The Fire This Time

baltimore-riots-cvs

“Guess they are burning B’more down” – The Wire

Yesterday as the nation and world watched, peaceful protests earlier in the day gave way to violent riots ushering in chaos and destruction, literally in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police. On CNN’s coverage, Wolf Blitzer continuously stated that it was “hard to believe this was happening in a major American city like Baltimore.” Really? Is it? Was it so hard to see this coming from beyond 695 much less inside the city where rumors and Twitter posts warned of such violence? Haven’t we all seen what happened in Ferguson and around the country? Didn’t we see what happened in Los Angeles in 1992, Detroit in 1967, or Chicago and Washington, DC, in 1968 and other cities such as Newark and Camden. Sadly history does repeat itself, if even on a smaller scale, compared to the riot that occurred in Baltimore in April 1968.

This is not shocking or surprising or unexpected. This was inevitable. This also isn’t simply about the death of Freddie Gray. The anger and frustration among many of the youth and residents is based on not one but a collective series of events and realities related to everything from police brutality to economic depression to simple opportunism and lawless behavior. A mathematician analyzing would see a clear pattern. This isn’t a Baltimore problem. That’s simply where the issues manifested themselves this time. in Detroit in 1967, a long history of tensions between police and residents led to a riot/rebellion that left 43 people dead and over $40 million in property damages.

Anyone who witnessed the riots over the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent damage can see a thread here. There is an undeniable, invincible, core passion within the human spirit for dignity and respect.  When this is continuously suppressed it inevitably rises to the top despite intentional unintended efforts to subdue it. Famed writer James Baldwin expressed this best in 1960 before ALL of these riots occurred:

One day, to everyone’s astonishment, someone drops a match in the powder keg   and everything blows up. Before the dust has settled and the blood congealed, editorials, speeches, and civil rights commissions are loud in the land, demanding to know what happened. What happened is that Negroes want to be treated like [humans].

The anger on display for many yesterday both peacefully and even violently, stems from years of frustration of feelings of racism, and unfair treatment. Indeed this morning analysis is running rampant on the news shows attempting to determine how and why all of this happened and who is to blame. We have seen this movie before. Weeks will pass, commissions will be appointed, discussions will be had and sadly unless more substantive changes occur within these communities, another similar event will ignite.

How do we break this cycle? The problems and causes are myriad but there are some solutions. Certainly review and reform regarding police practices are in order. Something keeps occurring in standard arrests that ends in tragedy, even when many victims are unarmed. Much deeper issues in the community must be addressed particularly around economic opportunity. So many of the youth who were involved in one way or another in Baltimore yesterday were able to mobilize and plan through the use of technology and their smartphones, but the same use more than likely don’t have access to desktop computers at home or adequate STEM education in school.

At a time when Silicon Valley and other tech firms in Baltimore and around the country have 5% black employees, will completely miss the opportunity to be prepared and qualified for such positions. Investment is needed from public and private sources, corporations, foundations and government in programs in training and empowerment around STEM education and training in tech so that this generation of youth can become entrepreneurs, producers and innovators and not merely consumers.

Public and private support is necessary to support a more purpose-driven grid of social services from mentorship, life skills training, and other key needs from faith-based and community organizations, fraternities, sororities and other social organizations.

Much will be said in the coming days about what happened in Baltimore this week. Let it not be said though that this unrest was simply about the death of Freddie Gray. Let it not be said that this couldn’t be anticipated. Someday soon, let it also not be said that this occurred yet again in another city.

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