On April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man was arrested by the Baltimore Police. While being transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and was taken to a trauma center. Gray died on April 19, 2015; his death was ascribed to injuries to his spinal cord. Gray’s death sparked days of demonstrations; which erupted into rioting on the evening after his funeral on April 27th.
Six Baltimore police officers have been charged in his death. As the events in Baltimore continue to play out, what messages can we glean from the events of the past few weeks?
Message One: Policing Is Challenging
The police in this country have a difficult job. They have to deal with some of the most difficult, diverse; and yes, sometime violent people in our society. The police do all of this in an environment where they are under-valued, under-resourced and under-armed.
The Message From Baltimore: The police deserve our respect, and more resources to perform a difficult job more effectively.
Message Two: Being Arrested Is Dangerous
Regardless of the reason, an arrest is a loss of freedom. A police officer that has been charged with that duty may encounter a person who resists. Therefore, the arrest, regardless of how it may go down is fraught with danger. While exact data has not been compiled, people have died during arrests. With the pervasiveness of the camera phone in several high profile cases the events leading up to those deaths have been captured.
The Message From Baltimore: After repeated exposure to these arrest videos from around the nation the general public have questions about the use of excessive force in arresting unarmed suspects.
Message Three: Baltimore’s Stark Income Disparity
While the death of Freddie Gray trigged the rioting the root of the undress stems from the gap between America’s rich and poor.
CNN Money describes the growing income inequality in Baltimore in these terms: “Driven in part by globalization and technology that have wiped out jobs, income inequality is a mounting problem around the U.S. The issue is particularly acute in Baltimore, the biggest city in the country’s most affluent state.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income of African-Americans in Baltimore is just $33,610; compared with $60,550 for white households,
Even more dramatic, the U.S. Labor Department reports, the unemployment rate for young black men between the ages of 20 and 24 stood at an incredible 37% in 2013, compared with 10% for white men of the same age group. Moreover, nearly 24% of Baltimore’s population lives below the poverty line.
The Message From Baltimore: Despite the bleak economic conditions rioting, looting and violence is never acceptable.
Message Four: An Unlikely Troika Saved The Day
When calm was restored to Baltimore it was not due to the police, the curfew or the National Guard. Rather the unrest was put down by an unlikely troika of community leaders, churches and gang members. Gang members were particularly effective in reaching the youth who were part of the widespread looting and rioting. Community and religious leaders formed a line of “human shields” between the police and the rioters.
The Message From Baltimore: These unlikely partners were the real heroes of Baltimore and they must be part of the solution going forward.
A Final Message: Hope For Tomorrow
The situation in Baltimore showed the worst and the best that America has to offer. The worst: The death of an unarmed suspect in police custody, the rioting and the looting. The best: The calming of the city produced not by force; but, by the people themselves. Hope for tomorrow lies in Baltimore solving these and other challenges:
- Trust between the police and the community must be restored.
- Economic vitality must return to the inter city.
- The alliance between community leaders, the church and the gangs must be leveraged and continued to bring real and lasting solutions to Baltimore’s challenges.
What happened in Baltimore is not just a Baltimore problem. Many American cities are just a “Freddy Gray” situation away from sparking the fuse of discontent caused by endless years of police misconduct, crumbling schools, and dismal job prospects.
The problems of the urban America can be solved. However it will take innovative actions, political will, efforts by businesses, continued leadership by the troika and money from the taxpayers and private sector.
Inspired leadership will be needed for the difficult days ahead. For that inspiration we need to look no further to these words of America the Beautiful “America! America! God shed His grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!”
The Message From Baltimore: Our urban brothers and sisters need our help; but more importantly they have demonstrated the ability and wiliness to help themselves.
Let’s us send a message to Baltimore that we stand with them ready to give them our help, attention and prayers