The severe unrest in Baltimore in recent days surely demands direct intervention from the international community. Surely the UN Security Council should be convened immediately do discuss a ‘solution’? Surely immediate sanctions are called for against the US government? And surely a ‘no-fly zone‘ should be put in place, with a NATO coalition to conduct air-strikes against the police and the National Guard?
Surely every effort must be made to ‘protect the civilians’ from their ‘brutal regime’? And surely it is time to force a ‘regime change’ in the United States of America?
The ‘legal’ precedent is already in place: in Libya in February 2011, a few hundred rioters (at most) began attacking police buildings, setting fire to security headquarters and publicly executing police officers in Libyan cities. The Libyan security forces eventually responded with “water-canons and rubber bullets” (it was only later, after some of the rioters began miraculously appearing with substantial foreign weaponry that the security forces were authorized to begin using more serious force). The international response – led by American officials – was to insist the Libyan police and security personnel cease ‘attacking civilians’ immediately. This very quickly evolved into UN sanctions against the Libyan government, an imposed no-fly zone, and eventually direct NATO military intervention on the side of the rioters.
Because that was how the ‘Libya Crisis’ started: on the 16th February 2011, violent protesters set fire to police vehicles and stations in Benghazi – a scene very similar to what we’re seeing in Baltimore. Indeed one of the main grievances of that initial unrest in Benghazi was said to be the security forces’ mistreatment of prisoners. And what was the spark in Baltimore? Why of course, the police’s brutal treatment of their ‘prisoner’ Freddie Gray.
So what’s the difference?
Look at these images: the top is Libya in 2011, the middle is London (Tottenham) in the same year, and the bottom is Baltimore now.
First, here’s a quick round-up of what has unfolded in Baltimore: I’ll quote directly from The Guardian’s summary; ‘Troops from the US National Guard began rolling into Baltimore in armoured vehicles on Monday night after violent clashes, where looting and fires led city authorities to declare a week-long curfew banning people from the streets at night. At least 27 people were arrested after intense rioting broke out following the funeral service for Freddie Gray, a young black man who died last week of injuries sustained after his arrest. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said that 15 people were injured in clashes with citizens. The Baltimore Police also said there was one report of a shooting late on Monday.’
- Police in Baltimore are accused of brutalising a member of the public – and this being a recurring theme characterizing the relationship between the police and (particularly African-American) civilians in several locations in the US. And security forces in Libya were accused of mistreating or violently abusing prisoners in some Libyan cities.
- In Baltimore, the National Guard has been sent in and curfews have been imposed. In Libya the army was eventually sent in and curfews imposed. In fact there’s more justification for the international community arming the Baltimore civilians to defend themselves against the police than there was in arming the ‘rebels’ in Libya. Perhaps a fund should be created for the rioters in Baltimore? Send them a few tanks and missile-launchers? You know, just like we did in Libya? And some strategic airstrikes to ensure they can take over as much territory as possible? After all, they are ‘civilians’ protesting their brutal mistreatment by the police/security forces, aren’t they?
So where’s the condemnation of the Baltimore police from government officials of the UK, France and other European nations? You know, the same guys who were so appalled by the Libyan government’s treatment of ‘civilian protesters’? No, none – because no one cares; it’s an internal American issue that needs to be resolved internally in America. Just like the Libya crisis of 2011 should’ve been deemed an internal crisis that should’ve been resolved internally: but it wasn’t. Instead all of our governments ganged together, bombed the country to crap, forced out the government, murdered its key leader, gave weapons to the ‘protestors’ and let them run riot.. and then left the country in anarchy.
Here’s part of the press conference from Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in Baltimore: ‘After that we began to have trouble at Lexington Market. We responded with approximately about 50 officers… where we secured that and didn’t sustain much damage. We then got calls later off of the 1700 block of Monument that we had looting there. We responded multiple units over there to sustain that area.’
He sounds like he could just as easily be Saif Gaddafi in 2011 trying to explain to international media what had happened at the beginning of the Libyan crisis, when he referred to “criminals” and “gangs” and “attacks on police”.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts again, addressing the Baltimore rioters; “This is not protesting, this is not your first amendment rights, this is just criminal activity,” he insists, adding he is “supremely disappointed in what’s happened in our beautiful city”.
Now listen to Muammar Gaddafi in 2011; “We will not permit this (criminal behaviour), and we call on Libyans to voice their issues through existing channels, even if it is to call for the downfall of the government.” And I still vividly remember one of Gaddafi’s desperate broadcasts, imploring the rioters to stop; “how can you let Tripoli, a place that was beautiful and safe… be set alight and for it to burn?”
Seriously, what’s the difference? For that matter, there were the London riots of 2011 in which thugs and criminals went on the rampage, setting fire to buildings, torching police vehicles and looting shops. Some of them had legitimate grievances, but others were just out to steal, cause mayhem and have fun. I remember because I was (involuntarily) caught up in that nonsense. That was the same year as the Libya crisis and intervention and in fact what the British rioters were doing was no different to what the Libyan rioters had been doing. But of course no one suggested the British government or police force should be bombed or ousted: because how else are you fucking supposed to stop rioters and public devastation but to send in police and security forces? But apparently when Gaddafi or a Libyan does it, that’s grounds for all-out war and intervention.
By the way, I’m not making light at all of what the Baltimore police officers did to Freddie Gray, nor of the predicament that the police there find themselves in now: the point here is simply to illustrate the absolute farce of what our governments did in Libya and the utter hypocrisy and double-standard of our governments and officials. The police’s treatment of Freddie Gray was barbaric and in general it is clear that the state of relations between any number of police forces in America and its citizens – especially marginalised Black citizens – has reached a state where it is now untenable and serious measures need to be taken to hold police officers accountable.
The fact that Baltimore was the location of famous riots in the sixties simply highlights how little the situation has evolved in all of that time. The Baltimore riots of 1968 were conducted by Black Baltimoreans, included crowds filling the streets, burning and looting local businesses and confronting the police and the National Guard. The immediate cause of the rioting was the April 4th assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, which triggered riots in 125 cities across the United States, but there were other, deeper underlying grievances. The list of grievances by now is so large and expansive that it’s difficult to see how the police – and more importantly the institutions that insulate police officers from accountability – can ever regain the trust or goodwill of their communities.