It Didn’t Have to Happen

I’ve seen bits and pieces of this story, but Mother Jones writers Sam Brodey and Jenna McLaughlin put it together very well. Highly questionable decisions by the police – to stop buses from running, to trap students who might otherwise have gone home in the area where the worst of the violence took place Monday – made the circumstances worse and escalated a tense situation beyond what it would otherwise have been.

When school let out that afternoon, police were in the area equipped with full riot gear. According to eyewitnesses in the Mondawmin neighborhood, the police were stopping busses and forcing riders, including many students who were trying to get home, to disembark. Cops shut down the local subway stop. They also blockaded roads near the Mondawmin Mall and Frederick Douglass High School, which is across the street from the mall, and essentially corralled young people in the area. That is, they did not allow the after-school crowd to disperse.

Meghann Harris, a teacher at a nearby school, described on Facebook what happened:

Police were forcing busses to stop and unload all their passengers. Then, [Frederick Douglass High School] students, in huge herds, were trying to leave on various busses but couldn’t catch any because they were all shut down. No kids were yet around except about 20, who looked like they were waiting for police to do something. The cops, on the other hand, were in full riot gear, marching toward any small social clique of students…It looked as if there were hundreds of cops.

The kids were “standing around in groups of 3-4,” Harris said in a Facebook message to Mother Jones. “They weren’t doing anything. No rock throwing, nothing…The cops started marching toward groups of kids who were just milling about.”

What were the police thinking? The best thing that could have happened was for the kids to go home. But even if they wanted to, they couldn’t – no buses, no subway, and everywhere they turned, they faced cops in full riot gear. That’s a poorly conceived plan – one that reeks of panic, honestly – that was inevitably going to lead to disaster.