Baltimore and America’s History of Violence Against the Oppressed

Sometimes I cannot believe the sheer lack of compassion in this country. Sometimes I cannot believe just how people think they know someone else’s experiences. How white America feels they can speak for black America. How the rich feel they can speak for the poor. How men feel they can speak for women . How straight people feel they can speak for the LGBTQA community. How they can literally stand there and listen to an entire marginalized group’s experience and say “well I just don’t think this is about sexuality/gender/race/class.” Don’t mistake me, I am all about allyship. It takes us all to make a change, and that’s important. But allies listen. Allies say “I have not experienced this, but you have, and I’d like to help. How can I help?” Allies do not make haughty social media posts calling people thugs and standing from on high and telling black Americans “well, if you’d just quit seeing skin color, we’re ALL PEOPLE.” Do me a favor and stop that right now. Stop your nebulous kumbaya graphics about “not all” this or that. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t a plan for change. It’s an empty platitude, and telling people just to not see color is to disregard centuries of history. It is to disregard the abuses black Americans have suffered and behave as if that never happened. As if it still does not happen. As a white person, I have no idea what that’s like. I haven’t experienced it. So I will listen to what they say with a compassionate heart.  I will educate myself and learn. I will not pretend I’ve ever stood in their shoes, but I will find all my empathy and apply it.

Take a second and listen to “Glory” from the phenomenal film Selma. Listen to Common say “Justice for all just ain’t specific enough.” Because it is NOT justice for all in America. And to believe that’s true is to delude yourself. But we can make it so. It is in our power.

Let’s have a chat about revolutions and uprisings and protests and change. Nothing has ever been handed to a person in this country who faced oppression or violence at the hands of the state. We did not one day decide “well yes, we are civilized now, I suppose we cannot do this anymore.” Sure, people’s minds changed over time, but it wasn’t because they naturally came to that conclusion, it was because people spoke up and pushed back and people listened. As Thomas Paine said “time makes more converts than reason.” No person of color, no woman, no poor worker, no member of the LGBTQA community, was handed a damn thing. They sometimes fought for it with their very literal blood that spilled all over this country and all over our hands. That eight hour workday? The labor movement got that for us. People were killed, people were executed, people were deported and called names and put on lists for fighting for BASIC RIGHTS. That’s violence. Women’s right to vote? The suffragettes were force-fed in prison. That’s violence. The gay community watched people judge them while countless numbers died of aids. Transgender people’s life expectancy is around 30 years. That’s violence. The black community has fought for generations to be treated equally and what have they received in response? Violence. They have received white America telling them they shouldn’t play the race card, they have received incarceration and poverty and dead bodies. The mother of 12-year-old Tamir Rice received people telling her that her son shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun in a public park when white children do that with no fear in their hearts. Let me tell you something, when I heard that woman speak at the anti-police brutality rally in DC a few months ago, when I heard the tears in her voice, when I heard her say “he was a baby. He was my baby” I will never in my life forget how devastating that was to me. I will never forget my heart shaking in my chest and wanting to walk up to every person who says this is not about race and slap them and say “how DARE you?” So how devastating do you think it was for her? A million times more. I will never forget hearing Mike Brown’s parents speak. John Crawford’s parents speak. To hear so many parents speak that day. I can’t. So how do you think they can forget their dead children? They aren’t even allowed to have their own heroes now, because white America all over my Facebook feed is telling them how disappointed Martin Luther King Junior would be in them.

And you want to talk to me about violence and kids throwing rocks? And some looting? THAT is what you call violence? Look around you. Wake UP. You look at kids breaking windows or people stealing toilet paper from a CVS and you scream about violence? THAT is what you deem “unacceptable?”

Let me talk to you about violence, for a minute. Let me talk to you about state-sanctioned violence to which thrown rocks or smashed windows or even 15 injured police officers cannot compare.

You want to talk about violence?

