 17,000 people die each year from illicit drug use. The number one cause of death among black males aged 15-34 is murder related to crime. Don’t these black lives matter?

The political Left is quick to seize the moment to proclaim a wider “revolution” against the country in general. Chris Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, the home of anti-American radicals. He won both a Pulitzer Prize with the New York Times and an Amnesty International award in 2002 and has taught at Columbia University, so he is not just any punk spewing hatred on the Internet from his parent’s basement (though it is hard to tell the difference). For the left-wing website OpEd News on Monday he wrote about those who riot, “This militant, rising off the bloody streets of cities such as Ferguson, Mo., understands that the beast is not simply white supremacy, chronic poverty and the many faces of racism but the destructive energy of corporate capitalism. This militant has given up on electoral politics, the courts and legislative reform, loathes the corporate press and rejects established black leaders such as Barack Obama….This militant believes it is only in the streets and in acts of civil disobedience that change is possible….I think the new black radical is right. It will be a long, hot and violent summer.” And Hedges will be happy to use the thugs as cannon-fodder in his Leninist fantasies. His reference to Ferguson was telling since it is now well known that the Michael Brown case was a put up job by the militants. But the facts have never had anything to do with leftist agitation and rabble-rousing.

The gangs are able to recruit and substitute their brutal codes of “honor” for the ethics of civilization because the foundations of decent society have decayed in our cities. Families have disintegrated and churches are no longer a center of cultural values and character building. Young people look for structure and identity. The gangs fill the void. Moral anarchy paves the way for anarchy in the streets. There has been a tendency on the Right to dismiss “social conservatism” as an anachronism to be discarded in favor of battles over line-items in the budget or the calculation of tax rates. But if society decays, nothing else is safe, least of all property rights and personal security. While the police have to be given whatever they need to hold the line against the barbarians, the nature of the society being protected must also be strengthened and extended to drive back the menace at its source.

William R. Hawkins, a former economics professor and Congressional staffer, is a consultant specializing in international economics and national security issues. He is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.