My four-year-old asked me the other day why there were so many criminals in Baltimore. He heard on the radio about people being arrested in the city and was curious. He also asked me why so many cars were on fire. These are difficult questions for any parent to answer in light of what’s transpiring in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. And it’s even more challenging for me because Baltimore is my hometown. It’s where I spent the first 18 years of my life and it’s where all of my family still resides.
My wife, kids and I travel to Baltimore once or twice a year to visit my immediate and extended family and, in many ways, I still feel that Baltimore is my home. My parents and grandparents grew up and lived in the city for decades and although I grew up just outside the city in Baltimore County, for all the time I spent at my grandparents house as a child, I might as well be a son of the city myself.
It was devastating and heartbreaking to watch what unfolded in Baltimore over the past two weeks. While every city in America has problems — social, political and cultural — they are magnified in Baltimore right now. Anyone with love in their heart for Baltimore, like I have, is left diminished and searching for answers about how this situation can ever be fixed.
Yet, despite the divisions and the tensions, I want my kids to know the Baltimore is not a place to be feared.
Even at their tender ages of four and three they have spent time in the city visiting the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Camden Yards, Fells Point, Canton, Little Italy and other landmarks. They’ve ridden the Light Rail into and out of the city. They’ve visited the Streetcar Museum. They’ve spent more than a few hours at the B&O Railroad Museum. Sure, these are mainly tourist spots but they make up part of the tapestry of a great American city. And it’s a city that I’m proud to be from and proud to share with my wife and kids.
I want my children to know that the problems they see or hear about in Baltimore are part of their present and future. This is a real place that they know and they will grow to know even more as they spend more and more time there in the future. I want them to know that what we saw in Baltimore and what we saw in Ferguson, Missouri and in New York City could happen in any city in the United States. They need to know that Baltimore is not a scary place to be avoided. They need to know that Baltimore is a mirror of many cities struggling with declining population, fewer opportunities for the poor and disaffected and tension between minorities and the poor and the police.
My children need to one day understand that there is injustice in the world and that it takes many forms. They must also learn that injustice, particularly cyclical injustice, can lead to hopelessness and when people are hopeless they may turn to anger. When the flames lit up the Baltimore night and looters ravaged stores, children everywhere could see that anger can cause people to make bad choices, like destroying their own neighborhoods. It’s a microcosm of what we teach our kids on a day-to-day basis. For instance, our children learn that if you take something from another child, you will get punished. If you use violence to solve your problems, you will get punished. They must learn — like the rioters and looters in Baltimore are learning — that there are consequences to our actions. In the rioters case, the consequence is the devastation of their own neighborhoods.
Our children must also learn that there is a difference between rioting and protest. Violence does nothing but distract from the underlying causes of the problems at the root of the struggle. Non-violent protest may be the long road and it may not be headline-grabbing but it works, albeit sometimes slowly.
I also want my children to understand that these problems are not just going to go away. They are genuine problems that will only be exacerbated as we move forward and there must be soul-searching and honest answers to them. What are those answers? I wish I knew. This article from The Washington Post (HERE) is riveting in its’ explanation for what befell Baltimore and how decades of laws and discrimination led to the explosion that the world watched on television networks coast to coast.
We owe it to our kids and the kids in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York City and whatever city faces these struggles next to attempt to figure out a workable, long-lasting solution that takes an honest look at what caused Baltimore to ignite and how it can be avoided in the future.