I was – admittedly and ashamedly – out of the loop as the events following Freddie Gray’s death unfolded, and I found myself playing catch up after news of the riots in Baltimore peppered my Facebook feed earlier this week.
In spite of being temporarily oblivious to what was happening in Baltimore, in recent weeks I have found myself immersed in books and podcasts about the history of our legal system in relation to African-Americans and the complicated relationship between people of color and the police. I want to understand what is happening and why. I want an explanation that will tell us how to move forward – not just in Baltimore, but as a country.
I don’t have the answers, but I truly believe that the increased focus on how men of color are treated by police and the outrage that has followed is a good thing, because – slowly but surely, hopefully – change is coming. And change is so, so needed.
Violence isn’t the solution, but I also want to understand why the rioting happened. And I believe in Dr. King’s words:
….riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously at we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard….Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. (Read more about Dr. King’s oft-quoted speech and what he meant in this TIME article.)
As much attention has been paid to the riots, there are just as many citizens of Baltimore protesting peacefully, advocating for change – they are just less likely to make the headlines.My fear is that by focusing on the rioting and dismissing the rioters as “thugs” and “gangstas” (the 21st century equivalent of the n-word, if you ask me), we ignore the problems that were the catalyst for those riots. A tremendous amount of change and healing must take place before tragedies stop happening. There is so much I don’t understand, but I will do my best to try. We all need to try.
1. Crowds Scatter As Baltimore Curfew Takes Hold at NYTimes.com
This piece, along with this Atlantic piece on Freddie Gray’s death and this HuffPo piece about how the Baltimore riots unfolded, offers an overview of the events leading up to and following Freddie Gray’s death. There have just recently (i.e., this morning) been articles stating that the other prisoner in the police van with Freddie Gray suggests that Freddie may have been trying to injure himself – but remember that 1) this information wasn’t known at the time of the riots, 2) this report hasn’t yet been corroborated, and 3) the protests are about more than Freddie Gray.
2. Undue Force by Mark Puente of the Baltimore Sun
This expose was written several months ago (September 2014) and sheds light on the relationship between police and Baltimore residents, particularly Black residents.
Since 2011, the city has been involved in 102 court judgments and settlements related to allegations of civil rights and constitutional violations such as assault, false arrest and false imprisonment, making payouts that ranged up to $500,000…
…The Sun’s findings include only lawsuits that have been settled or decided in court; dozens of similar cases are still pending. The city has faced 317 lawsuits over police conduct since 2011 – and recently budgeted an additional $4.2 million for legal fees, judgments and lawsuits, a $2.5 million increase from fiscal 2014.
3. Cops See It Differently on This American Life
If you are skeptical that police-resident relations could really be “that bad” in a community, this two-part podcast from This American Life will be an eye-opener. My jaw dropped several times while I listened to it, and it really does bring to life the problems that some cities are experiencing and just how incredibly complicated things can be.
4. The Power of Nonviolence by Johnita Due on CNN.com
An op-ed on the history of nonviolent protest vs. rioting in our country, as impetus for change.
5. Why Baltimore Is Burning by Kevin Powell on HuffPo Black Voices
Kevin, who is a public speaker and activist, writes as someone who “grew up in the worst slums of Jersey City, New Jersey” and offers an inside perspective on what protestors and rioters in Baltimore might be feeling.
The community is told to be nonviolent and peaceful, but no one ever tells the police they should also be nonviolent and peaceful. Whites in power and “respectable Black voices” call for calm, but these are the same folks who never talk about the horrific conditions in America’s ghettoes that make any ‘hood a time bomb just waiting for a match to ignite the fury born of oppression, marginalization, containment, and invisibility.
This YouTube video, created by spoken-word poet Sarah O’Neal back in January, offers a powerful perspective.