The title of this piece comes from the powerful book by literary genius James Baldwin. In it there is a lament and a warning
“This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish.”
This week the city of Baltimore has had to respond to what has always been a national disgrace to America’s image; the murder of a citizen by members of the police force. In the last two years these murders are becoming more frequently covered by the citizens themselves than by the actual media. With the advent of twitter/facebook/instagram millions of people are now seeing for themselves the dangers of unchecked policing in the United States. These images are alarming just as 40 years ago the news coverage of the deaths of civilians during the Vietnam War aroused increased sensitivity and activism.
Freddie Gray was severely injured by six Baltimore city cops and eventually died from the brutality of these wounds. These are the facts what isn’t known is how, who or why?
“This is not about one man. This is about structural racism in a country built on slavery.”
Quote seen on a make shift sign at Freddie Gray’s funeral
This is particularly damming considering the well-known history of Baltimore and its connections to the barbarity of chattel slavery. In fact it was in this the ‘state’ of Maryland in which the governor Charles Calvert cemented the irreversible nature of American slavery and he decreed by law that “slaves should be slaves for life, and the children of slaves should also be enslaved for life.” We as a city looked to our government and officials for answers and instead we were given press conferences from both the Mayor and Police Commissioner Batts with conflicting messages and in Batts case a follow up statement that raised more questions than it answered. For instance I had no idea that “the bill of rights for cops” overruled the constitution of this country. Just in case you forgot:
In ALL criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witness in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
The United States Constitution
To be honest all Americans may not care that #BlackLivesMatter but letting a city devolve into chaos is everyone’s concern. For instance the Baltimore City Fire Department (BCFD) work hard year in and year out to protect the lives of the citizens of Baltimore. They also strive to secure property in the unfortunate event of a fire. This is exactly what the BCFD attempted to do this week but they were blocked by people throwing rocks in the street. The areas that were on fire were visible and reported but there were no consistent police escorts for the well trained and brave fire fighters of the city. So the fires that could have been controlled were allowed to continue to burn and the wind and the hot embers did the rest. Some fire houses had over 25 back to back fire calls. Ordinary everyday citizens lost their homes. The damage to the city is extensive, the damage by bad planning, miscommunication and straight up incompetence by the people in leadership.
Any good firefighter will tell you a fire doesn’t extinguish itself instead it consumes everything. In fact fire searches for more tinder to feed its voracious hunger that’s why you must put it out.
According to Governor Hogan he had the paper work to declare a state of emergency ready by Saturday but he somehow still failed to even communicate a plan of action with Mayor Rawlings-Blake! Hogan actually waited till the day of the unrest to place a call and is still busy blaming her for not answering her phone for two hours. Well maybe she might have been in the middle of something that day I mean the city was imploding after all. How are you going to anticipate a serious emergency but have no plans to avert it? And before you claim it was inevitable how do you know until you try? This lazy and ineffective attitude towards the office of public service supposes that an uprising, violence, fires and property damage is tolerable collateral damage for the people of Baltimore. But make no mistake the uprising could have been a lot worse and way more deadly and destructive and that is why leadership with purpose and direction is needed.
How could Mayor Rawlings-Blake after 19 years in politics think that her leading from behind press conference and some childish name calling would be enough to explain her and Police Commissioner Batts gross incompetence? Did the Mayor, Batts or the Governor even consider that the Preakness a Baltimore city tradition for over 125 years is to beginning in a little over 13 days? Did any of them calculate the revenue loss it would be if the summer tourist season was negatively impacted over the chaos in the streets? Case in point the Flower Mart which marks the beginning of the Maryland festival season is already cancelled. When the city is on a knife’s edge clamoring for answers, the Mayor needs to ask herself are those ten days really worth it?
Let discuss the “thugs” and “criminals” that apparently fill the Baltimore public schools. The police ordered the Maryland MTA to shut down and stop running the buses and the metro just as the students were being dismissed for the day. Did the school administrators know that they were letting hundreds of teenagers into the streets where instead of the city buses they expected there would be police in riot gear to greet them? Were parents given the opportunity to make plans to pick up their children? Can a city with a population of nearly 1 million people function without any cohesive structure? I guess the answer is no and now the whole world can see it.
We can curse riots, but if we don’t learn from them, we will fail.
Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s silly little speech would have been very little comfort to the families of the BCFD if one these brave firefighters would have lost their lives in an attempt to put out a fire she and other government officials let burn out of control.