The news of Baltimore hit the international press yesterday. The images of looting and burning and rock throwing are in the local papers. As always, there are questions from our Argentinian and Paraguayan friends. Why is this happening? Why are they so angry? Why are they destroying stores? I never know what to say to them because I have a hard time coming up with words in English, let alone Spanish.
I have several friends who live in Baltimore, our home in the US is about an hour away, and I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the city visiting–so my heart hurts today seeing the city as a warzone.
Yes, South America is obviously no stranger to protests–and even violent ones. But they seem to be particularly confused by the US’s version of protests. My bet is it has something to do with the distinct prevalence of guns. Down here, only the police and army have guns. (This brings up some entirely different problems–see Argentina from 1970s to late 1980s for an example.) But, when mass shootings and gun violence happen in the US, it seems to be so unthinkable to them.
A case in point: recently, a man in Cordoba (about 12 hours from where we are located) had three men break into his house. He took down the decorative samurai sword on his wall and started slashing at them. The men were tracked down later by police by the trail of blood they left. The man with the sword was detained for psychological evaluation. Down here, there is no “stand your ground” or protecting your own property. If someone breaks in, you can use your fists and your words to get them out–but it’s socially unacceptable to use a weapon to deter them. A completely different culture than in the US.
We were all sitting outside eating wings on Sunday, and we were discussing how the kids down here in South America just don’t have the rage that kids in the US have. That’s what I’m seeing in Baltimore–rage. I’m not saying it’s not a justified anger–I just don’t think it’s healthy for anyone to harbor that amount of rage. There’s so much vitriol in the US that I just don’t see down here. Yes, there are opposing political parties–but outside of a few crazies, no one is constantly calling the other “Satan.” Down here–if a kid does something bad, they pickpocket you or they steal your purse–but you don’t feel the indignant rage and the feeling of “I deserve this more than you do” that I’ve seen in crime in the US. There isn’t such blatant entitlement down here.
I really don’t have anything profound or important to say in this post–I just needed to get these thoughts out. I hope everyone in Baltimore stays safe and peaceful in the coming days.
Edited to add this quote from MLK in 1966 to Mike Wallace:
“But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.
And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”