Why Comparisons Between the Boston Tea Party and Baltimore Riots Are Wrong
By Colin Jenkins / hamptoninstitution.org

The comparisons being made between the Baltimore riots this past week and the historical Boston Tea Party are wrongheaded. Baltimore residents have much more to fight for than the American colonists of old.

The Boston Tea Party

In 1767, British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which included a tax on the American colonies for tea imports from Britain. For the next six years, in order to avoid paying this tax, colonists established a significant smuggling ring with the Dutch, which amounted to approximately 900,000 pounds of tea being shipped into the American colonies per year. This was viewed as a crime by British authorities. So, in 1773, British Parliament passed the Tea Act. Contrary to a popular misconception, the Tea Act did not create a new royal tax on the American colonists. Rather, it was implemented for three reasons: (1) to help boost the East India Company, which had fallen on hard times, by granting them the right to ship tea directly to the colonies as a duty-free export, (2) to undercut the price of smuggled tea the colonies were receiving from the Dutch, and (3) to bolster and reinforce the tea import tax placed on the colonies due to the Townshend Acts.

Since the Tea Act indirectly served as a way to enforce the tax established by the Townshend Acts, colonists were up in arms. Not because they were being denied basic necessities like food, water, clothing and shelter. Not because they were terrorized by British authorities patrolling their neighborhoods. Not because they were forced to live in constricted areas with no jobs, no resources, and no ownership over their communities. They were up in arms, ready to rebel, prepared to destroy the property of another, because their sipping tea was suddenly going to cost a little more.

New England merchants who had constructed profitable businesses with the help of a complex and illegal smuggling scheme were suddenly worried about their bottom lines. Artisans worried about their rising costs of tea. Silversmiths began fretting about the prospect of falling demands for teapots. These material concerns grew fast. Town hall meetings were called to address this issue. Merchant meetings ensued. Talk continued throughout the New England colony until this disdain developed a political context falling under the banner of "no taxation without representation."

On the fateful night of December 16, 1773, over one hundred colonists, some of whom were disguised as Native Americans, jumped aboard the three ships docked at Boston Harbor and proceeded to smash open 340 chests of East India Company tea with axes. The colonists dumped every single tea leaf, 90,000 pounds (45 tons) in all, into the ocean. None of the tea belonged to them. Yet, over the course of three hours, they destroyed all of it. Its value, in today's dollars, was roughly one million dollars.

The men who took this rebellious, "criminal" and incredibly destructive stand that night must have been distressed, even hopeless. After all, what kinds of conditions would have to exist to drive people to destroy $1 million worth of someone else's property? And tea nonetheless. So, who were these desperate men? They were Paul Revere, a "prominent and prosperous" Boston Silversmith. They were Thomas Young, a Physician. Elisha Story, a Physician and the son of the Register of the Court of Admiralty, William Story. Edward Proctor, a "prominent citizen," military officer, and importer. They were Thomas Mellville, a Theologian and Princeton graduate. Abraham Hunt, a business owner involved in importing and exporting. They were David Kinnison, a farm owner. Nathaniel Barber, a wealthy merchant and insurer. Charles Conner, a coastal trader, Innkeeper and horse trader.

The list goes on and on. All men of privilege. All men of wealth. All products of a multi-generational, state-protected, feudal system of 'nobility.' All benefactors of the very empire they now opposed. Willing to riot, commit severe "criminal" acts, and destroy a million dollars worth of property in order to prevent a rise in the cost of tea.

The Baltimore Resistance

In the modern US, the state of Maryland is the standard-bearer of rising inequality. As the wealthiest state in the country, with a median income of $71,707, over 13 percent of Maryland's children live in poverty. And in this sea of extreme inequality and poverty, Baltimore has been drowning for decades, so much so that the city's socioeconomic landscape resembles that of a Third-World country, and in many cases, is much worse.

