Baltimore is Burning

Baltimore is Burning


Baltimore is burning, and I've been watching from afar as the flames of distrust and hate threaten to swallow the city whole. Over the course of a few days I've watched as my Facebook feed has predictably filled with rants from well-meaning people--the "good people."

Not long ago I quietly watched those same people rail against the protesters in Ferguson. But then the Department Of Justice released those damning reports, highlighting the severity of the systemic racism found throughout the police department, and those same voices were noticeably silent. People went back into their corners to rest up for the next time. Just as they will when the fires burning in Baltimore finally smolder out.

These past few days I've been watching the coverage of Baltimore with a mixture of compassion and disbelief. On one hand, a very real part of me understands why this is happening. What's happening in Baltimore is something that happens in nearly every city, in every county, in every state. It lurks on the street corners of the seemingly perfect neighborhood. It rests on the lips of those who "don't see color," and "have that one black friend."

And although that part of me understands why the streets of Baltimore are filled with the chant "no justice, no peace," the other part of me hates that it is. In many ways, I feel like I'm at war with myself. I'm fighting for what I know to be true, versus what I want to be true, and it's not a good place to be in.

I've put myself in the shoes of Freddie Gray's family many times. I've tried to imagined what it must feel like to have lost a son. To feel powerless and helpless. To cry out, but to have your voices drowned out by people who decided who your son would be from the moment he took his first breath.

I've watched the media coverage from both sides. I've listened to the media pundits toss around inflammatory words like "thugs" and "animals"all while simultaneously avoiding those who are peacefully crying out. They are in pain. Baltimore is in pain.

The truth is, what's happening in Baltimore is not just about Freddie Gray. It is so much deeper, much more visceral than that. What's happening in Baltimore is about the state of things that led to someone believing that Freddie Gray's life was somehow less important. What's happening in Baltimore isn't just about racism--it's about poverty, circumstance and our inability to empathize with that which does not directly effect us.

There is plenty of blame to be passed around.

Freddie Gray grew up in poverty. He was the son of an absentee father. He raised by a mother who suffered from severe substance abuse and could not read. The apartment building he spent his formative years in was so riddled with lead paint, that in a 2008 court settlement, it was deemed that both he and his sisters would never lead "normal functional lives" because of the levels of lead that was present in their blood. He had been arrested 18 times.

Freddie Gray grew up in a society where he was 21 times more likely to be killed by the police than young white man. He was born into a society where a former U.S Secretary of Education can say things like, "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." He was born into a society where the school-to-prison pipeline continues to rob children of an opportunity to do better for themselves.

The truth is Freddie Gray never stood a chance. Freddie Gray is now a statistic that will be used in arguments about the prevalence of racism in our society. But ultimately, Freddie Gray was someone's child. He was someone's brother. He was someone's best friend. He was someone and his life mattered.

Baltimore is burning. And eventually the flames will die down. But it's only a matter of time before another city is ablaze. We'll begin this same dance--this same routine. The question is, what will we have learned?

Image Credit: Chris Weiland


9 comments :

  1. I too saw the rants in my facebook feed. And noticed when they quieted down and when they started back up again...after the latest set of talking points had been published by their preferred source of information. If you read and observe long enough, you can tell the sources of influence, from Fox to the Black Israelites. The internet has become a place where we express ourselves through memes that may seem appropriate but are often misleading, and then we parrot what we see because the image becomes truth. I'm not pointing a finger at a particular source because I see division in every topic and from every race, religion or political affiliation. It bothers me because it's so easy to manipulate a crowd and "addressing an issue" now means scoring points on the web or in a sound bite.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Lydia!

      And yes, one of the first things they teach you in the communications program is media literacy. People tend to reject media or sources of information that could potentially be in conflict with what they believe --especially when it relates to something of this magnitude. It can be frustrating to step outside your comfort zone, but it's so important to read/engage/participate in different sides of the discussion. I've left many a conversation with new perspective and insight. It can be frustrating, but ultimately it's something we all need to be doing.

      As far as manipulation, I could tell you some stories. While in college, we analyzed hundreds of hours of media coverage, and you would not believe how easy it is to manipulate interviews/footage. It's one of the main reasons I switch from the broadcasting program to the public relations program. I would have never made it in that field.

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  2. You are absolutely right. And it breaks my heart that our country hasn't managed to truly figure it out yet. I identify with the your line - "I'm fighting for what I know to be true, versus what I want to be true, and it's not a good place to be in." Thanks so much for sharing your heart!

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    1. With each passing day, I grow more afraid that this country will never truly "figure it out." Your lifestyle and circumstances can have an incredible effect on how you see the world. We all need to sit down and take a long hard look at how we're treating each other and just try to do better. Now, if I could just only convince the 7 billion other people on the planet...

