Challenge and Hope in Baltimore

Challenge and Hope in Baltimore

There is a lot of frustration and anger in America today. You see it in Baltimore, in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death. You see it in Ferguson, where Michael Brown was killed with no prosecution. You see it in Cleveland, where Tamir Rice was fatally shot with no accountability, and in New York, where Eric Garner died with no consequences for the people who ended his life.

The anger and frustration is understandable. But it’s about something bigger than the loss of these young black men. There is a segment of the population in the United States—mostly poor, and people of color—who have been living on the margins of our society for too long. And they have been victimized by an aggressive and unfair criminal justice system, the face of which is the police, who regrettably harass and threaten poor people and people of color every day.

This segment of our population that has been so criminalized and demonized from the time they were very infant children that sometimes they lose hope. In my work, I talk to far too many 13-year-olds who think they’ll either be dead or behind bars by the time they turn 21.

They grow up with an expectation of incarceration, because they see it happening all too often to their neighbors, friends, and family members. And when people begin to live with the sense that there’s no opportunity or chance for success, they sometimes express themselves in less productive ways.

What’s the way forward, for Baltimore and so many other cities today? Reorienting the police is a big part of it. There are great police officers out there. There are people who go into policing because they care deeply about their communities. They just don’t represent the dominant mindset.

But there’s a lot we can do. We can create a greater role for communities and citizens in managing and directing their police forces. That’s not historically the way it’s worked, but there’s nothing to prevent that. The communities with strong civilian review boards and strong police accountability are the communities with better police departments.

We need better training, better recruitment, and more diverse departments. We also need better communication and transparency. We don’t know the demographics of the police departments in America, and we don’t have good data on the use of force.

Right now there’s this myth out there that if you’re in a uniform and if you have a weapon, you have ultimate power, and people are supposed to just do what you tell them to do; you’re not accountable to anyone. Too many officers have a warrior mentality. We need to replace it with a guardian mentality. Until departments see themselves as obligated to provide the public with reliable information about what the police are doing, there’s going to be doubt and distrust.

I am a committed optimist. I have to be hopeful about what we can achieve. We’re at a moment now where we’re beginning to turn a corner on mass incarceration. It’s encouraging to see so many new voices weighing in on how unacceptable it is that this country has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world.

We’re seeing some police departments directing low-level drug users away from the criminal justice system, toward community health services. The fact that we’re talking more about race—and the legacy of racial inequality—is an encouraging and positive step.

But progress is not inevitable. Justice comes when people struggle; when more people struggle, more progress is made. What encourages me is that we’re at that stage in the struggle when you see a greater degree of education and information. And with more education and information, the state of inequality and injustice we’ve been living with begins to crack and unravel.

As we discuss in the video above, there is an opportunity at hand. We can seize it, to honor the memory of Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. We owe it to the people of places like Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and Baltimore. 

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12 Comments

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'Atta boy, EJI...

Lots of words! But when OSI was presented with the idea of an SIB to counter homelessness and include job training in 2013 via its audacious ideas OSI was not audacious at all. Actions speak louder than words - act!

I agree with the comment about changing response to drugs - the only equal opportunities employer in town - but the dilemma you arrive is the problem nicely set out by Tabor (1970) Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide.
Education will not eradicate the structural problems - plenty of educated people without jobs too...

Great Video! but,have we not known this for a long period of time....the real injustice has been our Leaders in not trying to correct this....too much given to developers over citizens.....just review in depth the EBDI project....the preference for the.grand prix and,casinos etc.....a lot of the riot damage was caused by the second wave which could have been prevented by stoppinbgf the kids in the first wave.....Sorry! a lot of our problems rest with us...we are all responsible and some are more guilty.... Our Leaders,despite being African Americans have not been the Leaders that they should have been.....How do we get good Leaders who have a sense of what trhey need to do. Talk is cheap,let us get to real work ....and make our City great! Ray Bahr MD

Having worked with the NC prison population and their family members for eight years, we see first hand the issues that impact the incarcerated and our communities at large. The problem is complex and the answer for reform and recovery lies in a national collaborative effort to include the local level and community through programs, education and awareness. I cant tell you how true the statement "They grow up with an expectation of incarceration " truley is, while I have a sister in MD working in the school system primarily with underprivileged black children who many are born into this world addicted to drugs. She is outraged that these children our merely pushed through the system, irrespective of learning, especially when she recognizes the potential in so many who will never be given the chance to succeed. On the other hand we work with those same underprivileged crack babies after they are incarcerated. This historical cycle simply must be broken in order to bring positive and effective reform.

Social justice is a must instead of waiting till a group of people take law and order in their hands as i think. A community people should be governed by the same community leaders,The high officials of each community are expected to be united in diversities. Deprives should be provided equal opportunity, people suffering losses must be compensated. Thank You.

Democrats have been running Baltimore for years and years. Why did they let this mess happened?

How can I help in my community? As you have described, this is a national and systemic crisis in our society and the criminal justice area. I am a social worker by profession and presently working in the child welfare system. I have recognized that this same type of inequality, injustice and racial disparity is present in the child welfare system which has continued to break and separate the minority families for decades, if not centuries. There is a systemic problem that has and continues to destroy the structural foundation of the minority families, beginning with the separation and removal of the male figure in the home and life of the children. The problem is the same and inter-related... a system that seeks to control, over-power and disenfranchise the vulnerable, the poor and the oppressed. What can I do to bring Hope to my community? I can not depend on the government, criminal justice system or social service system to be the answer. I am seeking to be a part of others in my community who want to see a change. Are you able to connect me to others in my community in San Bernardino county?

We have to overcome the structural racism that is affecting minority populations in the United States.
As an Australian, I am afraid that these systems are inflitrating our political and social structures.

Same is true of areas of poverty in Australia ... education practices and health provision need to be continually improving to serve the whole community.

It's not enough to keep a child in school, as is stated in the video above: You need to make a school they want to stay in.

What's that American phrase!
'Talk the talk but don't walk the walk'... .

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