For The Love of Baltimore
The children who broke into the CVS, the check-cashing store, and the liquor stores.. those who raided the mall and set buildings on fire were not people peacefully protesting the death of Freddie Gray. They were, at worst, opportunists; at best, symbols of the truth that underlies the questions we want answered about his death, and those who share his skin color.
They are not thugs. They are children who live in desperate poverty- over 50% of the people of West Baltimore are unemployed. The majority of their fathers are either dead or in jail. They have no help and little hope for the future. Gangs are prevalent there- they fill the gap of the non-existent family life that we whites see as crucial to proper child development. My children and I knew many of those gang members in our time living there. These children adored mine. They were the most loyal, kind and respectful young people I've met. They wanted to be loved, respected, and heard. They wanted to matter. When those needs were met, they blossomed. I was always safe on the streets, because I was their surrogate mom. Their moms were there, but working 2, sometimes 3 jobs just to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
My coworker today (who is an older white woman) was aghast at last night's events. She said, "We're in the national news! Just think what this will do to tourism- we make a LOT of money from tourism in Baltimore!" To be fair, she has no understanding whatsoever of what she is saying. I replied, "Just think of what these children are living and dying with every day. They are being systematically killed by the people who have sworn to defend and protect them." She is indicative of what's wrong with our national picture.
We whites, as a rule, do not grow up this way. We don't live in an area where our people are targeted by law enforcement for arrests. We don't experience "rough rides"* to the police station. We don't tell our boys how to behave if they are stopped by police on the way to the convenience store so they will make it home alive. We don't see people whose skin color resembles our own being tortured and killed because they live in poverty or in a crime-ridden neighborhood. Our children don't see police cars and immediately begin to run out of fear of what will happen if the police get a hold of them.
When I see/hear people who look like me saying that these children are destroying their own neighborhood, I am filled with deep sadness. They don't understand at all. No, last night wasn't about protesting Freddie Gray. This was about opportunity, and the lack thereof.
Opportunity, because there are 8 schools that feed into that mall (bus stops), and at a time when the parents who are at work, are trying to make just enough money to barely care for these kids. Opportunity, because the police received bad intelligence that gangs were uniting to target killing them and left these targets unprotected. Opportunity because the CVS, the check-cashing place, the liquor stores, et al.. are all in impoverished neighborhoods, and the police were protecting the money-spots. The police were nowhere near these areas, and even when they saw what was happening, they didn't respond. Sure, they are saying that these were 14/15 year olds and they didn't want to shoot them. Why is shooting them the go-to strategy?
Lack of opportunity, because these children are living in abject poverty. Many of you have seen the footage now of their neighborhoods. Row homes where one house in five on a row is actually occupied- the rest are falling apart and boarded up. There are no youth centers, after-school programs or places for them to go. They see their peers, fathers, mothers, etc... being killed every day, They don't have enough- to eat, to wear, to do.. this is why there is a sense of anger and despair. Freddie Gray's death was the match to a long-smoldering, gasoline-soaked pile of disappointments. The spark became a bonfire (both figuratively and literally) because human beings are easily frenzied, and teenagers are no exception.
I saw hope last night. Strong, black men from a variety of faiths, coming together and out in droves, dressed in business suits and measured words, stopped many of these young people by simply asking them to stop.They are well-known by these children and respected in the community, because they involve themselves in it. Rival gangs that had come together on Saturday to try to stop the looting showed up at the Shiloh meeting and asked to be heard by the clergy (who were more than willing to listen). They all joined together to bring peace where law enforcement could not.
I saw hope this morning. The people of Baltimore got up early to clean up the mess left behind. Peaceful protests with chants of "Hands up- Don't shoot!" were seen throughout the city. Nearly 250 arrests were made from last night's incident, but only 2 were made today.
Yes, there are nearly 2,000 National Guard personnel, and police support from neighboring counties and states present. But, before they were in place, these hopeful things occurred.
What we all, no matter our skin color, need to do is to see these children as ours. They are the future of our cities, our states, our country, our world. Their lives matter. The quality of their lives matter. These are our people, and we need to do better by them.
Freddie Gray's death must, I repeat MUST be addressed. The Baltimore police department needs to be overhauled. They must be made accountable for what happened to him, and to others who have died needlessly in their custody.
In the bigger picture, we need to care for our people. We must work to improve the quality of life for all of us, because we are ALL connected. When our children are hurting to this degree and lashing out, we must pay attention. We must give them a voice, and we must give them hope. Blaming them for what happened only attacks the real victims and does nothing to solve the mounting, but not yet insurmountable problem.
Let us love one another, immediately. Whatever action you can take to ameliorate this situation, whether it's listening, standing with your neighbors, writing blogs, calling politicians, mentoring children, etc... do it now, and for the love of your community.
*a “rough ride,” is a term for a situation in which police officers deliberately drive erratically to injure unbuckled and handcuffed passengers.
Posted by Alexis Kennedy