I’m following in horror as madness erupts in Baltimore. First, the as-yet unexplained death of a black man in police custody (yet another one). Then, the rioting and destruction of one of America’s coolest cities.
If I wasn’t living as an expat in Toronto, I’d very possibly be living in Baltimore where many of my friends from university stuck around after we graduated from Loyola College in Maryland (now Loyola University).
My time in Baltimore was definitely a particular and privileged one. I was at an affluent, private university that wasn’t nearly as diverse as the city that housed it. The make-up of the university was similar to my high school in rural/suburban New York–primarily white, Catholic, middle and upper middle class. It wasn’t “The Wire” I was living, as I taxied from one nice part of the city to another. Nevertheless, the education I received there did manage to expand my world view beyond my insulated upbringing, with opportunities like study abroad and a rich variety of courses taught by some amazing professors. And I still saw Baltimore–its charm, complexity, and beauty–as a unique and special place.
So it hurts me now to see it as it is today, encased in flames, anger, despair, fear, and violence. I shake my head at those rioting now. I hate the destruction, the violence, the lack of control over emotions. I especially hate how it detracts from rightful outrage.
At this time, what we know is this: Freddie Gray made eye contact with police officers and then took off running. He did have a criminal record and was carrying a switch blade at the time, but it’s not known whether there was a compelling reason at that time for police to pursue him or suspect him of any crime. When he was dragged into the police van after being apprehended, he legs appeared to be useless. When he arrived at the police station about an hour later, his spine was severed and he would later die. What happened? We don’t know.
But we do also know that this has happened before. In Baltimore, as well as in other cities–people being put into vans unsecured but bound at the ankles or wrists, and then subjected to a ride that was rough enough to severely injure or even kill them. In the days of slavery right up through the struggles of the civil rights movement and even into recent years, dragging deaths have been a horrendous expression of hate and assumed power over another human. This is essentially the same thing, behind closed doors because we now deem this criminal behaviour.
To be honest, before this incident, I didn’t know that “rough rides” or “nickel rides” were a thing. I knew that there exists a horribly uneven application of the law among different classes and groups of society, but as a white woman from nice area, I am not aware of all the tools of this perpetration of injustice. If I get caught jaywalking, a police officer might give me a talking to and tell me to be safer.
This is truly outrageous, as is killing anyone who’s unarmed, applying fines for minor or manufactured infractions, questioning people because they look a certain way but are not exhibiting any otherwise suspicious behaviour.
Rioting in response to these situations is awful, counterproductive, destructive, and criminal. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. But I honestly can’t muster up much outrage over riots when the events that have come before it (repeatedly) are so despicable, and I have a hard time not reacting when I see more upset over riots than the event that inspired them.
Nevertheless, I hope the voices of reason come out on top. Change is a productive process–one that repairs, builds, and moves forward into something better. Riots don’t get us to that productive place. But neither does silence.
And so while I had planned to write about progress on developing my signature style this week, my fingers simply couldn’t produce such superficiality while a city I love is in flames.
I realize my views may sound one-sided, but I’m having a hard time quieting the voice in my heart repeating “this is not ok.” For a less emotional reaction to this and more information, The Atlantic has put out some great pieces:
“The Mysterious Death of Freddie Grey” by David A. Graham
“Two States of Emergency in Baltimore” by Conor Fridersdorf
“Nonviolence as Compliance” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I am, as always open to discussion on this and related topics, but I do ask that people keep all comments respectful.