Let’s talk about how many unarmed black people are killed by police. Let’s talk about Michael Brown and Walter Scott and Sean Bell and John Crawford and TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Tamir Rice. Let’s talk about the seven-year-old black girl killed in a SWAT raid when an officer misused his gun. Let’s talk about how none of those officers were charged. Let’s talk about 41 shots being fired into Amadou Diallo when he pulled out his wallet. Let’s talk about how the media demonizes these black Americans and says they are “no angels” as if petty crime or running away or even their mere existence is enough to warrant death.

You want to talk about violence?

Let’s talk about the poverty in Baltimore. Let’s talk about how some citizens said they couldn’t tell the difference between the streets where the riots occurred and where they did not. Let’s talk about systemic poverty all over the United States which adversely effects the black community more than anyone else. Let’s talk about systemic racism. Let’s talk about people pretending we are beyond racism. We aren’t, and yet there is incessant talk about “not seeing color.” You DO see it.

You want to talk about violence?

Let’s talk about actual slavery that we fought a Civil War to end. Let’s talk about the wage slavery and share-cropping that followed. Let’s talk about Jim Crow and separate but equal. Let’s talk about lynching’s and people being burned alive while others stood by, watched, and did nothing. While none of the perpetrators were punished.

Do you think the past doesn’t inform the present? Do you think that’s how the world works? Nothing exists in a vacuum.

People behave as if the law cannot be violent, and you are only violent if you are outside the law. As if the law was handed down by God himself and not created by man. I don’t care if protestors are disturbing your commute home. You should be disturbed at what’s happening to THEM. You should CARE. I get it. It’s hard to face how the world can really be. It’s hard to overturn thoughts that are habit. But once you do, that is how the world will change. That is how we will work together and make it better. That is how we see the potential of just how beautiful humanity can be. Nothing worth having was ever gotten because we suddenly became more civilized as a people. No. It came through nothing less than a fight. I’m not saying I want violence, but I’m saying what do you expect people to DO? At this point non-violent protest is violent to you, isn’t it? Because people won’t just sit down and be quiet and take it. Even if a brick hadn’t been thrown you’d still be condemning them. So they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and yet I don’t see snotty posts when a whole brigade of sports fans set things on fire after their team loses a game, do I? And that kind of behavior would deserve them! The majority of Baltimore protestors weren’t out smashing windows and looting, they were making a stand without doing any of those things, but the media didn’t want to talk about that. They didn’t want to talk about the rival gangs banding together to help. They didn’t want to talk about people cleaning up the streets after the riots. But you need to understand why the people who did do those things did what they did. You need to understand that sometimes people don’t pay attention something breaks. You need to understand that peaceful protest is fairly new and it is a privilege. You need to understand that people aren’t being HEARD. You need to understand that Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s most respected leaders, known for his peaceful protests later in life, was part of a violent resistance against apartheid in his younger days. It’s what he went to jail for. Why?

Because people.weren’t.listening. He treasured non-violence specifically because he understood just how much it’s worth and what centuries of people had to sacrifice to get there. How many people were forced into violence to create change. The goal is to have a society where non-violence is the norm, where it’s listened to. That was MLK’s goal and his mission and his creed. But he also knew why riots occur. He knew it was the language of the unheard. And in case you’ve forgotten, no matter how peaceful the marchers were on their way to Selma, Bloody Sunday still happened. Or did you forget about that particular day of violence?

We all want peace. But what we need to understand is that violence is being done to American citizens every day. And we need to do something about it. We cannot equate property damage to human life and generations of abuse and violence. We need to band together and listen to the voices of those people who are hurting. We need to make a better world instead of defending the present one. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Victor Hugo’s Les Mis:

“Citizens, whatever happens today, by our defeat as well as by our victory, what we are going to achieve is a revolution. As fires light up a whole city, so revolutions give light to the whole human race. And what revolution shall we bring about? I’ve just told you, the revolution of Truth.”

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