Things are happening in Baltimore. You might think it began with the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who was chased down by police, arrested, and beaten in such a way as to sever 80% of his spine and eventually kill him. But that just isn’t so.
Some months ago, you might remember similar protests happening in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. You might think then that this all began with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the former of which was shot six times in the back while unarmed and fleeing from a cop while the latter was murdered in a choke-hold caught on camera for nonviolently resisting arrest. You would be wrong.
What’s happening in Baltimore tonight, what’s been happening for the past few days, what’s been happening in various parts of the country for the past year, it’s nothing new. What’s happening, what you’re seeing, what you are witness to, is the start of a new civil rights movement (and no, it’s not just a Facebook page). It’s the people who’ve been kicked and pushed aside, chased down and shot, persecuted and prosecuted, incarcerated and murdered, getting sick and tired of the brutality that’s inflicted on them by the very people who are supposed to be protecting them: the police. It’s the people rising up and saying they have had enough. This is not okay. None of this is okay.
I write all this from the safety and comfort of my own home, hundreds of miles away from Baltimore, while my husband and son sleep soundly in their beds. I write all this from my position of privilege, still a minority –female and Latinx– but not having grown up with cops and neighborhood watchdogs watching my every move, harassing me for walking down the street or wearing a hoodie or anything else that might get me hurt or killed.
In fact, growing up, I was under the impression that the cops were the GOOD GUYS, ALWAYS. They were supposed to be the ones who protect us. I still believe they should be, and do believe there are good people out there who want to serve and protect, serve and protect all regardless of skin tone or last name or age or ability. I still want to believe that it isn’t too late.
But I do have friends who have told me about the incidents of police harassment they encountered over the years, for being in the “wrong neighborhood”, listening to the “wrong music, too loudly”, “looking suspicious”, etcetera. And my only incident was of a cop who pulled me over on a dark and deserted road, told me my tail light was out, and made me get out of my car and stand in front of him while he looked me up and down for a while, and finally let me go. I still know that I am privileged because it could have been so much worse.
I read the stories coming out of Baltimore right now, on news sites, on social media, and it’s sad and frightening, but also encouraging and hopeful. Because I do hope that this is the start of something big. It needs to happen. This isn’t just happening to people of color (though it mostly is). This affects us all. I’m not willing to raise my son in a world where this is okay and I stand by and watch and stay silent and complicit. Officers cannot continue to be given leave with pay for beating someone up or worse, taking lives. These slaps on the hand are not working. They never were.
And while I understand the knee-jerk reactions of (privileged) people who don’t quite grasp the need for riots and the need for change, I know this is the only way that change will come. In every revolution, in every movement, lives are lost, people are injured, property is damaged. But why? Why can’t it be as non-violent as Dr. King would have wanted, the last time police brutality and systemic racism were really addressed? This piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates sums it up better than I can:
Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?
….When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
Justice for Freddie Gray. Justice for all the lives lost, whether through murder or incarceration. #BlackLivesMatter isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Get comfortable. Get educated. Fight the power.