When I woke up this morning, I found myself trying to sort out the sequence of events that led to the riots last night in Baltimore. How did we get here? Who are we to blame? How do we fix this? In situations like this we often look for a villain. Who is at fault for the justice system shortcomings resulting another headline about a black man murdered by a police officer without justice? Who should be held accountable for the destruction of Baltimore neighborhoods?
Protests that started off as peaceful outcries for answers in the death of Freddie Gray shifted to images of anarchy. What we saw last night was the culmination of frustration, hopelessness and pain not necessarily over the loss of Freddie Grey but over a system of governing that is failing both the community and the justice system.
A few bad apples have spoiled the image of men and women who put their lives on the line to “protect and serve” the community but we cannot point the finger at the police alone. The failure I see in the police system is the systems inability to weed out the individuals who have tarnished the image of a profession that was once held sacred. Systemic corruption and lack of leadership has led to an abuse of power by individuals in authority resulting in mistrust and fear of the people who are trained to protect us from our fears.
On the flip side we also have the community to blame. On a night that should have been marked by candle light vigils in memory of Freddie Gray, members of the community were setting the streets of Baltimore ablaze. Masked as an outcry for justice, a few opportunists took advantage of the atmosphere and robbed the Grey family of the spot needed to bring justice for their lost loved one. As with the police system, a few bad apples have tainted the efforts of community leaders; feeding into all the negative images of black communities. The media perpetuates these negative images as cover stories for likes on social media and newspaper sales but we must keep in mind these are not the images of people seeking justice.
One image from last night I hope people do not forget is the image of leaders and protesters, not looters, standing in between the police and the crowds. These are the individuals the media should focus on as these are the images of what I believe is the solution.
Our communities, not just the black community, is suffering from a deficit in leadership. Young leaders go to college, equip themselves with the best education and abandon the neighbors they grew up in. Speaking from personal experience, I remember the leaders who helped raise me in the community and reinforce the lessons my parents taught me in the household. Those were the people who symbolically stood in the gap between me and poor choices on occasion. Those individuals were also elected officials who came to visit us in middle and high school during lunch on occasion outside of election season.
One of the solutions to the anarchy last night is more authentic leadership in our communities nationwide. Last night we saw a culmination a perfect storm: the abuse of power by a few bad police officers, youth angry by a system and not wanting to be the next Freddie Gray story mixed with leaders who have the understanding of how to fix a system by standing in the gap ignoring the two elements coming together.
My biggest fear is there are too many perfect storm scenarios waiting to explode across America and like other protests that have gotten out of hand, the events of last night will also be a forgotten thought by the leaders who are equipped to address it. The state of communities like Baltimore across the nation is too fragile to be ignored. We need leaders willing to stand in the gap like the ones we saw last night. Teach the youth how the system works and apply legal action to the justice system so that it works for the community again and honors the police who do their jobs effective. We need less talk by community leaders and more action. While we procrastinate on stepping up to the plate of leadership, more perfect storms of frustration are brewing in Jacksonville, Chicago, Los Angles, Milwaukee, Atlanta, etc. We need to take the steps to move our communities from frustration and anger to hope and action. Until we start teaching the youth that the system will not work unless we citizens educate ourselves, exercise our right to vote and hold elected officials accountable to doing the jobs we elect them to do we will continue seeing more outbursts of riots like we did last night.
Also, let us not forget the message that is being overshadowed by the events of last night. Freddy Grey, may he rest in peace, your life matters as do all black lives and every human life. Let us also be patient while the system works its course, demand transparency during the process, remain vigilant towards any misconduct during the process and take appropriate action to avoid more loss of life through the abuse of power in the justice system.