Violence in West Baltimore and Our Nation

Once again our hearts are heavy with news of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray and the subsequent uprising and military presence in Baltimore. Yet we see in this dark moment a bright opportunity to give meaning to his death. We lift our voices in a plea to stop failing the citizens of Baltimore and this nation.

Freddie Gray was arrested, ran, and then was pursued and placed in a police van. He died a week later from a fractured spine sustained in police custody. His violent death, while tragic, is also emblematic of a larger struggle over resources, militarization, and our collective values.

We live in a nation of routine police harassment with more than 100 people having won settlements or court judgements for violations of civil rights or police brutality in Baltimore in the last four years.

We live in a nation of 5600 deaths by police since 2000 .

We live in a nation where white people destroying property after sports games are described as “students” and “demonstrators,” while African American youth protesting economic violence are called “looters” and “thugs.” We live in a nation where 1.5 million black men have been disappeared through a system that increasingly disenfranchises (takes away their democratic rights) and jails (creates corporate profit from) them.

But for eyewitnesses and video (given the “failure” of the police camera ), Freddie Gray would also be gone without note. Freddie Gray lived in a city that burned with rage after Martin Luther King’s death, yet despite the glamorous Inner Harbor being built, there are few jobs in Freddie’s desolate West Baltimore neighborhood.

Few politicians consoled Freddie Gray’s family or community. But when crowd violence began, the police and National Guard were deployed in full riot gear. Concrete steps can be taken, such as completing a pattern or practice civil rights investigation into Baltimore policing, a review by the Maryland governor of police-involved deaths, as well as accountability in Freddie Gray’s death.

But the most basic level we have to discuss is what love we accord all citizens and to decide what dignity they deserve as fellow humans.

Freddie Gray can be one more canary in the toxic coal mine of inner cities. But he can live in our call to rethink basic rights afforded to all Americans. A call to create – not destroy – opportunity. A call to embrace our humanity and give all individuals the social justice they deserve.

Veena Trehan, Chair

Social and Economic Justice Task Force

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