It seems that things haven’t changed very much since I was a boy growing up in Asheville, N.C. Of course then the bigotry, prejudice and discrimination were enshrined in law, now they are just a part of our culture and our environment. This isn’t to say that all members of minority groups in this country live their lives as second class citizens. There have always been those who were able to break through the gravitational pull of despair and poverty and rise to success. But the underlying reality hasn’t changed much in decades since the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Supreme Court ruling that mandated the integration of public schools. What happened in Baltimore this week is just the most recent chapter in a long history of reaction to inexplicable action.
In this case it was the death of another black man while in the custody of the Baltimore Police. There have been no indictments and no explanation as to what occurred to cause the death of Freddie Gray. This is but the latest in a seemingly weekly death of an unarmed black man at the hands of the police somewhere in this country. It is not surprising that these events have brought the black community to the boiling point and erupted into the kinds of events we have seen recently in many cities. There has been a heroic effort on the part of black leadership to keep these demonstrations peaceful. Unfortunately, there are those who exploit such events for their own selfish purposes and turn to looting and burning, often times businesses that have served their community for decades. We have seen this same story play itself out for decades in almost every major city in this country. Neighborhoods are burned down and destroyed never to return to their former selves.
Over these many years we have listened to millions of words spoken and read millions of words written about what must be done to break the cycle of poverty and violence in these communities. We know the answers and have the solutions. But while we hear the words, we see little real action. As long as we can accept the existence of unbroken generational poverty without really doing something meaningful about it, the riots will forever be a part of our landscape. The question is,if we know what needs to be done why haven’t we done it?
The simple fact is that while the riots get a lot of news coverage they don’t stimulate a lot of political action. They are viewed as a momentary inconvenience or distraction from the important issues of the day. During the past several months we have heard a great deal from both parties about the plight of the middle class. There seems to be a major effort at hand, regardless of who is elected, to somehow help the middle class return to it former greatness. In truth, I don’t believe for a moment this will happen under a GOP presidency, However, they are talking a good game right now. Why all of the talk about the middle class and none about the impoverished class? It’s simple math. More members of the middle class vote.
Until we as a nation remember who we are and return to the basic values on which this country was built we will live with riots. However, if we as people, regardless of our party affiliation, begin to demand action from our government to resolve this decades old tragedy we might see some progress. We need to improve education, housing, job training, day care, and infrastructure. We need to take a hard look at our justice system and figure ways of returning fathers to their homes. We need to monitor police behavior and prosecute those that abuse power. But we already know all of this. It’s finally time that we demand that we bring these words to life.