The new HBO documentary “Baltimore Rising” has gotten loads of exposure in the last few days—raves from Salon and the Washington Post —and for most of its 90 minutes it’s watchable as it recounts the 2015 death of Baltimore drug dealer Freddie Gray and the subsequent riots and political soul-searching.
Producer-director Sonja Sohn focuses on several activists, including a 17-year-old high school student Makayla Gilliam-Price, with extended face-time with police officers and a new commissioner, Kevin Davis. It hopes for a single take-away—that over-policing of the black underclass is responsible for the collapse of families, the destruction of neighborhoods, and the city’s stunning violence. There is a hopeful suggestion that better understanding will reduce tension.That last may be true, sort of.I came away with a different and unwelcome suspicion: that black folks are significantly different from whites in at least one sense—they will go to extreme lengths to find excuses for the criminality within their society.Okay, some of us may have a nephew who has been a screw-up from the cradle. We support our families’ efforts on his behalf, to a point. But whites generally display zero tolerance for criminals outside their immediate family. The tribalism of Africans in America, to use Malcolm X’s apt term, is apparently expansive without limit. It’s the person from outside the tribe who is the enemy—particularly the outsider who wears a police uniform and enforces behavioral norms.This quirk is on full display in “Baltimore Rising.” Activists curse cops as murderers. Actual murderers—including Makayla’s uncle who was executed in 1998—are mourned. The film’s focal characters include a “retired” gang member who canoodles with the groveling commissioner, who has turned to the “community” for help in discouraging another riot. A black lieutenant colonel tours a rough neighborhood distributing hugs.Consequences of the reduced tension? For three years, the city has been the No. 2 murder capital of the U.S.Last week, after a homicide detective was shot to death, Commissioner Davis may have feared for his job. An entire neighborhood was locked down for six days as a crime scene, on dubious legal authority, as cops with automatic weapons anchored street corners and detectives looked for evidence. Davis’s attempt at rapport with the community has produced no tips on a suspect.In Baltimore, reduced tension means African Americans influence the terms of their neighborhoods’ policing. Small wonder the neighborhoods rot.Baltimore homicide toll: 310 and counting.