Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Neoliberal Policies Led to the Blight and Riots in West Baltimore

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Me, in the Baltimore Inner Harbor, May, 1994 - before delivering a paper for a joint AAS-AGU conference at the Baltimore Convention Center.

"At the heart of neoliberal narratives are ideologies, modes of governance, and policies that embrace a pathological individualism, a distorted notion of freedom, and a willingness both to employ state violence to suppress dissent and abandon those suffering from a collection of social problems ranging from dire poverty and joblessness to homelessness" - Henry Giroux, 'The Politics of Cruelty - America's Descent Into Madness'

First, let me get it straight with assorted nabobs and nattering bloggers - especially those in the FOX News universe - that Baltimore is a beautiful and thoroughly delightful city. I should know, I lived in one of its suburbs for nine years and wifey and I often went into the city proper to attend concerts at the Baltimore Symphony. All the hysterical babble that the city is "crime-ridden, derelict, full of apes and gorillas' is total  unsupported nonsense - and most of those talking-writing this trash have never set foot in Baltimore.

What is being seen on televisions across the nation in the form of rioting, is happening in a place that has been predated upon and abandoned for dozens of years: West Baltimore. As Michael Eric Dyson pointed out two nights ago (on Chris Hayes 'All In') what we are seeing is a reaction to systemic violence of the Neoliberal capitalist state against the most vulnerable citizens of a place that has been literally drained of what little investment capital it had and left to fend for itself.

Start with the loss of decent manufacturing jobs after the hideous NAFTA, GATT trade agreements went into effect. Then consider how capital was mainly funneled into select, upscale areas like the Inner Harbor (with its trendy galleries, cafes and boutiques) and into building massive sports stadiums - such as Camden Yards for the Orioles baseball team and M&T Bank stadium for the Ravens. THAT is where the tax money and investment went while West Baltimore was left to suck sand.

You see those young kids being  called "apes" by many of the clueless? You know how they got to that extreme of rioting? Consider how the state abandoned it's Head Start program as well as after school development programs and gang counseling - giving the millions instead to build new prisons. New prisons!  Those kids were then left largely to fend for themselves, usually with just a single mother to try to act as parent - often while holding two or more jobs.

Dyson, to his credit, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in reference to the riots in Watts back in '65 and noted he said:

"A riot is the language of the unheard"

See e.g.

Dyson pointed out the systemic brutalization of the West Baltimore community, including youth especially as well as ordinary people by the police state for decades. And let's bear in mind, lest some conveniently forget, the City of Baltimore has had to shell out nearly $5.8m over the past three years for damage settlements as a result of 100 or more unruly attacks on citizens by out of control cops. (The Freddie Gray incident was by no means the first, as people gathered in a West Baltimore Church recounted yesterday evening - each telling a tale of woe of how cops brutalized, neighbors, friends, acquaitnances.)

Dyson likened the reaction in West Baltimore to an NBA foul called by a ref. The ref sees the reaction of the guy who was clipped on the jaw say - by his guard opponent - but he doesn't see the mugging that incited that reaction. In the same way, millions of stupefied TV viewers behold the reaction of the youths in the streets - but they never saw the decades long institutionalized abuse, violence and poverty that came before.

It was perhaps this inequity that inspired contributor Benji Hart to write:

"We see ghettos and crime and absent parents where we should see communities actively struggling against mental health crises and premeditated economic exploitation. And when we see police cars being smashed and corporate property being destroyed, we should see reasonable responses to generations of extreme state violence, and logical decisions about what kind of actions yield the desired political results.

I’m overwhelmed by the pervasive slandering of protesters in Baltimore this weekend for not remaining peaceful. The bad-apple rhetoric would have us believe that most Baltimore protesters are demonstrating the right way—as is their constitutional right—and only a few are disrupting the peace, giving the movement a bad name."


"I do not advocate non-violence—particularly in a moment like the one we currently face. In the spirit and words of militant Black and Brown feminist movements from around the globe, I believe it is crucial that we see non-violence as a tactic, not a philosophy.

Non-violence is a type of political performance designed to raise awareness and win over sympathy of those with privilege. When those on the outside of struggle—the white, the wealthy, the straight, the able-bodied, the masculine—have demonstrated repeatedly that they do not care, are not invested, are not going to step in the line of fire to defend the oppressed, this is a futile political strategy. It not only fails to meet the needs of the community, but actually puts oppressed people in further danger of violence."

While the above may cause brain hemorrhages in some of the more brainwashed (FOX gobbling) folks out there, it should not distract the rest of us from the mass violence spawned by the Neoliberal state - which I have written about before as it applied to trying to kill "Occupy Wall Street" protesters, e.g.

Also, let us note that once the fiery reaction had been expurgated from their system, West Baltimoreans came together the next day to set things aright, cleaning up the streets and removing debris. They demonstrated collective action in the interest of their own welfare, and that the people can't be so brutally dismissed as "apes and gorillas".

Those who dispute Neoliberal fascism is a threat need to read that previous blog post carefully. Let us again bear in mind that Neoliberalism treats ALL humans not blessed with silver spoons at birth as basic chattel.   This is why none other than the elitist Bank of International Settlements, less than a month ago, proposed severe cuts to social "entitlements" globally and much more weight of economies devoted to investments - especially outside trade capital. Why do you think Obama is pushing the TPP so recklessly?

The problem with the Neoliberal, pro -free market idiom is that it denies the most basic security for the majority of citizens. In this way it feeds economic inequality while it rewards the speculator and banker class. It also helps to corrupt the political class via unregulated campaign contributions.

