Friday, May 1, 2015

Baltimore: Riot or Uprising?

As a white male brought up in a disciplined and conservative home, taught to respect authority, it's difficult to hear well what my black brothers and sisters are saying about events in Baltimore surrounding Freddy Gray. I am in a journey, though, to pay attention to my assumptions, the ways that I react at an instinctive level when I see and read about Baltimore in the news, what the God who still speaks is saying to me as a disciple of Jesus.

What is it that "I don't know that I don't know" and how do I access that?

Since Michael Brown, I've been intentional about creating space for myself to engage a conversation with black colleagues and friends. In those conversations I try to listen more than speak, while also saying what's so for me, much of which is expressing my lack of understanding and what I think I do understand, however naïve and culturally condition that might be. (Fortunately, I have some good colleagues and friends who don't judge me.)

This morning I heard a recording of a black activist in Baltimore, in the heat of the moment, verbally confront a Fox News reporter, saying, basically, "You need to leave. You were never here to report about poverty in Baltimore. You were never here to report on the long string of reported incidents of police brutality that have been submitted in this city for years. You were never here to report on the evidence of institutional racism in education, employment, healthcare, criminal justice and civic participation. You just need to leave. You're only here to sensationalize "'black riots.'"

His point being that Baltimore isn't a riot at all, but an uprising against human systems that allow for this kind of violence and police brutality to occur unchecked and without accountability when it comes to black Americans. Something happened to Freddy Gray in the secret environment of that police van. Now they have learned of at least one unscheduled and undisclosed stop along the way back to the station.

Again, in an effort to try and listen well to my black brothers and sisters, I'm trying to get access to my unexamined assumptions, my intuitive reactions and what I don't know that I don't know.

What is coming up for me in this regard - at least what I am trying on and being genuinely open to - is the distinction between Baltimore as a riot and an uprising. Which is it?

I'm certain those not in the crowd looking in could easily point to evidence of both; and I would not likely debate too forcefully that both are there. But I am aware that the distinction is important. Uprisings require us all to take a deeper look; not just at the causes that lie outside of ourselves (if it's even possible for causes to ultimately lie outside ourselves), but causes that lie within, causes that I am wittingly and unwittingly contributing to.

I haven't been in Baltimore for years. Maybe - like the Fox News reporter - that's my contribution.