A Few Thoughts on Baltimore …

So, it’s been a little bit since I blogged … rest assured, my agitating continues in ways both big and small, as I was reminded recently when Alex asked where biracial people sat on the bus during segregation!

A few things have moved me to write today. One, I was asked by a friend what I thought of the video that’s making the rounds … the one where the Black mom is giving her son — who appears to have been out in Baltimore up to no good … and I say this because her son is wearing a ski mask — a hard time and dragging him away. As someone who grew up in a “spare the rod, spoil the child,” culture but, who grew up to be a domestic/sexual violence advocate, I see both sides … should she have given him a hard time? Yes. Did she need to be smacking him in order to get her point across? Maybe, maybe not … But I have the same caution on this mom’s reaction that I have on the Baltimore issue, writ large:  All I know about this woman is what I saw on the video. Sister Helen Prejan of “Dead Man Walking,” reminds us that none of us is merely our worst moment (and she was talking about death row inmates at that point). I’m a single mom. I don’t hit my kid. And, I take him to peaceful protests … If I saw him out there — and he is going to grow up to be a black man who is over 6′, God willing — behaving recklessly, and foolishly in a way that endangered him and was unlikely to bring about change, I would go after him. Whether I’d be sane and non-violent or start with, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!?!?!, and go on from there depends on the circumstances. Given that none of us (I presume) truly knows that woman’s circumstances, I would suggest that we are not in a position to judge, nor should we speculate. 

I have, predictably, been chatting up friends and friends of friends about Baltimore today.  I started out by tweeting NPR, though.  NPR had rather shallowly assessed that the Baltimore riots arose solely in response to Freddie Gray’s death, so I tried (in 160 characters or less) to set the record straight.

The bottom line, though, is this … this issue is complicated.  It’s not just about Freddie Gray and what happened to him, or the reactions of some fringe folks who burned a CVS,  it’s also about who was deemed important (the O’s fans who were told to shelter in place when the first unrest broke out on Saturday), what they deemed unimportant (at least the ones who were chanting “we don’t care,” in response to protestors walking by chanting, “Black Lives Matter,”) and what people do out of hopelessness born from years of societal neglect or indifference to their declining opportunities and standard of living.

It’s also about putting aside our own privilege and no longer making excuses when cops go berserk.  I have spent a lot of time until now talking about the fact that there are good cops (I still believe this), and the fact that I have cops (both city and federal) in my family.  But no one of good conscience should be making excuses for either what happened to Freddie Gray or the stunning lack of humanity that led the cops to ignore his need for medical assistance thereafter. In case you are still of a mind to cut the cops a break, let me give you a rundown of a facebook conversation I had earlier. A friend posted about the futility of resorting to violence to protest the cops’ violence. A friend of his posted a link to something that was allegedly Freddie Gray’s rap sheet.  I tried to point out that regardless of what Gray had done, he didn’t deserve to have his spine severed.  I was met with comments like, “Don’t act like an a**hole, and you won’t be treated like one.”  Herein lies a very common strand of reactions to cases like these, “well, if he hadn’t been doing anything wrong …” This, in my line of a work as a domestic/sexual violence advocate, is called victim-blaming.  It’s what happens when Michael Brown (or Trayvon Martin) leaves home to walk to the store, and doesn’t come back … then folks start trotting out their rap sheets to justify their murders, as if their rap sheets were in any way known to their assailants, or could by any stretch justify an extrajudicial execution.

But let’s return to the “don’t act like an a**hole,” line of argument.  Again, this is designed to suggest that the person who ended up dead did something to bring it upon him/herself … was this true of a 130 lb. woman in a cell by herself, in handcuffs and shackles who was tasered to death by Fairfax County police? Was it true of John Crawford who was shot to death in Walmart while holding a toy gun and talking on the phone?  The bottom line is this:  until we start holding law enforcement responsible for their excesses starting with the deaths that occur when people are fleeing — seriously? with the excess of law enforcement driven homicide on display in any given week, fleeing is actually an act of self-preservation, even if it ends up not serving that purpose–we will not begin to dig into the many thorny issues presented by the Baltimore unrest, nor we be able to get close enough to standing in the locals’ shoes to understand how angry outbursts in the face of callous indifference might be an appropriate response. 

I want to end by pointing out that as “victim blamers,” we can sometimes be as good about indicting the living as indicting the dead.  That is what happens when folks deflect the need to have that very uncomfortable conversation about privilege –i.e. the “we don’t care” ability to ignore what is happening to others — and lawless law enforcement by pointing to the fact that some segment of folks are looting, or rioting, etc. The rioting followed an inexplicable homicide.  Scores of them actually … and does not lessen our moral obligation to work like hell to insure that these things stop happening … so stop deflecting, stop victim blaming. Get in there and do the work. Feed the kids of Baltimore who rely on free lunches but did not get one today because their schools were closed.  Volunteer to be trained as a legal observer. Figure out where the next protest is and show up.  SHOW. UP.  It’s time for us all to do that.



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