Freddie Gray in Context: a Century of White Supremacy in Baltimore

April 30, 2015 § 1 Comment

During the recent unrest in Baltimore, many people have discussed riots and expressed considerations for property. So, let’s talk about property, housing and homes specifically. Let’s talk about Baltimore. The ghetto does not exist in a vacuum, just like plantations or colonies didn’t invent themselves. In fact, they arise from policies of exploitation, extraction, exclusion. I’ll quote several articles depicting a century of white supremacy in Baltimore, 1910-2010, along the lens of real estate, as well as my analysis.

Baltimore’s White Supremacy: a History

—”In Baltimore in 1910, a black Yale law school graduate purchased a home in a previously all-white neighborhood. The Baltimore city government reacted by adopting a residential segregation ordinance, restricting African Americans to designated blocks. Explaining the policy, Baltimore’s mayor proclaimed, ‘Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums in order to reduce the incidence of civil disturbance, to prevent the spread of communicable disease into the nearby White neighborhoods, and to protect property values among the White majority.'”[1]

—”In 1917, the U.S. Supreme Court found ordinances like Baltimore’s 1910 segregation rule unconstitutional, not because they abridged African Americans’ rights to live where they could afford, but because they restricted the property rights of (white) homeowners to sell to whomever they wished. Baltimore’s mayor responded by instructing city building inspectors and health department investigators to cite for code violations anyone who rented or sold to blacks in predominantly white neighborhoods. Five years later, the next Baltimore mayor formalized this approach by forming an official Committee on Segregation and appointing the City Solicitor to lead it. The committee coordinated the efforts of the building and health departments with those of the real estate industry and white community organizations to apply pressure to any whites tempted to sell or rent to blacks. Members of the city’s real estate board, for example, accompanied building and health inspectors to warn property owners not to violate the city’s color line.”[1]

—”In 1925, 18 Baltimore neighborhood associations came together to form the ‘Allied Civic and Protective Association’ for the purpose of urging both new and existing property owners to sign restrictive covenants, which committed owners never to sell to an African American. Where neighbors jointly signed a covenant, any one of them could enforce it by asking a court to evict an African American family who purchased property in violation. Restrictive covenants were not merely private agreements between homeowners; they frequently had government sanction. In Baltimore, the city-sponsored Committee on Segregation organized neighborhood associations throughout the city that could circulate and enforce such covenants.”[1]

—”African Americans were prevented from moving to white neighborhoods by explicit policy of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which barred suburban subdivision developers from qualifying for federally subsidized construction loans unless the developers committed to exclude African Americans from the community. The FHA also barred African Americans themselves from obtaining bank mortgages for house purchases even in suburban subdivisions which were privately financed without federal construction loan guarantees. The FHA not only refused to insure mortgages for black families in white neighborhoods, it also refused to insure mortgages in black neighborhoods—a policy that came to be known as ‘redlining,’ because neighborhoods were colored red on government maps to indicate that these neighborhoods should be considered poor credit risks as a consequence of African Americans living in (or even near) them.”[1]

—”Unable to get mortgages, and restricted to overcrowded neighborhoods where housing was in short supply, African Americans either rented apartments at rents considerably higher than those for similar dwellings in white neighborhoods, or bought homes on installment plans. These arrangements, known as contract sales, differed from mortgages because monthly payments were not amortized, so a single missed payment meant loss of a home, with no accumulated equity.

Because black contract buyers knew how easily they could lose their homes, they struggled to make their inflated monthly payments. Husbands and wives both worked double shifts. They neglected basic maintenance. They subdivided their apartments, crammed in extra tenants and, when possible, charged their tenants hefty rents. …
White people observed that their new black neighbors overcrowded and neglected their properties. Overcrowded neighborhoods meant overcrowded schools; in Chicago, officials responded by “double-shifting” the students (half attending in the morning, half in the afternoon). Children were deprived of a full day of schooling and left to fend for themselves in the after-school hours. These conditions helped fuel the rise of gangs, which in turn terrorized shop owners and residents alike.

