Baltimore

Today’s post was supposed to be about New Orleans, but considering I’ve spent the last 8+ days thinking about Baltimore, I might as well write about it.

I should begin by saying I’m not an expert on the city of Baltimore, police brutality, or racial inequality in America. I’m a white woman and, while I’m from Maryland and live here now, I’ve never called Baltimore home. A lot of “experts” have popped up on my social media this past week–and I’m sure yours–so it seems important emphasize this point. I’m an observer, like you.

To know Baltimore even a little is to have a complicated relationship with it. It’s a difficult city in many respects–neighborhoods destroyed by poverty and predatory lending, the infamous heroin trade, the obvious class disparities from neighborhood to neighborhood. There are things to love, too. The people there do care about their city–they pour their energy, their time, their sweat into it. It’s a place where the arts thrive. And it has a distinct personality, something I’ve come to appreciate as D.C. becomes more gentrified, more homogenous, and consequently kind of lifeless.

I read a brief article about the assault of Freddie Gray by Baltimore police before I left on my trip with the same grief, horror, and anger I read about such occurrences every day (yes, every day). By the time I returned, he had died in the hospital as the result of his injuries and people had already begun to protest. A week ago, I listened to the reports of looting and rioting on the radio. I watched the national media paint Baltimore as a war zone, a city of thugs and criminals. It was hard to hear and hard to watch. (It’s hard, too, to read about the Freddie Grays and the Michael Browns and the Tamir Rices. But that should be hard. Complacency allows such tragedies to multiply.)

Initially, it seemed impossible to parse and balance what I felt and thought.The violence was not shocking in itself; it’s happened before and will happen again. It pained me to see a place I care about in flames. And I worried about my friends who lived there. At the same time, I knew that this was a community backed into a corner and its young people needed to do something. What was happening was chaotic, uncontrollable in some respects. There’s only so much pressure you can apply before something bursts. I thought about one of the cities Socrates describes in Plato’s Republic: the city at war with itself, the sick city which is actually two cities, one belonging to the rich, the other the poor. Every city in the world is that city. Baltimore just reminded us the truth of that.

There was the cacophony of responses to the situation from all over the internet to weigh, too. Everyone, it seemed, was angry for one reason or another. I learned some unpleasant truths about a few people I know. It occurred to me more than once that a lot of people could benefit from not talking quite so much. Not every event in the world requires our immediate commentary. There’s no harm in waiting to think things through. Complicated situations demand meditation, consideration. After all, it’s a complicated thing to understand another human being’s situation and motivations. And I believe we should always try to understand, even if we disagree with the end result. We owe each other that.

I considered what was appropriate for me to do as a Marylander. I wanted to help, but while being mindful of my role as an outsider. We’re too eager sometimes, I think, to rush to places like Baltimore and Ferguson because it makes us feel better to do something. But it seemed better to wait, to let the community decide what they wanted and needed. They deserved a chance to demonstrate, to express their grievances, and to begin the healing process. After all, this is only the beginning–there will be many more opportunities to protest in Baltimore. Better, I think, to protest in your own town first and know what you’re about before you got into someone else’s community to demonstrate.

And it’s important, too, to support those who can directly help the people most hurting. The food banks that make sure people can eat. The libraries that stay open so students have a place to learn. The institutions of faith that provide leadership and solace. The community groups cleaning up the damage and giving citizens a voice. Organizations that give legal assistance for arrested protestors. That’s where I started. There is much more to do and certainly more to pay attention to: just this afternoon, there are reports of another man shot by Baltimore police. It makes me sick and furious to hear it. But in the past several days, Baltimore has shown what I have long admired about it: its resilience and its determination to thrive. Its people fight for their city and for each other.

As we all should.

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