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