36.5% of Baltimore's children have grown up in poverty. In a city where one needs to make $24 an hour in order to sustain themselves adequately, a large majority simply cannot. The lack of living-wage jobs has forced 35% of the population to rely on food stamps to supplement their diet, and 84% of children must rely on the government supplemented reduced lunch program in order to eat in school. Since the arrival of the Great Recession in 2008, things have gotten progressively worse. Between 2008 and 2013, the participation rate in Baltimore's Food Supplement Program increased by 59 percent.

recent study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health examined the living conditions of 15-19 year olds in poor areas of five cities across the world. Baltimore happened to be one of those cities. The others were Shanghai, China; Johannesburg, South Africa; New Delhi, India; and Ibadan,Nigeria.

In comparison to the other cities, Baltimore teens showed "poor perceptions about their physical environments, their sense of social cohesion, and their sense of safety within their neighborhoods." Teens from Baltimore and Johannesburg, the cities that received the lowest ratings, are generally "fearful" and "don't feel safe from violence."


This fearful existence is the result of impoverished economic conditions that have been shaped by historical occurrences of institutional racism, racial segregation, and "White Flight." During the housing boom of the 2000s, real estate agents pulled out the "White Flight" operating manual and capitalized on "racial fears," convincing large amounts of white residents near expanding black neighborhoods to sell their houses only to turn around and "sell them to black families at a much higher price," regularly approaching 69 percent markups and fueled by the widespread illegal activities by banks leading up to theSubprime mortgage crisis. In all, the Department of Justice exposed 4,500 cases of mortgage fraud directed at residents in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. This predatory and highly-racialized housing scam was built on decades of similar practices, creating intensely segregated neighborhoods. Like most large cities in the US, a majority of Baltimore's African American residents have effectively been corralled into ghettos with deteriorating infrastructure, substandard schools, and nonexistent jobs, opportunities and resources. "The city's black population had nearly doubled between 1950 and 1970 as whites reactively began moving away: Almost a third of the city's population left the city between 1950 and 2000." When teenagers from East Baltimore were asked to describe their neighborhood, they spoke of "big rats going around in people's trash, vacant houses full of squatters and needles on the ground."

Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who was brutally murdered by police, grew up in similar surroundings. "In Sandtown-Winchester, more than half of the people between the ages of 16 and 64 are out of work and the unemployment rate is double that for the city at one in five. Median income is just $24,000, below the poverty line for a family of four, and nearly a third of families live in poverty. Meanwhile, somewhere between a quarter to a third of the buildings are vacant, compared to 5 percent in the city as a whole." These material conditions create a desperate reality when compounded with draconian drug laws and increased policing aimed at predominantly poor, black, and working-class communities.

Higher Stakes

To be fair, for the American colonists who staged the riot at the Boston Harbor, relations with King George III had been deteriorating over time. The Boston Massacre had occurred three years earlier when five colonists were killed by British soldiers who were confronted by a mob. Tension surely existed, even animosity; however, most of the American colonists' still maintained privileged lives, owned prosperous businesses, enjoyed positions of prominence and power, and owned property. They were elitists in every sense of the word.

In contrast, Black residents of Baltimore have been forced to endure a bleak landscape - one shaped by centuries of white supremacy, institutional racism, and uneven development. The creation of the black ghetto in the US is the culmination of this development - a desolate and barren landscape that often resembles more of an open air prison than a community. Despite valiant efforts on the parts of many in this community, these historical developments have been difficult to shake. Joblessness continues. A lack of resources persists. A general indifference on the part of state and federal government is now chronic.

The change that was willed by great Civil Rights leaders of the past never arrived. It's been suspended in mid-air, surrounded by empty celebrations of de-radicalized revolutionaries, de-contextualized ideas, and empty promises made by a Black "leadership" class that has continuously sold its constituents out. This once-promising change is now held forever out of reach, serving as nothing more than a mockery of our present reality. The hopes accompanying the election of the first black President proved to be a mirage. We not only failed to land in a "post-racial America," we drifted further away. Domestic military and police forces have taken on the role of a foreign occupier, patrolling the streets in armored cars, recklessly smashing in doors of homes, harassing and intimidating community members, and even referring to them as " enemy forces." Constitutional rights are regularly overrided by "stop and frisk" policies that scoff at any minimum standard for being stopped and questioned, let alone reasonable suspicion. The fact that Freddie Gray ran for his life after officers "made eye contact with him" is understandable. Unlawful stops that turn into deadly encounters have become the norm in Black neighborhoods across the US. Thus far in 2015, on average, three people are killed per day by the police.

