April 28, 2015, Phoenix- I’ve been in Baltimore three times. The second, and longest, stay in the city was a week, in 1972. I got off a bus in East Baltimore, and walked about ten blocks, through an old and visibly proud African-American neighbourhood. There were hints of a place going to seed, but more common were the well-kept yards and people greeting one another in friendship, as I’ve found in lots of places. At no time did I feel unsafe.
Similarly,I have driven through south Chicago, south central Los Angeles,the Bronx and Harlem, and walked all over Washington, DC, and not felt at risk. The thing to remember is: “Black on Black” violence is far more frequent than “interacial” crime. I have never been struck, or held at gunpoint, by a person of African descent. There are many, I know, who have had very different experiences, and my sorrow for your losses.
The violence in Baltimore, yesterday and today, will end up hurting Black people more than any other group. This has been the experience of countless other people, in too many other cities, large and small, across the United States, in the United Kingdom, France and South Africa. The poor end up poorer.
There is a dynamic at work, at the opposite end of the social scale: Pursue the well-being of society, only to the extent that it doesn’t upend the current economic system. Thus, we have calls for “soul-searching”, each time a riot breaks out, or a high-profile person is killed. What is needed, and sorely, instead, is soul-action.
One can best effect change locally. I grew up in what many would call a “white-bread” town. There was still a lot of need there. Lower-class whites were somewhat “privileged”, but they were still regarded as lower-class. I tried my best to call attention, as a teenager, to issues like economic disparity and civil rights, seeing them as closely-tied. I was ridiculed for this, but I noticed that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were saying the same things. The Irish kids who cheered their assassinations were biting the hands that were outstretched to them. The Italian and Polish kids who groused about Affirmative Action, seeing it as permanent, and a privilege system all its own, were way off the mark.
My conclusion was that, unless and until people saw how they were being manipulated to separate themselves from others, and did something to build a bond with people to whom they were more closely tied than they thought, there would be the same cycle of riot and rebellion, followed by oppression (by the same people who used divide and conquer), followed by a period of acquiescence, then more riot and rebellion.
Solutions? The disenfranchised must vote. Citizens attending, and speaking out at, public meetings is crucial. Parents actually bringing up their kids is not subject to substitution. The politician must be held to viewing the title public servant as more than a sobriquet.
Further: Women are the equal partners of men, and not just within the bounds of matrimony. There is neither a favoured class, nor a protected class. Political Correctness, the ultimate band-aid for society’s boils, deserves to be consigned to the refuse pile. Human decency could ably take its place. See someone who looks different from you walking in your direction? Stay on the same path, and offer an appropriate greeting. “How’re you doin?'” or “What’s happening?” are words I have heard from countless people, in cities all over the country.
These are simple thoughts, but the great innovators have brought change to society, not by quantum leaps, or fell swoops. The changes have been systematic, and through persistence. This has been true of everything from the automobile industry to the expansion of civil rights. So it must be for the reconstruction of neighbourhoods: Not through gentrification, not through creation of urban deserts, but “brick by brick, block by block” , designed by and for the benefit of those already living there, as well as artisans and entrepreneurs who are actually invited by the community, rather than by the real estate market.
Extinguish the fire and clear the smoke.