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Why the Baltimore riots are just the start

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Having witnessed the chaos in Baltimore first hand, ITV’s Washington correspondent, Robert Moore, analyses the reason the riots started and what impact they will have on the US

It’s not just about Freddie Gray 
“Yes, there’s a call for justice for Freddie Gray – the man who was mysteriously killed in police custody – and his family. But what I came across was a demand for economic change. People were saying it’s not just about justice, it’s also about investment.” 

The problems aren’t being addressed 
“Why does it take a riot for white reporters to come down to see the conditions people live in, the fact there’s 40 per cent unemployment and massive underinvestment in this neighbourhood? It takes a tragedy to bring attention to a place like Baltimore and other African-American communities. Violence can occur anywhere at any time when underlying issues like these are overlooked."

There’s a lack of role models  
“There is a complicated demographic in Baltimore. In the communities of east and west Baltimore, where these disturbances took place, it’s predominantly African-American. The neighbourhood [the riots took place in] is 94 per cent African-American, it’s a very black community, almost no white people live there. It’s very poor. There is a complete lack of fathers and mentor figures because so many young men are in prison. So if you’re a young teenager, you are frustrated, you are angry and there’s a very strong presence of gangs – it’s not a surprise the whole place is disillusioned.” 

The communities feel ignored  
“I’m not excusing criminality or the looting of stores, but it’s also clear, if you scratch below the surface and see what’s going on, this is a plea for help. If you talk to the older people watching on the sidelines, they are saying, ‘We’re desperate.’ [On the second day] there were protests, smoke grenades thrown by the police and confrontations. Ultimately, though, the violence had calmed down. What was noticeable was an attempt by the community to police themselves, reclaim their own streets and urge people to go home.” 

History keeps repeating itself   
“I think this will go on all summer long, hop-scotching across America. There are many places with an overwhelmingly African-American population, a white police force and lots of grievances about policing and how the laws are enforced. Whether it’s Ferguson, Baltimore – it could be anywhere, really. I don’t see it stopping in Baltimore. As Barack Obama said, this has been growing but it’s not a surprise.” 

But America is now paying attention 
“The positive side is that we’ve been reminded, 60 years after the civil-rights movement began, that there are still some major unresolved issues. Before it was about voting rights, now it’s about economic rights. It doesn't change overnight, maybe it doesn't change in a decade, but at least it means the light is shining on some of these otherwise forgotten American communities.”

[Images: Getty]

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