Police officers have been become more militarized than ever, more aggressive than ever, and bolder than ever. Not only do they murder young (and unarmed) black Americans daily, they do it on national television, while laughing and gloating, for all to see. Surreal debates ensue about whether this murder was justified or that murder was acceptable. White racists flood social media with a robotic vileness that seems worthy of Stanley Kubrick's direction. And the desperate people of Baltimore - who are treated as strangers and outsiders in their own neighborhoods, allowed no vested interest in their communities, and given no say over how their lives unfold - are labeled "animals," "criminals," "savages," and "thugs," even by the kowtowing Mayor they elected, as they fight, by any means necessary, to gain an ounce of dignity or respect. The American colonists had it easy. The people of Baltimore are fighting for their lives.

0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 13,370 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 12,985 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Little Engine That Couldn't: How We're Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction
Daniel Quinn · 10,669 views today · In a recent semi-documentary film called Garbage, a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, "We'd have to...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 4,972 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Debt, Inequality and the Logic of Financial Violence
David Graeber · 4,142 views today · Five years after Occupy, organizer and anthropologist David Graeber speaks to ROAR about the power of finance, the history of inequality and the legacy of the movement.
Prince Ea Just Put The School System on Trial and Found it Guilty of Killing Free Thought
6 min · 3,453 views today · Albert Einstien once said "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". Today Prince...
The Culture of Maximum Harm
Daniel Quinn · 2,056 views today · People have lived many different ways on this planet, but about ten thousand years ago there appeared one people who believed everyone in the world should live a single...
Incredible Photographs and Witness Statements from Charlotte and Baton Rouge Protests
Mankaprr Conteh · 1,823 views today · On September 20, a black father named Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by an officer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. It is not clear if he was armed...
How You Can Support Standing Rock
Thane Maxwell · 1,568 views today · This is your pipeline battle too. Whatever you have to offer, we need it. Wherever you are, take one step deeper. Find your voice. Find your own front lines.
Yemen's Forgotten War and Famine Fuelled by Weapons from The West
3 min · 1,497 views today · The world has forgotten the war in Yemen but you'll remember these shocking images of its starving children.
The Left Deserves Better Than Jill Stein
Kate Aronoff · 1,449 views today · Stein’s Green Party run doesn’t offer a plan to win, or to build power. The Left is capable of so much more.
18 Empowering Illustrations to Remind Everyone Who's Really in Charge of Women's Bodies
Julianne Ross · 1,197 views today · When Brazilian graphic designer Carol Rossetti began posting colorful illustrations of women and their stories to Facebook, she had no idea how popular they would...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 945 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Kids Killed by Guns: America's Daily Nightmare
3 min · 937 views today · On an average day in America, seven children and teenagers will be shot dead.Gary Younge tells the stories of the lives lost on one random day - 23 November 2013. Ten children...
Olympian John Carlos on the Power of Protest
3 min · 904 views today · 1968 Olympic athlete John Carlos protested racial inequality by raising his fist in a Black Power salute on the medal stand. He has some advice for athletes like Colin...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 867 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 847 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Gabor Maté: Why Our Culture Makes So Many Of Us Unhappy
3 min · 713 views today · Dr. Gabor Maté explains why it is that our culture makes so many of us unhappy, unkind to one another, miserable, alienated from ourselves, etc. Watch the full interview in Part 2.
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 649 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
This Satirical Trump Vs. Bernie Debate Is Both Hilarious and Highly Disturbing
44 min · 615 views today · Comedians James Adomian (Bernie Sanders) and Anthony Atamanuik (Donald Trump) bring two of the most controversial candidates in history, head-to-head, or rather bald-to-toupee...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Why Comparisons Between the Boston Tea Party and Baltimore Riots Are Wrong