Few would disagree that Baltimore is a city in crisis, but may not agree on what caused the crisis. Was it the way the police rough-handled Freddie Gray and presumably contributed to his untimely death in the first place? Or was it the destructive mobs that roamed the streets before and after Mr. Gray’s funeral, destroying and looting private property, setting fires to stores and police cars, and sending more than a dozen police officers to the hospital? Or was it the city’s heavy-handed riot-gear response to those mobs and the arrest of some 200 people, many for merely violating the 10 p.m. curfew?
I submit it was none of these.
Rather, the crisis was caused by the same lethal spark that caused similar riots in so many other cases: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Rodney King, and a list too long and too sad to recount here.
The crisis in Baltimore was caused by overall racial inequality in America. Racial inequality and its handmaiden economic inequality, and manifested in the guise of “police brutality” against people of color.
From the White House to the 50 state houses, racial and economic inequality must be tackled with the same fervor and determination as we wage war on terrorism. In a few days, Baltimore will return to a semblance of normalcy, empty shells of burnt out buildings notwithstanding, and life will go on as before. Fans will once again fill the wonderful Camden Yards. But nothing proactive will be done to address the powder keg issue of inequality. The city – and so many others just like it — will leave itself exposed and vulnerable for the next crisis. The next black man to be mishandled by a cop. Count on it.
Compare that laissez-faire, do-nothing attitude to terrorists on a plane. Generally speaking, when it comes to acts of terrorism, you only get one bite at the apple. Once terrorists tried to smuggle liquid explosives aboard planes in water bottles, and the next day there was a ban against bringing liquids past security checkpoints. It’s annoying as hell, but the deterrent has worked. Citizens have acquiesced and a real risk has been largely eliminated.
Where is the same kind of brain trust that thwarts terrorism dedicated to addressing racial inequality? Where is the White House on this issue? Where are the so-called leaders of Congress? How about the Presidential candidates? Make no mistake: the crisis taking place right now in Baltimore is not solely a Baltimore problem; it is a national problem and a national disgrace.
You could say that the nation fiddled while Baltimore burned.
Freely borrowing from Mark Twain’s classic quip about the weather, Everyone talks about racial inequality but no one does anything about it. Last year I saw the movie “Enigma,” which tells the story of how, during World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill brought together at a suburban London estate called Bletchley Park some of the nation’s greatest thinkers and puzzle solvers to figure out how to break the German’s theretofore “unbreakable” code and their Enigma machine. I don’t want to give away the ending, but suffice it to say today we’re speaking English, not German.
No one will ever confuse Barack Obama with Winston Churchill, but we need a Bletchley Park scenario of our own. Great minds working together to figure out how to balance the equality scales without breaking the bank. More jobs, more construction, better training for law enforcement personnel, better housing, better schools, easier access to colleges and community colleges, better jobs training.
Yesterday, the private, for profit Corinthian Colleges announced it was closing all remaining 28 campuses and shutting its doors for good, leaving tens of thousands of students in the lurch. Whether a diploma from Corinthian was worthless even before this action, to be thrown out on the street without a sheepskin is to deprive so many students of at least being able to put the valuable words “college graduate” on a resume.
These sorts of actions contribute mightily to the economic inequality of the crisis equation. Why didn’t the Department of Education take over the schools – make them better and eventually sell the college to private investors.
Where is the out of the box thinking the solved the Enigma puzzle during WWII?
If America’s crisis of racial and economic inequality is not handled proactively, what happened in Baltimore will be replicated in your city the next time a white cop is filmed having an altercation with a black man. It’s just a matter of time.
And the clock is ticking.