Monday, April 27, 2015

Hearing the Unheard

On Saturday night, a stadium full of people were held captive in Baltimore City at Camden Yards as protesters and rioters (distinguishable in name and purpose), demonstrated and acted out (respectively) in protest of the unjustified killing of Freddie Gray.  No longer was the suburban middle class insulated from urban concerns.  They were in the middle of it.  And as symbolic as a petition of grievances being nailed to the Warehouse, they were made to listen.

As may be expected, those in position of privilege and comfort dismissed these protests as being "ruined" by the rioters or otherwise having their message lost to violence.  They posit that once the rule of nonviolence is broken, the message is disqualified from consideration.  No matter how small the ratio of rioters to peaceful protesters may have been, they feel entitled to cover their ears and complain about an extra long commute out of Baltimore after seeing their favorite team.  They display an inability to carry two ideas in their head simultaneously - that rioting is bad, but so too is tortuous murder under the authority of law.

I've said it before and I say it here, I do not blame the police for the state of things.  The police have been burdened with a criminal code that has seeped into so many aspects of life for the modern day poor American.  Without resources for an attorney or the wherewithal to fight, legal citations exist as devastating taxes on those who are least able to pay.  99% of all police are good people who want to help their community, but we should not be surprised that the pressure of enforcing illogical and unreasonable laws breaks through in occasions of violence.

On Sunday morning, I laughed out loud when I saw one of my fellow (white) alumni from a private high school post on Facebook that it was wrong that Freddie Gray died, but he should not have run from the police.  Proportionality notwithstanding, the lack of introspection into how much different Freddie Gray's life was from our own was baffling.  Privilege can be unpacked with a series of "why's":

Why would I not have run?  Because I respect authority figures.
Why do I respect authority figures?  Because I have had positive experiences with them.
Why have I had positive experiences with them?  Because I grew up with supportive parents, went to good schools, had everything I ever needed, and, oh yeah, I'm a white suburbanite.

Yet again, we come back to the presumption that poor people have some default in character that merit their station.  It is a particularly comfortable thought if you are not poor, gaining additional comfort and self-congratulation as you move further from that mark.

And your interest in defining thousands of peaceful protesters by the dozens of rioters who won the news-day is likely correlated to your belief that poor people are bad people.  You may not acknowledge it, but you give hints of this belief by advocating for welfare drug testing and the like.  We have airport security because we have reason to believe people may want to blow up a plane.  We have welfare drug testing because we have reason to believe people on welfare use drugs.

And lest we spend too much time condemning the rioters, we should remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who prized nonviolence above all else:

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.

Have compassion.  Stop taking the first opportunity to condemn your neighbor.  Don't eat the media kibble.  We can have peace and justice for Freddie Gray.  You should want both.

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!