Reflections from Baltimore on a National Day of Mourning

While our national focus today is on the city of Dallas, which has just endured the vicious, callous massacre of five of their Peace Officers who were engaged in honorable, brave, and committed fashion to uphold the rights of their citizens to engage in lawful, peaceful protest, this has also been a horrific week in my city of Baltimore, across our nation, and around the world, as violent actions have dominated the news. Ordinary people killing other ordinary people. Police killing citizens. Citizens killing police. Nations killing nations. And for what? Anything and everything. For religion, for culture, for ideology, for morality, for a lack of morality, or for no reason at all.

The worst instincts of humanity appear to be front and center in our minds, our hearts, our souls and actions. We all want to be right. We all want to be free. We all want to be secure. But too often, we want these things at the expense of anyone who is not like us.

Even now, I differentiate the heroic Peace Officers of Dallas from the militarized police officers of too many of our cities and towns in Anytown, Planet Earth.

Baltimore

In Baltimore, alone, we are watching the continuing trials of 6 officers in the death of Freddie Gray, who died over a year ago after his neck was snapped while he was in the custody of Baltimore City Police, being transported to jail during a “rough ride.” The trials that have been completed so far have resulted in one hung jury and one “Not Guilty” result after a bench trial (heard only by the judge who is presiding over all six trials), raising all kinds of questions; among them:

  1. Is the judge, who has a strong reputation for fairness in police-involved shootings, really as impartial as his reputation suggests? If so, how and why have the second and third officers to be tried been able to elect bench trials instead of jury trials? Will there be justice for Freddie Gray’s homicide?
  2. Did the State’s Attorney who brought the charges against the six police officers do her due diligence, or was she too eager to bring charges in a city boiling over with rage and frustration about a needless death for which the circumstances are mired in mystery? It is evident from the citizen videos that Freddie Gray was dragged into the police wagon and that, given the small space in the van, he could not have broken his own neck. It is also evident from the dearth of information from the Police Department itself—and its defensive posture—that something not right happened during the circuitous route from the place where Mr. Gray was dragged into that van to the location where he was deemed to be unconscious and unresponsive. He died a week later.
  3. Is it right or fair that the State’s Attorney has recently received death threats and calls—from outsiders—for her to resign her elected post?

The nation witnessed our riots and fires last year in the wake of Freddie Gray’s homicide. But no one outside of local news outlets has covered our attempts to heal over the past year—the rebuilding and reopening of damaged businesses, the grass roots efforts to build safe havens and after-school programs for at-risk youth, the calm that has followed the outcome of the trials that have been completed, the trust and support that our current Police Commissioner has gained since he took office last summer.

Just as disturbing is the continued killings of our young men by each other. Just two weeks ago, a local rapper named Lor Skoota was gunned down by an unknown gunman, in my relatively peaceful community of Lauraville, in Northeast Baltimore, after he had attended a Peace rally at Morgan State University. Days after Lor Skoota was buried, one of his associates was murdered in another part of Baltimore. For young people in Baltimore who have tried to be a positive influence for their peers and for the city at large, as mentors, supporters of the local music scene, and as young, responsible citizens, these two murders have caused the same kinds of shock, frustration, horror, and disbelief as has the massacre in Dallas.

Yet, I must note that in the case of Lor Skoota, it was our Police Commissioner who publicly expressed the most concern, respect, and sympathy for the loss of this young man’s life; even more so than our Mayor, whose own standing in Baltimore took a hard hit after the events of last year.

Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas

This past week, we have seen, in two very different cities, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota, the murders of two more Black citizens—by police officers—in a calculating and callous manner, at point-blank range, in situations where the officers clearly had the upper hand. The outcry against these two crimes was swift and plain, and not just by communities of color, not just by communities at large. No, this time, even the mayors and governors took a stance against these crimes, raising the hope that maybe this time, the scourge of bad policing—not all policing, but bad policing, would finally be exposed and justice brought to bear.

It was with hope and unity that people gathered in cities around the country, from New York to Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, to exercise their right to peaceful protest. And all was well.

Until last night in Dallas, when yet another “deranged,” “lone wolf” ex-soldier took it upon himself to avenge all the miscarriages of justice that have plagued (primarily but not exclusively) Black people at the hands of (primarily but not exclusively) White people for far too many years.

The actions of this sniper—who was only 25 years old!—are despicable, deplorable, and unconscionable. But the pain that drove him to act is, I’m afraid, all too real.

And this reality has put me into a state of spiritual, emotional, and physical turmoil. I feel anger and despair. Hopelessness and shame. Fear and loathing.

Because there are still too many people in this world who do not view me—or people who look like me—as a human being. Simply because of the color of my/our skin. And there are still too many people who do not know how degrading and devaluing that feels. How exhausting it is to have to shout to the rooftops—even after nearly 63 years on this planet—that I am Not an animal; I am a Human Being.

And yet, it is for this reason that I started this blog, a year and a half ago.

The Struggle continues.


3 thoughts on “Reflections from Baltimore on a National Day of Mourning

  1. Way, way behind in wordpress. Hence this October reply. My wife and I were visiting a friend in a retirement community here in “liberal Califonia”, this morning, and she was mentioning some people had told her they could never vote for Obama because he was black. So the struggle goes on. Part of me thinks it will get worse before it gets better.

    We watched the musical Hairspray this weekend, and made me think of you. Don’t know how much they shot in Baltimore but assume some of the views were of the city. The other thing that ran thru my mind was how things in some ways have changed so little. Still a lot of prejudice and segregation, violence and hate.

    Like

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