As a military-brat, I never had a “hometown.” My grandparents’ homes were the most stable parts of my life. For whatever reason, we saw my MD grandparents more, so I identified more strongly with Baltimore than Pittsburgh. (My grandparents on both sides lived in the suburbs of their respective cities, but no one knows where the hell you’re talking about when you say “Murrysville” unless they are from there or have family from there, too. One of those lessons you get from moving around is to tell people you’re coming from someplace they’ve heard of, not the actual specific place you’re from.) Baltimore isn’t my city, but it’s one that’s always held a special place in my heart. Before moving to where my grandmother currently lives, she and my grandfather lived in Baltimore, raised some of their children there. Our family bakery, though also a bit nomadic, was there. (Still is, though no longer in the family by blood, it was purchased by members of the bakery and they’re family in our hearts.) My grandfather spent close to half a century commuting to and from there. The Orioles, in as much as I had a horse in baseball, were my team. My favorite day of the year is the year I can drag someone to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I non-ironically call Baltimore Charm City and though I don’t drink it, I smile when I see Mr. Boh, the Natty Boh mascot, and the billboard of him and Ms. Utz.
And the rioting in Baltimore is my fault. It’s almost certainly your fault, too.
We have busy lives; there’s a lot to worry about whether it’s your health, your job (or getting one), your family, your friends, your hobbies…it’s hard to pay attention to everything we need to see. Sometimes it hurts to pay attention to the things we need to see. So we don’t. We see people suffering and think “well I can’t make a difference, I’m suffering too.” “I can’t make a difference, this is too hard.” “I can’t make a difference, this is too big.” But the fact of the matter is, every time we look away, every time we don’t say anything, we are being complicit in the results of those injustices we’re not looking at, not talking about. The rioting didn’t happen in a vacuum. It wasn’t a mob of angry black people being angry for no reason and attacking every and anything they could to express it. Decades of losing more and more legal, viable sources of income, of being priced out of family homes because there’s a Whole Foods on the corner now, of being arrested for “gaming, dice” has made residents of the less savory parts of Baltimore angry, and why wouldn’t they be? Wouldn’t you be? The needless and thus far unexplained death of Freddie Gray was simply the spark that lit the powderkeg (a remarkably small powderkeg, I might add, as it was only about 1% of the people present at the protests that were actually engaged in rioting and illegal behavior).
Martin Luther King has been used by a lot of people since last summer as a mallet to bludgeon people into behaving. “MLK wouldn’t like this. MLK would condemn the rioting.” It’s true, he would. He has, in fact, spoken in condemnation of rioting in 1968. But that’s not the end of what he said about it.
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 haven’t we been hearing? Have we seen/read/heard about people who are powerless being treated like trash by those in power? Have we ignored it because we have our own issues? Though I try to help my fellow man as best I can, I am guilty of ignoring the quieter cries of those people. So while I also sympathize with any small business owners who have to deal with getting their insurance companies to cover the damages, I do not blame the people of Baltimore for lifting their voices in a stronger language. We wouldn’t listen when they were calm. Will we listen now?