It’s simple, but it’s not.
The easiest thing in the world to do Monday night while watching violence and fires engulf Baltimore was to shake our collective fist at the television and say, “Why would anyone burn their own neighborhood to the ground? These scofflaws are taking away the attention from the people who are protesting peacefully.”
But it’s not.
It’s mostly not simple because human beings have a way of making things very complicated, and attempting to delve into the psyche of another human being is often an exercise into madness itself.
Can I understand or relate to what a young black male has going through his mind after hearing story after story of other young black males being killed by police officers? Can I relate to what a police officer in a particularly troubled neighborhood is thinking as he tries to maintain peace and protect innocent civilians, with the underlying goal of just being able to get home safely to see his family at night? No, I can’t. On either front.
Let’s start with the basics. Mayhem broke out in Baltimore on Monday following the funeral services for Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died April 19 from fatal injuries he suffered while in police custody. People are emotional. They get tired of protesting peacefully, and they lash out at all that is around them.
But it’s not.
I don’t believe that this is all about Freddie Gray. Oh, his death might have been the proverbial final straw that broke the camel’s back, and his funeral was the impetus of Monday’s ugly discord, but I believe this goes much further into what is perceived as a systematic injustice for minorities in this nation. And poor people. And those who just feel generally disenfranchised by the machinations of a government who often listens to the few, while supposedly representing the masses.
And, of course, there are the police officers. No, not the ones accused of fatally injuring Gray, or the one who drew his handgun and fired at a 50-year-old man running away from him in South Carolina. I’m talking about the ones who put that shield on before every shift with pride, and who do their best to protect those who need protecting the most, while trying to enforce the laws that our government has instructed them to enforce.
This is the vast majority of police officers, from my experience, and they get dragged down by what we called in the Marine Corps “The 10-percenters” — that 10 percent in any group that can’t, or won’t, get on board with the program and brings everybody else down with them.
How do you feel if you are one of the 90 percent that does care, that doesn’t abuse citizens, that does feel invested in the community? Now you’re stuck in riot gear and fending off bricks and rocks and hate from the people you are sworn to protect because of the actions of others. You get angry, right? But at that point it is your duty to promote peace, not make it more unattainable.
You see, it’s simple, but it’s not.
While going through social media during the riots I read words like “animals” and “thugs” to describe those causing damage and inflicting harm. Those were not words I came across when students at the University of Kentucky were starting fires and causing damage after their basketball team lost a game, nor did I find them when I read accounts of Maryland students doing the same when their basketball team won a game. It would be simple to just utter the word “racism” here and let that point sit. But it’s not that simple.
None of this is simple.
One side of this argument cannot understand the actions of the other side, and that other side feels as if it doesn’t have a side that matters in the grand scheme of things anyway. It’s an aggravating loop that is promised to continue on in perpetuity if some kind of new dynamic is not introduced into the equation.
So, what is this missing dynamic that can change the course of this dangerous trajectory? I honestly have no clue. I can guess that open dialogue would be the first step, as well as a strong commitment from our elected officials that we will build our own country to where it needs to be before we make more strides elsewhere.
I’d also suggest that both accountability and respect have to play a part. People from all sides must be accountable for their actions, and nobody in this world can reasonably expect to earn respect from others if no respect is given. Good police need to out bad police. Good citizens need to out bad citizens. People who are angry must learn to fight with courage and words rather than sticks and stones. The violence must be replaced by dialogue and respect. It’s really kind of simple.
But it isn’t.