Cameron McWhirter

Baltimore and the legacy of American riots

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So Baltimore happened. Rioters destroyed businesses and automobiles. Police officers were injured. Fires were set. The violence arose from the death of Freddie Gray April 19 while in police custody. The riots follow a pattern since the earliest days of this Republic>

baltimore-riot

The recent videotaped shooting in North Charleston, S.C., of an unarmed black man by a white police officer sparked fears of racial unrest, but so far, none have materialized. Local, state and federal officials coordinated a quick response to the violence to show the public that the justice system would act swiftly and impartially. Some have voiced cynicism.
In May 1919, in nearby Charleston, local and federal officials coordinated to quickly quash a riot by white sailors against black businesses and citizens. Tristam T. Hyde, Charleston’s mayor, and Frank Edmund Beatty, admiral of the local naval base, had worked closely to ease racial tensions in the months before the riot. Once it erupted, they acted quickly to make sure police and Naval authorities rounded up troublemakers – sailors and civilians – and shut down the violence. That part worked well. Rioters were rounded up, disarmed and bussed to jails or the naval base.
The mayor promised businesses and victims would receive compensation, and made sure white citizens were arrested. Beatty had white sailors rounded up for rioting. The local NAACP and others praised both Hyde and Beatty – two white men – for their quick and concerted action to stop mass violence. But afterward, civil and Naval judicial systems were slow to process cases and few people of the hundreds who rioted were ultimately held accountable. Black businesses were compensated, but legal segregation dominated Charleston, and the rest of the Deep South, for decades. The Charleston riot of 1919 showed that quick action can end or forestall mass violence. However long-term systemic problems, take much longer to solve. Both Hyde and Beatty would never be allowed the chance to tackle longer term problems. Mr. Hyde was voted out of office in the next election, and Beatty was forced into retirement.

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