Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Didn't and Won't Make the News

Last night, people sat glued to their twitter feeds, their computers and the television, as picture after picture showcased a breakdown in social order.  If one flipped through the channels covering it, you got different perspectives, but never an acknowledgement of the underlying anger voiced over and over again even by those who stood against the riots, who lived there.

On one channel, three pundits spent time assessing who to blame, and faulted the mayor, the police, the government and explained how it should have been handled without a hint of self assessment about how easy it is to armchair quarterback a situation from a comfortable newsroom with a video feed.    

At the primary politically opposite network, the wagons kept circling to ascribe the fault to the politics, or to the individuals for their actions, with no sense that perhaps, if one time is an incident, and two times a coincidence, when we get to three or more, (and we have), there is a systemic pattern that needs to be addressed.

Blame. Blame and more blame.  The fires on the ground mirrored the fires in the brains of those doing the commentary.  It made for great video and ratings, to pontificate about how something shouldn't happen, and then pile on about how it came to be or shouldn't have.  

Someone quoted half of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech related to riots.  I went to find the whole of it, for it speaks to now and the whole of now, in a way the half quote and the half punditry of the right and left did not.

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. 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.

What was the message of the unheard?  They're angry.  What else?  The picture of the police in riot gears on one block, and two blocks over in clear sight, people setting fires and looting stores said it in its full hard reality.   There are some in this country, who feel they cannot trust the police to help, who believe those entrusted with enforcing the law will be either bullies when they have superior numbers or power, or are impotent as a force to maintain law and order.   

The cure for this sort of break down isn't speeches or a concert or a national GoFundMeBaltimore or hashtag awareness.  It's not a quick fix, because it's not a simple problem.   There need to be consequences for police brutality and protocols to stop it; perhaps cameras in the police trucks to protect the accused, the arrested, the innocent and reveal the guilty.  

It will take time, patience, wisdom, charity, forgiveness, kindness and strength, temperance, all things that the twitter world and facebook and email and streaming feeds do not foster.  Growing a city into a community, is a slow and painful process, like watching a seed mature to full tree.  But it is always possible to begin again.  Buildings, senior centers, businesses, homes, streets, gardens can be rebuilt, remade, and things, all things, replaced.   Destructive meaningless violence is the manifestation of despair, it is impulsive to be sure, but not pathological, it is rooted in the frustration with profound disappointment of what this country holds out as possible, but fails to deliver.   

We need leaders who have an investment in Baltimore, like the Veteran Robert Valentine, who stood between the youth who wanted to riot, and the police and talked to them until they backed down.   Also, the Pastor of the Baltimore Southern Baptist Church, who even before the flames died from the now gutted senior center his church helped fund to serve the people by November of 2015, took time to speak to the media about how he still has hope.   

One of the greatest gifts of last night, is that despite the chaos, despite the looting, despite the bricks and the rocks and the anger and yes, the destruction of property and injuring of people, no one died. Given the level of anger, the number of fires and the number of incidents, the sheer absence of deadly violence, by either those engaged in the riots or the police seems miraculous.  I view it as a clear indication of the inclination on both sides, to want something better.    

Everything else can be rebuilt, even trust.  

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