In the end, whites fled these neighborhoods, not only because of the influx of black families, but also because they were upset about overcrowding, decaying schools and crime. They also understood that the longer they stayed, the less their property would be worth. But black contract buyers did not have the option of leaving a declining neighborhood before their properties were paid for in full—if they did, they would lose everything they’d invested in that property to date. Whites could leave—blacks had to stay.”[2]

—”The contract buying system was commonplace in Baltimore. Its existence was solely due to the federal government’s policy of denying mortgages to African Americans, in either black or white neighborhoods.”[1]

—”In 1970, declaring that the federal government had established a ‘white noose’ around ghettos in Baltimore and other cities, HUD Secretary George Romney proposed denying federal funds for sewers, water projects, parkland, or redevelopment to all-white suburbs that resisted integration by maintaining exclusionary zoning ordinances (that prohibited multi-unit construction) or by refusing to accept subsidized moderate-income or public low-income housing. In the case of Baltimore County, he withheld a sewer grant that had previously been committed, because of the county’s policies of residential segregation…President Richard Nixon eventually restrained Romney, HUD’s integration programs were abandoned, Romney himself was forced out as HUD Secretary, and little has been done since to solve the urban poverty problem with the substantial resources that exist in the suburbs.”[1]

—”In 1994, civil rights groups sued the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleging that HUD had segregated its public housing in Baltimore and then, after it had concentrated the poorest African American families in projects in the poorest neighborhoods, HUD and the city of Baltimore demolished the projects, and purposely relocated the former residents into other segregated black neighborhoods. An eventual settlement required the government to provide vouchers to former public housing residents for apartments in integrated neighborhoods, and supported this provision with counseling and social services to ensure that families’ moves to integrated neighborhoods would have a high likelihood of success. Although the program is generally considered a model, it affects only a small number of families, and has not substantially dismantled Baltimore’s black ghetto.”[1]

—Mid-to-late 2000s: Wells Fargo paid a $175,000,000 settlement for pricing discrimination suit after targeting blacks primarily for predatory loans. “The city alleged Wells Fargo steered minorities into subprime loans, gave them less favorable rates than white borrowers and foreclosed on hundreds of Baltimore homes, creating blight and higher public safety costs. Wells Fargo is the largest residential home mortgage originator in the United States.”[3] “The City of Baltimore sued Wells Fargo Bank, presenting evidence that the bank had established a special unit staffed exclusively by African American bank employees who were instructed to visit black churches to market subprime loans. The bank had no similar practice of marketing such loans through white institutions.”[1] Some employees called sub-prime mortgage loans to black people “ghetto loans” for “mud people”[3], but even if not all employees did, the institutional policies had white supremacist consequences and directions, existing within a white supremacist history.

Baltimore’s White Supremacy: a Summary
Baltimore’s history from 1910-2010 reflects a hundred years of white supremacist private property relations and State policies, including: Residential segregation ordinances. Government bureaucrats enforcing code violations racially, building the Committee on Segregation, and coordinating racism with building and health departments and the real estate industry. Baltimore neighborhood associations forming the “Allied Civic and Protective Association” to sign restrictive covenants against blacks, frequently with government sanction. The Federal Housing Administration forbidding suburban subdivision developers from subsidized loans unless they excluded blacks, and also barring blacks from mortgages and refused them insurance, instating racist “redlining”. A situation of black overcrowding, contract sales without equity, and maintenance neglect, resulting in overcrowded schools and educational disparities, gang formation, white flight, and black entrapment in ghettos. Suppression of political resistance. Mass, disproportionate incarceration of blacks under the Drug War. The Department of Housing and Urban Development discrimination that warehoused blacks in projects, demolished them, and relocated former residents to other segregated neighborhoods. Predatory sub-prime loans targeting blacks, with the ensuing foreclosures and evictions.

