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Baltimore: What prompts people to demonstrate?



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SALT LAKE CITY — Parts of Baltimore are still on edge following riots that began after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who was in police custody.

Fires, looting and clashes with law enforcement officers came to a head on Monday night. The situation calmed a bit Tuesday night and city leaders are hoping for that trend to continue.

The situation has inflamed racial tensions, which go back decades in the city.

The question is — how long will it continue?

According to Dr. David Derezotes, professor and chair of peace and conflict studies at the University of Utah, said the solution begins with talking.

“Even the folks that do perpetrate violence have hearts and are humans,” he said. “And can't we find a way to talk with each other? I think we can and, if I can get on my soap box here, I think we have to. Don’t you think?”

Derezotes and his students have been discussing Baltimore and the events in that city during the past week. Having studied other situations like this in other parts of the country, he said the demonstrations do have value, even if they begin violently.

“So, (I’m) sad that that's going on and violence is occurring, but also hopeful that this is an issue that's come to the forefront," Derezotes said "We're thinking about it now.”


In fact, we know for a fact that in most instances in what we call riots, the majority of people are not violent. There's a small group that are, but of course that's what gets the attention.

–Dr. David Derezotes, U of U Professor


Racial tensions in Baltimore go back years, but the latest incident has agitated many here. And Derezotes said the demonstrators all have different reasons for hitting the streets.

“So one of the leading theories is that when you and I are in a larger group, we lose some of our personal identity and our inhibitions,” he said. “In fact, we know for a fact that in most instances in what we call riots, the majority of people are not violent. There's a small group that are, but of course that's what gets the attention.”

This week, there’s a quote circulating on the web and social media made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nearly five decades ago: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

The people of Baltimore are certainly being heard right now… but what’s next?

Derezotes said now it’s time to talk, and to start in our own communities: true dialog, meaningful discussion. It won’t solve all the problems overnight, he said, but it gets the conversation started.

“I would say that maybe something we all could do is think about the people who seem the most different than me in the community, and make an effort to have a conversation with them.”

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Keith McCord

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