CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill on Baltimore: ‘This Is Not a Riot’ But ‘Uprisings’ Against ‘Police Terrorism’

During CNN’s live coverage on Monday night of the Baltimore riots, CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill urged viewers to view what was taking place as “not a riot” but “uprisings” in response to African-Americans “dying in the streets for months, years, decades, centuries” due to “police terrorism.”

When brought into the discussion by CNN Tonight host Don Lemon, Hill declared that “there shouldn’t be calm tonight” in Baltimore since there’s been “black people...dying in the streets for months, years, decades, centuries” and endorsed the need for “resistance to oppression and when resistance occurs, you can't circumscribe resistance.”

The far-left pundit continued by citing the need to both “not get more upset about the destruction of property than the destruction of black bodies” as well as “not romanticize peace...as the only way to function” [emphasis mine]:

We can't ignore the fact that the city is burning, but we need to be talking about why it's burning and not romanticize peace and not romanticize marching as the only way to function. I'm not saying we should be hurting, I’m not saying we should be killing people, but we do have to understand that resistance looks different ways to different people and part of what it means to say black lives matter, is to assert our right to have rage – righteous rage, righteous indignation in the face of state violence and extrajudicial killing. Freddie Gray is dead. That's why the city is burning and let’s make that clear. It's not burning because of these protesters. The city is burning because the police killed Freddie Gray and that’s a distinction we have to make. 

Seemingly stunned, CNN political commentator Van Jones expressed his disagreement by saying, in part, that [again, emphasis mine]: 

Yes it is true. Dr. King said riots are the language of the unheard. It is, in fact true, and important that people recognize that the conditions in Baltimore for black teens are worse than conditions for teens in Nigeria. So, the outrage should be of course about the incredible injustice both from the police, but also the economic deprivation and I want to have a conversation. But I do want to be able to draw a line to say that the righteous outrage – we can take a moral position, as a part of this movement. Black lives matter, but you know what? Black jobs matter, and black businesses matter, and black neighborhoods matter and I don't think it's appropriate for us to give any kind of suggestion that the destruction of black communities is a positive or can be positive in this context. 

When Hill was given the chance to respond, he only backtracked slightly and suggested that “we should be more strategic in how we riot” (after saying minutes earlier that the word “riot” shouldn’t be used):

I'm not saying we should see the destruction of black communities as positive. I'm saying that we can't have too narrow a perception of what the destruction of black communities mean and it seems we exhausted more of our moral outrage tonight and not the 364 days before tonight. I think we should be strategic in how we riot.

Like Jones, Lemon made clear that he was also strongly opposed to Hill’s thinking:

Marc, I got to tell you this. I understand – yes, we should be outraged and we get that, we understand that and we devote so much coverage, not only this network, but other networks that I've seen, to talk about all of those issues that we've seen. We've exhausted many times the viewer with that, and we should continue to, but we're trying to figure out exactly what is leading to what we're seeing tonight and I agree with Van Jones, we cannot give credence to people who want to go out and burn down buildings and to hurt people.

Between a few moments of cross-talk between Lemon and Hill, the latter again ranted:

What I’m saying is we can’t pathologize people who, after decades and centuries of police terrorism, have decided to respond in this way and when we use the language of thugs, when we use the language of riots, we make it seem as if it’s this pathological, dysfunctional, counter-productive[.]

The relevant portions of the transcript from CNN Tonight on April 27 can be found below.

CNN Tonight
April 27, 2015
10:51 p.m. Eastern

MARC LAMONT HILL: No, there shouldn’t be calm tonight. Black people are dying in the streets. They’ve been dying in the streets for months, years, decades, centuries. I think there can be resistance to oppression and when resistance occurs, you can't circumscribe resistance. You can’t schedule a planned resistance. You can't tell people where to die in, where to resist, how to resist and how to protest. Now, I think there should be an ethics attached to this, but we have to watch our own ethics and be careful not to get more upset about the destruction of property than the destruction of black bodies and that seems to be to me – to me what's happening over the last few hours and that’s very troublesome to me. We also have to be very careful about the language we use to talk about this. I'm not calling these people rioters. I'm calling these uprisings and I think it's an important distinction to make. This is not a riot. There have been uprisings in major cities and smaller cities around this country for the last year because of the violence against black female and male bodies forever and I think that’s what important here. I agree with you, Don. We can't ignore the fact that the city is burning, but we need to be talking about why it's burning and not romanticize peace and not romanticize marching as the only way to function. I'm not saying we should be hurting, I’m not saying we should be killing people, but we do have to understand that resistance looks different ways to different people and part of what it means to say black lives matter, is to assert our right to have rage – righteous rage, righteous indignation in the face of state violence and extrajudicial killing. Freddie Gray is dead. That's why the city is burning and let’s make that clear. It's not burning because of these protesters. The city is burning because the police killed Freddie Gray and that’s a distinction we have to make. 

(....)

JONES: Well, I think he was taking more of an agnostic view that we need to give some space for a range of tactics. I would say – I would disagree. I think we should be showing moral leadership and saying, you know – I keep hearing riots are the language of the unheard. The reality is, in this situation, the voices, at least about police brutality, have been heard. Certainly CNN and other news agencies have been giving space to those voices. So –

LEMON: For hours and hours and hours of coverage daily. 

JONES: And so, it's going to be a tough conversation to have, but I want to say: Yes it is true. Dr. King said riots are the language of the unheard. It is, in fact true, and important that people recognize that the conditions in Baltimore for black teens are worse than conditions for teens in Nigeria. So, the outrage should be of course about the incredible injustice both from the police, but also the economic deprivation and I want to have a conversation. But I do want to be able to draw a line to say that the righteous outrage – we can take a moral position, as a part of this movement. Black lives matter, but you know what? Black jobs matter, and black businesses matter, and black neighborhoods matter and I don't think it's appropriate for us to give any kind of suggestion that the destruction of black communities is a positive or can be positive in this context. 

(....)

HILL: I'm not saying we should see the destruction of black communities as positive. I'm saying that we can't have too narrow a perception of what the destruction of black communities mean and it seems we exhausted more of our moral outrage tonight and not the 364 days before tonight. I think we should be strategic in how we riot.

LEMON: Marc, I got to tell you this. I understand – yes, we should be outraged and we get that, we understand that and we devote so much coverage, not only this network, but other networks that I've seen, to talk about all of those issues that we've seen. We've exhausted many times the viewer with that, and we should continue to, but we're trying to figure out exactly what is leading to what we're seeing tonight and I agree with Van Jones, we cannot give credence to people who want to go out and burn down buildings and to hurt people. 

(....)

HILL: What I’m saying is we can’t pathologize people who, after decades and centuries of police terrorism, have decided to respond in this way and when we use the language of thugs, when we use the language of riots, we make it seem as if it’s this pathological, dysfunctional, counter-productive –

LEMON: I haven't heard anybody say thugs. 

HILL: Are you serious? That’s all I’ve heard stuff.

LEMON: If anyone said thugs on this air, I haven't heard that. I’ve haven’t heard thugs and that's not come out of my mouth.

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is the Managing Editor of NewsBusters for the Media Research Center