The Weight of Economic Oppression
The takeaway: “Nationwide, black family incomes are now about 60 percent of white family incomes, but black household wealth is only about 5 percent of white household wealth. In Baltimore and elsewhere, the distressed condition of African American working- and lower-middle-class families is almost entirely attributable to federal policy that prohibited black families from accumulating housing equity during the suburban boom that moved white families into single-family homes from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s—and thus from bequeathing that wealth to their children and grandchildren, as white suburbanites have done.”[1]

The police as an institution, and currently the National Guard, enforce this white supremacist order, an order created by a system serving wealthy property owners, businesses, and politicians. The ghetto didn’t build itself any more than black people signed up for lynching. It has a history and legacy, and white ignorance facilitates complicity with this tragic reality.

Consequences: Black Misery
Let’s look at some of the consequences of this order:
—Less than 60% of Baltimore’s high school students graduate[4]
—Baltimore has the 5th highest homicide rate in the country[5]
—Baltimore has extreme levels of police corruption and brutality[6]
—Baltimore: the heroin capitol of the US[7]
—About a quarter of Baltimore residents live below the poverty line[4]
—Black infants in Baltimore are almost nine times more likely to die before age 1 than White infants[4]
—AIDS cases are nearly five times more common in the African-American community [4]
—“’Only six miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Hollins Market…[B]ut there is a 20-year difference in the average life expectancy.’”[4]
—Baltimore’s public housing agency has a history of neglect for issues of lead paint poisoning[8], associated with “reducing youngsters’ IQ and undermining their ability to learn and control their behavior.”[9]

Whose Law and Whose Order?
For over 100 years, the Baltimore police did not expend notable effort arresting white supremacist business owners and politicians for orchestrating segregation and ghettos, they instead enforced evictions, especially against black families, at the order of white supremacist capitalists, such as Wells Fargo. The National Guard did not enforce a curfew against white supremacy for 100 years, and when white people rioted after a sports game, they instead enforced a curfew against a primarily black civilian uprising. Corporations and the rich, mostly white, pay fines and settlements while continuing to destroy neighborhoods, but when black people smash some windows or cars, the tanks roll in. Mass incarceration of blacks for non-violent drug offenses proliferates, but chemicals like lead that poison slum-dwelling blacks rarely sees prosecution and restitution. The police can not buckle in Freddie Gray while under custody, then break his spine and make two stops while delaying medical attention.[10] Does it really surprise anyone that a black man in a ghetto in a white supremacist society might carry a knife in the pocket, and run from police? Gray’s death tragically vindicates his actions in their context.

The story takes an even more sobering turn as we realize Freddie Gray received restitution for lead poisoning.[11] His likely death at the hands of a police “Rough Ride”[6][12] indicates a damning white supremacist reality: if you’re black, even if you survive the capitalists, the police still may murder you. He possessed a knife, but as far as we know, did not brandish it. This type of lethal response reminds one of Slave Code prohibitions on weapons possession. Along this line, the media dredges up all the typical personal insults against the slain Gray, so convenient when the murdered have no voice. The current concocted fantasy that Gray “broke his own spinal cord” in the van, that some media outlets theorized, tests the limits of human patience toward bullshit.

Gray’s double-bind situation echoes with the detention of black men such as Baltimore activist and Morgan State student Joseph Kent during the present curfew, tackled by the National Guard or riot cops half an hour after curfew while an armored vehicle and police line close in, blocking the cameras. [13] How ought Kent to have dissented toward emergency laws and collective punishment imposed by military force? He appeared in dark clothing (the policing of clothing: a classic misdirection and victim-blaming tactic), yet has frequently indicated non-violent intentions. What “consent of the governed” exists when the cops may harass or kill a black in the daytime, and impose emergency limitations allowing them to kidnap and ransom him or her at night, both for mere presence in the street, how does this really differ from the earlier Jim Crow era? Disheartening similarities, these.

To Whom The Streets Belong
I do wonder, if martial law came to your neck of the woods, would you stay in your home and let it happen, if the same enforcers routinely harassed and killed people like you for “suspicious activities” like exercising your rights, doing nothing, running away, or defending yourself? Or would you take to the streets? If men with guns threatened to kidnap you if you stepped outside at night, “for your own good” of course, would you let them do it? I would not, and I hope you would not either, because slavery at night means slavery at day. Why should the streets belong to those who get time off for breaking spines, just because they can? I wish to see the dispossessed, the marginalized, the discarded flood the streets and say: enough!

