Life + Culture

Baltimore and The Unheard

Chalking names of those killed by police since 2014

Do you know the names #AkaiGurley, #MeaganHockaday, #HectorMorejon, #KendraJames, #TerrenceKellum?
(more here and here).

If you have learned about Freddie Gray this past week, but these names remain unfamiliar to you, examine your heart for the reason that might be.

For many, the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that followed were a wake up call. Many white folks woke up for the first time to the epidemic of violence against black and brown bodies in the United States. We woke up to the militarization of police forces. We woke up to the systemic injustices of the legal system. 
And then we fell back asleep.
Since the killing of Michael Brown, there have been ongoing protests against police violence for months on end. There have been hundreds of marches all across the country. A massive movement that has continued, unrelenting, week after week. 
Have you followed them? Have you payed attention to the movement over these many months? Or had it drifted from your attention? Settled into an unpleasant memory of last year?
Now, we stand aghast at the property damage in Baltimore and condemn the violence with moralistic indignation. But where were we for the months of peaceful protests that preceded it? Where was the media coverage? Where was the national attention? 
Interview of Deray McKesson by Wolf Blitzer on CNN
"Freddie Gray will never be back,
but those windows will be."
We have had months of videos, of evidence, of pleas. And yet you've simply shaken your head and mumbled "what a shame." 
What will compel you to compassion? Were not the hundreds of marches, and actions, and protests enough to cause your heart to cry out?
No. It wasn't enough. You did not pay attention to the broken lives. You only woke up again when it became broken windows (see interview by Deray McKesson). 
Baltimore saw weeks of peaceful protest advocating for the life of Freddie Gray. But his death didn't become a national story until the fires of injustice became a visible reality. His killers were not prosecuted until glass was broken.
You have clearly demonstrated to the city of Baltimore that this is what is necessary to merit your attention. You have shown which kinds of violence will move you to protest. You have shown that you will only listen when the oppressed are pushed to their very limit. So whose fault is it really when violence finally erupts?

Who is to blame when the message is sent the only way it will be heard? You were the one that has shown that this is what it takes to grab your attention. And so when it  finally does, why are you so surprised? 

The Nightly Show on the Baltimore Protests
Maybe you were one of those who were blissfully unaware before the Ferguson protests. Maybe you were jolted into reality by video of Eric Garner being suffocated. But if you have not continued to rail since then, you have no business being indignant now. 
While so many of us were all too ready to "move on", to "get over it", to "just stop talking about it", we left those affected by systemic violence every single day to deal with its consequences. They can never fall asleep to the perils of been black or brown in this country. Daily reminders keep the reality of this ever-present danger fresh in mind. On the other hand, those in power only pay attention long enough to ensure that the oppressed, the ones crying out for justice, will finally shut up about it. We don't want peace, we just want quite. 
So Baltimore went back to the strategy that first got your attention this past summer. If ever violence emerges, it is because we have not listening when it's peaceful. Pay attention, and then maybe it won't have to get to this point. 
"Though I cry, 'Violence!' I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice."

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