Jay Bookman aptly noted('The New World Disorder Evident Here, Abroad', in The Baltimore Sun, December 15, 1997):

"The global economy has been constructed on the premise that government guarantees of security and protection must be avoided at all costs, because they discourage personal initiative. In times of crisis, however, that premise cannot be sustained politically. In times of trouble it is human nature to seek security and protection and to be drawn toward those who promise to provide it. That is how men such as Adolf Hitler, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin came to power, with disastrous consequences."

Those who fail to see the perverse hand of Neoliberal state violence as the source of what's  happening in Baltimore are not paying attention. Those who lay blame on "the black Democratic leadership"  of the city and "social welfare" for the troubles, are simply idiots. They could as well be blind, deaf and dumb for all the good those senses are doing them.

Now, recall I said earlier how money - millions- was withdrawn from youth programs, counseling and Head Start programs to build prisons. Joan Walsh in her own  piece is very specific about this connection:

"Freddie Gray’s death in the custody of Baltimore police has drawn our attention not only to the terrible history of that police department, but of Gray’s blighted neighborhood, Sandtown-Winchester. Those 72 blocks in West Baltimore are home to more state prison inmates than any other Maryland census tract. The poverty and unemployment rate are double the city average. One out of four juveniles were arrested between 2005 and 2009. The mortality rate for 25-44 year olds — Freddie Gray was 25 — is 44 percent higher there than for the same demographic elsewhere in the city, according to the Baltimore Sun.

She goes on to write:

Sandtown-Winchester sounds like so many other neglected inner-city landscapes of despair, though it’s just a few miles from the city’s gleaming and redeveloped harbor district, and 50 miles from our nation’s capital."

And let's bear in mind the D.C. area - the capital- is the 4th highest income area in the U.S. Let us also recall how I already mentioned the Inner Harbor as sucking up most investment money!

Joan goes on to point out:

"Except Sandtown-Winchester hasn’t been neglected, exactly. In the mid-1990s, it was home to an ambitious community building initiative driven by Maryland megadeveloper James Rouse and the city’s new and ambitious mayor Kurt Schmoke. The work was supposed to help make sure none of this nightmare – Freddie Gray’s awful death at the hands of police; the terrible rioting that’s ensued — ever happened. But obviously it didn’t. In about eight years, $130 million in public and private funding went into the neighborhood, $60 million from the Rouse Foundation alone. Impressive aspects of the “neighborhood transformation initiative” were featured in Lisbeth Schorr’s influential bookCommon Purpose.” George Will praised its work on healthy parenthood as an example of “Jeffersonian democracy” in action. Its success in spotlighting West Baltimore’s problems, but also its capacity for self-renewal, helped the city win designation as a federal Empowerment Zone in 2000.

Ultimately, it didn’t. And I didn’t call out the two issues that would doom it: lack of attention to the underlying problem of inner city job flight, and the enduring scourge of police brutality, over-incarceration and the “war on drugs.

So in other words, the re-investment was basically "dead in the water" - though Joan does note that  "at least 1 ,000 new housing units were built, and another thousand renovated."

But let's be clear,  given the population and the volume of dilapidated homes, that's a drop in the bucket. (Rouse, btw , also developed Columbia - where we lived- one of the first ever planned cities in the U.S. For those into trivia, actor Edward Norton is Rouse's grandson.)

"Then Rouse died and Schmoke moved on, and the effort sputtered. The recession hit, and much of the infrastructure of the change initiative crumbled. "

She then cites Doni Glover, an activist, radio host and publisher of BmoreNews, who grew up there, charted the course in the local business journal on Monday:
When the Sandtown-Winchester Transformation Project, known as Community Building in Partnership Inc., finally closed down, this community — of which I call home — began to lose all of the very resources that were changing things around for many people. Not only did we lose CBP, we lost our community newspaper, a senior center, an AmeriCorps Program, a job placement office, a high blood pressure program sponsored by Johns Hopkins well as a couple community development corporations. We also lost a program that addressed vacant properties. All of these programs are gone with the wind.

Losses, losses and more losses - but in Michael Eric Dyson's lexicon - still a form of habituated economic violence practiced against an indigent populace. But this is typical of Neoliberalism. Indeed, Naomi Klein in her book,  'The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism' (2007), compellingly described the number the Neoliberal imperialists did on Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In her chapter on the Russian capitalist "experiment" (pp. 282-87) she documents how a cabal of gangster capitalists under the IMF and the "Chicago gang of Milton Friedman" attempted to brutally re-make the existing Russian centrally- planned economy into a Neoliberal free market outpost of  the West. The process was long and painful, entailing first getting rid of Mikhail Gorbachev -then installing puppet Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin, meanwhile, made reckless promises that things would "only be hard for six months"  and "very soon" Russia would be an economic titan. Never happened! As Klein notes (ibid.):

"The logic of so-called creative destruction resulted in scarce creation and spiraling destruction"

Newspapers, magazines from the period (which I still have and can peruse anytime) depict horrific suffering by ordinary Russians as they had to beg, borrow or steal to survive - thanks to the Neoliberal market barbarians.  The sad facts?  After only a year of Neoliberal thuggery and "market therapy" millions of Russians had lost their life savings, their jobs and pensions as well as support systems. They were at the mercy of the Neoliberals for even a slice of bread and some cold soup.

Not a hell of a lot different from the depredation the Neolibs exacted on West Baltimore - much closer to home!

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