No riot is normal, but after several days of peaceful protests, the violence that broke out on Monday in Baltimore looks more and more like a strange departure.
There's a familiar narrative around this outbreak of violence that makes it fit into our experience of past riots—Ferguson to Los Angeles to Detroit to Hough. The arc is scripted: Citizens get angry, tensions build and build until they boil over, violence erupts, and then people go home and the city begins the process of cleaning up. But after two relatively quiet and calm nights in Baltimore, that arc doesn't seem to apply. Instead, there seems to have been a consistent level of peaceful anger for two weeks, punctuated only by two moments of destruction. In that light, Monday's riots aren't the natural climax of increasing anger but instead an entirely avoidable tragedy that might have been forestalled had city officials made different decisions. What if the riots never had to happen?
People have been demonstrating in the streets of Baltimore since Freddie Gray died on April 19, but violence has only really broken out twice: on Saturday, and then again on Monday, with widely televised standoffs between protestors and police, looting, and fires. Baltimore Police said that 16 people were arrested on Wednesday. By contrast, more than 100 people—that is, six times as many—were arrested in protests in New York City alone on Wednesday.