(Photo credit from mashable.com)
Rage, frustration, anger, horror, exhaustion — all emotions evident on our screens filled with images from the riots in Baltimore, all emotions we might feel individually as yet another American community shatters in the aftermath of lethal police brutality perpetrated against another young black man. Freddie Gray is the latest name in the tragic necrology that includes Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many more we may never know.
Watching the news from Baltimore this week — riveting, alarming, deeply disturbing — I found myself wondering, once again, when this country will ever come to grips with its Original Sin of racism, rooted so deeply in our long history of slavery, segregation, prejudice and deep divides along political and ideological lines. I also find myself thinking about the irony — or is it the inevitable reaction — of these events occurring in the waning days of the administration of the nation’s first African American president.
Six years ago, when millions gathered on the national Mall in Washington to witness the history of Barack Obama’s inauguration, we heard repeated exhortations to enter the “post-racial” era of American life. Now we know better. President Obama’s presence in the Oval Office is a symbol of progress, yes, but also became a cause for the darker forces in American life to gather strength, to act in subversive ways to reject racial justice, to mobilize for disruption and civil unrest. Civil unrest plays into the hands of potential dictators on all sides; it’s much harder to divide and conquer a people united in the quest for a common good that includes all.
America cannot be a force for peace and justice in the world when we don’t know the meaning of those words here at home. We have a long way to go as a nation to achieve the promise of our founding as a nation devoted to “liberty and justice for all.”
Here at Trinity, we will continue to find ways to promote educational responses to what often seems like irrational behavior — on the part of police who keep acting with extreme violence in an age when they should know how to deal with street confrontations more effectively, and on the part of certain “protestors” who seem to think that burning down neighborhoods is an effective way to achieve justice. No one wins when extremists commit violence. We must educate the majority of people to be advocates for justice and leaders for peaceful communities.
I invited members of the Trinity community to offer thoughts on the Baltimore protests and some comments are below. If you would like firstname.lastname@example.org add comments please do so using the comment link or email me at email@example.com
From Kevin A. Bouknight, SPS Student:
“Thank you for the opportunity to reply. I purposely did not watch the news or read the newspapers when the violence first happened. When I heard about it, I continued to wait before forming an opinion. Now, after having read tweets, Facebook posts, news articles, as well as your blog, I agree with you that the entire debacle is horrific. However, it has become so commonplace that I fear it will continue.
“As an African American man, it hurts my heart for so many of my brothers’ lives to be cut down or snuffed out far too soon. The violence that follows does not hurt my heart; it infuriates me. I’m angry because violence generally does not solve anything and it makes all of us look bad, regardless of the skin color. I’m angry because we as African Americans still have not realized the media perpetrates much of the erroneous images the world sees and we, like idiots, continue to feed into it. I’m angry that out collective voice STILL has not been heard. And, as a friend of mine says, “That burns my butter!”
“There is no denying the situation is critical. Something has to be done and quickly. It has become a very serious concern that it will be my son one day that gets shot. And, the only reason why he’d be killed will be because he’s a young black man.”
From Glenn Hames, Adjunct Faculty:
“What’s happening in Baltimore is saddening and I hope that there is some resolution soon. Most importantly, I pray that what America has been witnessing over the last five years and more recently within the last year, as it relates to police violence against citizens, injustice within the judicial system and the rage of the unheard voices, will bring a level of awareness of what’s been taken place in urban and desolate communities throughout our country for quite some time. Growing up in rural NC, I’ve witnessed that injustice is not isolated to only a few communities but all communities that don’t have the means or economic means and education to have their voice heard. This pent-up frustration unfortunately rears its ugliness when bottled up for too long….I welcome open dialogue that may bring a level of peace, understanding and healing to all that may be effected emotionally from both sides of the spectrum.”
From Idania Arteaga, CAS Student:
“You are young and energetic.. Instead of using that energy to destroy people’s businesses and homes use it to protest in a non-violent act! Destroying your own neighborhood solves absolutely nothing.”
From Dowan McNair-Lee, Reading Specialist:
“A student from my CRS 101 class emailed to see if I was watching the news about Baltimore. I told her that I was and did it all sound familiar. I in turn posted this excerpt from Dr. King’s “The Other America” speech to my FB page:
“It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
Martin Luther King 1968 from his speech “The Other America”