The people of Baltimore appear to have said just that: enough!

Observations and Suggestions For the Rebels
I have neither the wisdom nor the arrogance to dictate any particular strategy for the people of Baltimore; I leave it for the people in the neighborhoods and on the streets, in the real conditions of the inner city especially, to determine. I will, however, conclude with some observations and suggestions for the rebels:
1. The media didn’t turn on the cameras and microphones til the rioting started, and they haven’t turned them off since.
2. The President did not speak on the issue before chaos arose.
3. Any peaceful resistance offered will likely only gain negotiation due to the threat of escalating civil disorder and disruption. It appears that white supremacy does not fear, negotiate, or grant concession, unless forced to. Every MLK needs his Malcolm X.
4. The media and police will slander and divide the Uprising no matter what. Baltimore police tweeting that criminals started a library fire, when in fact, their teargas grenade sparked on trash, one must expect as the default protocol. The media will defer to the authorities, and attempt to divide their “Good Protestor” against their “Bad Protestor”. They’ll talk about looting, but rarely the millions of dollars stolen by Baltimore police through “Civil Asset Forfeiture”. They’ll never talk about looting in the context of reparations. Gather your crew, stay together, and watch each others’ backs.
5. Black mayors, black police chiefs, black cops, and black presidents have not significantly challenged the white supremacist order, so what historical precedents can we learn from? The plantation and the colony do not end peaceably, and I believe, neither too shall the ghetto.
6. All manner of aspiring power-holder and celebrity collaborator with the existing powers will attempt to pacify and route black rage back into their preferred politics. But the true danger to white supremacy comes from the uncontrollable.
7. Today holds no post-war economic boom and no high paying jobs for low skilled workers with criminal backgrounds. The terrain of struggle appears as a revolving door of incarceration between the prison and the ghetto; one for forced labor, and one for labor made obsolete. Impoverished blacks may not wish to integrate onto the sinking ship or barter with the burning bank, but instead, build black self-determination and the formation of resilient communities controlling their own subsistence, settlement, support, and solidarity. No one knows exactly what that looks like, but then again, few people knew what a desirable post-plantation transition would either.
8. Baltimore has had to release over 100 arrested protesters as the arrest paperwork clogs up in their bureaucracy.[14] They literally cannot build a cage big enough to contain the threat of black revolt. The machinery of oppression has its limits, and the more that join in, the more that might get free.

Moving Forward
Instead of calling for blacks to keep the peace, I call for disarming white supremacy. Solidarity with the Baltimore Uprising, because the toxic legacy of white supremacy has gone on for too long, and y’all never had a “peace” to return to. The violence already exists, each and every day, and the time has come for the dispossessed of Baltimore to defend their lives, dignity, and future, in whatever ways they must. Maybe white society will care when the police murder a CVS, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Liberation comes to those who say “no more”.
APTOPIX Suspect Dies Baltimore
[1] “From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation”
[2] “Race and Real Estate”
[3] “Bank Accused of Pushing Mortgage Deals on Blacks”
[4] “Why Baltimore Burned”
[5] “New FBI statistics: Baltimore No. 5 in murder rate”
[6] “The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore”
[7] “Part I: Baltimore Is the U.S. Heroin Capital”
[8] “Baltimore housing authority pays $3.7 million for lead paint poisoning”
[9] “New health issues tied to low-level lead exposure”
[10] “Six Baltimore officers suspended over police-van death of Freddie Gray”
[11] “Before The Police, Freddie Gray Was Attacked By His Own Walls”
[12] “Freddie Gray and the Fear of a ‘Rough Ride’”
[13] “Baltimore protester Joseph Kent arrested on live TV”
[14] “101 Baltimore Protesters Go Free as Arrest Paperwork Backs Up”


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