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Baltimore protests in USA and the lessons for Nigeria

Violence isn’t the only thing happening on the streets of Baltimore in the State of Maryland. Thousands of Nigerians live and work in Baltimore, the capital city. Just back from a tour of duty of the United States, from Washington DC through Maryland, past Ohio all the way to Chicago, Illinois and back, HAMILTONSTYLE  posits that there are lessons for us to learn as Africans in the handling of the Baltimore riots.

USA Today reports that the United States has seen a barrage of images of the rioting that erupted in the city Monday after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was gravely injured while in police custody this month and later died. Rioters hurled rocks. They burned patrol cars. They looted.

But there were also peaceful protests. There were residents thanking police. And on Tuesday, with schools closed and streets quiet, volunteers worked to clean up their city. Now this is what happens in civilised societies. Violent protests may erupt but they are not allowed to fester and spread. The law kicks in. The safety of lives and property becomes the paramount concern of both government and the governed.

Unfortunately this isn’t the usual story in Africa. Xenophobic attacks were allowed to fester in South Africa as social media went agog with gory images of roasted bodies, axed skulls, ripped bowels and shameless looting while uniformed policemen – caught on camera – watched the debasement of humanity with folded arms.

Jola Omonira, a highly skilled pharmacist who works in a children hospital in Texas, though a Nigerian from Ilaje-Eseodo in Ondo State, is a bona fide American citizen. He eschews violence. Watching CNN coverage of the Baltimore protests late Tuesday night, he told HAMILTONSTYLE, “The police are being really nice to these protesters. Everybody needs to go home fast” comparing the spectacle with Africa’s more horrid fiascos.

The 1968 Baltimore riots, sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. days, began with frustrated teenagers throwing rocks and smashing windows on April 6, 1968. By the next morning, three people were dead, 70 injured, more than 100 arrested and 5,500 National Guardsmen — along with more than 1,500 other law enforcement officials — occupied the city, Time magazine reminisced in its report of Baltimore protests, past and present.

Despite the distance of time and the differences between then and now, it’s hard not to see parallels between some of the striking imagery from 1968 and photographs from the ongoing protest-turned-riot that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray, Time rightly pointed out.

In the first 90 minutes, a confused and startled Baltimore police force had lost control of the protests. In that time and overnight, Baltimore burned in protest rage. But by Tuesday, Baltimore residents had opted for peace and sanity over rage and violence. It is believed that reason will prevail in Baltimore and all of Africa will learn from this.

Photos: Reuters | USA Today

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