Rep. Keith Ellison: Unrest comes from ‘affluent’ trying to keep control

Ben Kamisar, The Hill.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said Thursday that the riots and blight in West Baltimore are a result of “the affluent” using the justice system to keep “control” over the poor and working classes.

“Excessive police force and staggering unemployment work together because what we’ve done in the United States is that we’ve said that the affluent part of our society is going to demand more tax breaks, more wealth, more privilege, leaving less for the less fortunate,” he said during an interview on CNN’s “New Day.”

“The way we keep the less fortunate in control is policing and prisons — that’s the unfortunate formula that we’ve constructed.”
Wednesday saw another relatively calm night in Baltimore, which on Monday faced intense riots following the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man who sustained a severe spinal injury while in police custody.

Many of the demonstrations were peaceful, but some turned violent in clashes with police. During rioting Monday, at least 20 officers were injured as rioters threw objects and set fires around the area.

Police are still investigating how Gray suffered the severe spinal injury, but The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that a police document shows a passenger in the same van as Gray told officers Gray seemed to be trying to hurt himself on purpose. The passenger could not see Gray from his compartment in the van.

Ellison, a former criminal defense lawyer, dismissed that explanation and implied that the prisoner could have made the story up to curry favor with officers.

“After 16 years of doing criminal defense work, I can tell you that if you are charged with a crime, in custody and the officers come to you and say, ‘Hey, somebody’s saying we beat up on Freddie, did you see anything like that?’ ‘Oh no sir,’ ” Ellison said.

“It’s pretty transparent. I wouldn’t put any credence on that at all.”

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, added that raising the minimum wage and making investments in infrastructure and education would go a long way to deal with helping fix the systemic issues in many poor communities.

“You’ve got to make an investment: Our society is going to have to decide if are we going to just pay the police and the prisons to keep the poor under control or we can invest and include everyone in this economy,” he said.

“We are connected here; we are all Americans; we’ve got to say that look, you can make good money, but do you have to make so much that whole neighborhoods have nothing, not even any hope?”

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