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  3. It's been interesting to watch this in the media this week. I have mixed feelings on the topic, but I ultimately believe there is blame on both sides. I don't think either side of the isle is perfect and there is much room for improvement. I think these types of situations happen even in every state, but some cases aren't as broadly publicized. When I lived in Michigan, close to the Detroit area, I had a really good friend who was a police officer who is also African American and I know he had some dangerous experiences. He was never a mean person, but I know he would do what he had to do to come home to his family at night. Having said that, on the flip side, it is also important to keep our kids safe from unnecessary brutality. I think this should be for everyone across the board though and not just for one race. As a hispanic woman, I think there are many races out there that experience the same types of situations and we should all unite together to make a difference. A difficult topic, but in the end, both sides need to make changes.

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    1. Yes, the media watch has been intense. Whenever these types of situations unfold, I get incredibly nervous that someone is going to do something crazy to further escalate the situation.

      My dad was in law enforcement for the better part of my childhood. My uncle and friends are as well. I think it’s possible to have a deep and profound respect for police and still recognize that there are some bad apples. Unfortunately in my short time in the area I live in, I’ve had the misfortune of running into a few of them. It happens more often than people realize and a big part of me wishes that I would have been more vocal because sometimes I think people are only exposed to the “extreme cases” that are always a bit murky. But then there are people like me, in situations where there was no crime was involved
      , no police record, ect, that have had things happen to them. We don’t talk about these things. And because we don’t talk about them people believe that they just don’t happen.
      At the end of the day, cops have families to get home to.

      I can truly understand that, and it breaks my heart when I see one that doesn’t make it home to their family. But like you said, it is also important to keep our kids safe from unnecessary brutality.

      If you have a moment, I would like you to read a post by a dear friend of mine. We both live in the same city. Unlike me, she choose to speak out: http://www.jaelcustomdesigns.com/2015/04/i-cant-stay-silent.html

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  4. The thing that completely mystifies me, about life in general, is the way some people seem to have the ability to rise above and overcome, regardless of the circumstances they were born into. At the end of the day, Freddie Gray made a choice to break the law, repeatedly. In absolutely NO WAY am I stating the authorities are justified in crippling or killing any person in their custody, but I do believe every single person has the ability within to chose right or wrong. People grow up in horrific situations and yet do not chose to break the law. At the end of the day, ALL life is precious and I am confused as to where all the concerned family members were during Freddie's life? Showing up at a funeral is, unfortunately, too late for him. But as you stated, Baltimore is a much bigger issue than just Freddie Gray, an issue in every community across the US. I genuinely wonder and have thought and thought about what the answers are in ending poverty and changing the world. I have been involved in several organizations aimed at these issues and yet, I'm just lost when it comes to solutions. I would love to know your thoughts or ideas about bringing change to end poverty and how we can work for equality and fairness.

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    1. Thankfully, I was not raised in the environment or circumstance that Freddie was born into, but my personal experiences have taught me that life can beat you down. Hard. I am a huge advocate for not making excuses, I suppose that why I’ve been able to “rise above” my circumstances, but I can honestly you that I would not have been able to do so without the support of my two incredible parents who instilled a sense of willpower and work ethic in both me and my sister at a young age. When you’re living in that state of poverty, you’re not typically surrounded with people who are encouraging you to pull yourself up by the boot-straps and do better. That why mentorship is so important. We need ALL be getting involved. Otherwise, sitting back and judging someone for their life rings a bit false and hollow.

      I suppose when it comes to issues of this magnitude, there is no one single answer on how to fix it. But there are simple things we can all change that might lessen the stereotypes that lead to these types of problems. We can expose ourselves to unfamiliar perspectives and engage in conversation with people from different walks of life. We can be more diverse in our friendships and relationships. We can stop relying on that one friend to be a spokesperson for an entire race or economic class. I always tell people if you can go to your Facebook friends list and every one of your friends looks the same, maybe you need to take a step back and reevaluate some things. And this goes all ways. We live in one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, and yet we continue to only surround ourselves with people who think and look the same as us. That is the part of the problem.

      Most importantly, do what you are doing. Get and stay involved in those organizations. It can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get lost in the enormity of it all. But image how much more difficult it is to have to endure those situations?

      Thanks for stopping by Michelle, I know it's a touchy subject, so I truly do appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Like I told Lydia, some times we have to step a bit outside our comfort zone. This is one of those conversations we can't afford not to have.

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  5. You're right...It's not a good place to be, but it's an easy place to be because of all that happens in this world we live in. It's easy to be at war with ourselves, even when it shouldn't be. And so many times, it's easy to be at war with each other. We think we've come so far in the areas of racism and prejudices, but then things happen and we realize that no matter how far we've come, we still have such a long way to go. And the cycle continues. Like you said, "same dance, this same routine."

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