Cost of a Nickel


Here we are. Again.  I debated whether or not to post about the current protests in Baltimore in response to the death of Freddie Gray.  It’s all over the news and social media, lots of people with a better grasp of the nuances than I are already covering it.  It’s exhausting, it’s embarrassing, and it’s too important to ignore.

Once again, we are consumed with the death of a young Black man who died while in police custody.  This is not new.  I’d say we’re drowning in it, but we aren’t–and we should be.  Mr. Gray saw the police cruising by, reportedly made eye contact, and he ran.  He was arrested, dragged into the back of a police vehicle, and then while handcuffed, in between the arrest and arriving at the police station–some 45 minutes later– somehow his spine was broken and he was paralyzed, a week after that he was dead from those injuries.

It’s known as a “nickel ride,” when handcuffed suspects in custody are thrown into the back of a police van, not secured/seatbelted (itself against the law), and then the vehicle is driven in a particularly rough manner, so the person is thrown around with no way to brace themselves.  We know this isn’t new because of the name for it, a reference to when a ride on a creaky wooden roller coaster was five cents.  To ride the Cyclone in Coney Island now costs $9.00.  When the Cyclone opened in 1927, a ride cost twenty-five cents.  So yeah, not new.

The news and social media is currently filled with photos and video clips of rioting in Baltimore.  As telling and mysterious as Freddie Gray’s broken spinal cord is that the news wasn’t filled with photos and videos of the protests before the violence began, and isn’t filled with photos and videos of the thousands who are protesting peacefully.

This isolated incident isn’t isolated.  We, as members of a greater community that purports itself to be vested in equality–equal opportunity–need to look at why and how violence continues to erupt. Violence in these arrests from those charged with keeping the peace, and violence born from frustration with generations of inequality, lack of opportunity, and lack of response to peaceful protests.  And fear.  Lots of fear from all angles.  Judgements, proposed solutions, and decisions made from fear are never going to offer true progress and resolution. Instead of tsk tsking the anger shown in these clips and mindlessly accepting all that’s shown as all there is, we, as consumers of media, need to look more closely at what hasn’t been highlighted, what isn’t being shown.

Like most others I know, I don’t agree with or condone rioting.  I can’t help but wonder, if no one condones it, no one wants it, and we’re all filled with mourning and solidarity and the Kumbayahness of peaceful protest, how come no more than a few in the mainstream were speaking out and airing videos before there was footage of flames?


    1. That’s the thing, most of the protestors aren’t rioting. A few are, and those are the ones getting the air time, the ones that have people talking about what’s going on. I don’t think it’s a good strategy, but for the most part I don’t thing it is a planned or organized decision. Some are opportunistic, and some, well, I can see where those levels of anger and frustration come from, when entire communities feel unheard and unsafe, so many young people don’t see a healthy way to make themselves heard. 😦


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