Around Baltimore this week—and especially in Sandtown-Winchester, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood—people have been guarded about speaking to the media. I can’t blame them.

When Geraldo Rivera arrived at Pennsylvania and North Avenues for a live broadcast, he was greeted with jeers and aggressive questioning from demonstrators. “I want you and Fox News to get out of Baltimore city,” one man told him. “Because you’re not reporting about the boarded-up homes and the homeless people under MLK [Boulevard]. You’re not reporting about the poverty levels up and down North Avenue.”

On my first trip to the Gilmor Homes, a public housing complex in Sandtown-Winchester, a man told me “we do our own media,” and refused to speak with me further. Later, the same man interrupted an interview with another resident, wondering aloud whether I was reporting for a politically conservative outlet. When I told him that Gawker skews left, he said, “So you ain’t going to be calling him a thug and violent criminal and all that? Because we’re gonna check on that. Somebody’s going to come see you about that. If you print anything negative about Bruce Court [a section of Gilmor Homes], we’re gonna come see you.”

A second man at Gilmor Homes saw through the charade of my profession instantly, asking frankly how much Gawker was paying me for my reports from the city. He had been in Ferguson, he said, and he saw how the system had worked there. Before I could answer, yet another man piled on: “Everyone [in the media] is just trying to line their pockets.” Kevon, a buddy of Freddie Gray, was friendly with me but stayed on a strictly first-name basis because he’d heard that you should “never give a reporter your last name, or else they’ll look up your criminal record” and use it against you in writing.

Though the frustration and wariness may seem extreme to out-of-towners, they are warranted. Non-local media here have gravitated toward images of boarded-up windows and burning cars, largely ignoring the daily peaceful demonstrations and the reasons why people were angry enough to provoke violence in the first place. Racism, poverty, police brutality, Freddie Gray himself—all have become afterthoughts to the irresistible spectacle of a city on fire. (For the record, I have seen neither a fire nor a single incident of violence since Monday. I also haven’t stayed out past curfew.) A refrain I’ve heard often in West Baltimore—and that was vocalized by activist Deray McKesson in his smackdown of an interview with Wolf Blitzer this week—argues that fixating on looting and burning instead of Gray’s death places more importance on a broken window than on a broken spine.

The riots, after all, are the aftermath. A few days of chaos in the streets is a pittance compared to a few generations of poverty and violence at the hands of the state. Media hand-wringing over rioting as a stain on the nobility of otherwise peaceful protests also misses the point. An activist told me that after days of traditional demonstrations in the wake of Gray’s death, it was only Saturday’s scuffle outside Camden Yards and Monday’s night of mayhem that brought serious attention to the issues.

A friend of Gray’s named Shana Pinkett expressed a similar sentiment during an interview at her home: “If it took this to get attention, then that’s what it is. Me personally, I’m for the riot,” she said, specifying that for her, looting businesses was acceptable because they may have insurance, but burning Baltimoreans’ cars and other personal property crossed a line.

“Looking at whatever happened, we didn’t destroy our own city,” she added. “The police did.”

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Photo via AP