PHILADELPHIA — In the wake of Freddie Gray’s still-unaccounted-for death while in police custody, the city of Baltimore went down a painfully familiar path. First came shock, then anger; next came the polarized protesting and then, sadly and counterintuitively, destructive violence and looting.

Followed, predictably, by scolds like Christian Science Monitor contributor Doug Mataconis, who passed judgment from on high by describing last week’s Baltimore riots as “utterly senseless.”

There was even a momentary bipartisan consensus between President Obama – who also called the riots “senseless” – and Ben Carson, the famed neurosurgeon turned Republican presidential contender, who called the riots “truly senseless.”

And while they may empathize with the frustration of those weary of watching the mounting injustices heaped upon their communities and even dare to acknowledge the anger and outrage precipitated by yet another black body broken under the color of law, they still simply – and simplistically – decried the violence as “senseless.”

And it’s the word “senseless” that annoys me.

First, the word suggests that people in these communities – African-Americans, for the most part – acted without reason and beyond comprehension. If this were true, then it would follow logically that there’s no purpose in trying to actually understand this “senseless” behavior (After all, it makes no sense!) and, hence, there is only one of two things remaining to do: Either exert control over these “senseless” folk or eliminate them.

That’s what you do with anyone or anything that defies understanding and appears resistant to reason; you either corral them like wild horses or get rid of them like unwanted pests.

And you’d best believe that there are more than a few folks who feel that way when they look at individuals involved in the kind of violent unrest we saw last week in Baltimore and watched last summer in Ferguson. Control or eliminate them, but do whatever it takes to end the “senseless” violence.

Except that what we saw was not “senseless.”

Psychiatrist Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy has presented research that concludes that the type of destructive behavior we saw is not only understandable, but also should be anticipated by reasonable and just people.

He labeled the phenomenon “destructive entitlement” and asserted that it was the natural response of individuals who had absorbed unfair and unjust treatment in their relationships with others.

According to Boszormenyi-Nagy, those who manifest this destructive entitlement are simply trying to “balance the ledger” when they act out of their rage born of injustice and unfair treatment.

In short, in the absence of fair treatment (also known as “justice”) occurring within the relationships that define their lives, people who are destructively entitled try to create a justice by discomforting others while simultaneously bringing rewards to themselves.

To be clear, this is not a healthy or desired response – we would all prefer that people respond to injustice by filing grievances and waiting patiently in line until it’s their time to be heard. You might even choose to describe this response, as Charm City’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did, as the behavior of “thugs.” (She later apologized.)

But senseless, it’s not.

Martin Luther King Jr. once prophetically stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” He neither condoned rioting nor excused destructive behavior; he simply realized that you can’t cure an illness until you try to understand it – and that riots, however condemnable, aren’t senseless.

Opening the mind, and heart, to try to understand what one would prefer to dismiss is the beginning of understanding. And understanding is the beginning of healing and change. Those burning, yelling and looting did not act in a vacuum. In their own way – counterproductive, perhaps – they demanded justice, and to be heard.

Doesn’t that make sense?