Baltimore burning.

Pundits, opines, politicians, newscasters, journalists, news commentators and various self-appointed ‘experts’ can sit there in their lofty chairs and discuss, dissect, parse, analyze and then apportion blame as to why Baltimore is burning. Many will have valid points that speak to some truth of the state of Baltimore and by extension the condition of the inner city ghettos today. But few can do it better than someone who’s actually from the ghetto. And now I will cede the floor to Kevin Powell, who wrote this for the Huffington Post: Why Baltimore is Burning.

“If you aren’t from the ghetto, if you have not spent significant time in the ghetto, then you would not understand the ghetto….”

It is easy for folks who were not brought up in the ghetto, who have never been to the ghetto, who wouldn’t even venture into the ghetto just out of sheer curiosity could possibly understand the lives of the people who live there. The first comprehensive report which outlined a welfare state was by the British economist Sir William Beveridge, the ‘The Beveridge Report’ was published in 1942, during the Great Depression where millions wanting work cannot find any work and he labeled the ‘five evil giants of society’ as: Want. Disease. Ignorance. Squalor. Idleness. It was the first comprehensive study and report done in the name of social justice and putting everyone back to work with the broad support of the State. It was also widely criticized as the architect of the dependent welfare state as 64% of Britons today are on some sort of benefits.

Though The Beveridge Report pertains to Great Britain, the five main social ills of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness exists everywhere and unless one is confronted with these social ills everyday, it’s very hard to see from the point of view from someone who must exist in these conditions. There is no pride in poverty, in being poor, in being needy, deprived of life’s basics, in not having enough money to cover life’s essentials. The supposed character building qualities that poverty brings a person is greatly overstated. It is soul destroying for those who cannot break the cycle. People who make such statements as being poor during their youth has given them the drive to be successful and got them to where they are today, they are only saying this because they are no longer poor so they view their days of poverty through rose tinted glasses.

Poverty is a repetitive vicious cycle that is very hard to break, it’s far easier said than done, to tell people with delinquent juveniles as parents to not act as their parents did, to stay in school, stay off the streets, stay out of jail or prison, make responsible choices and not get pregnant or get anyone pregnant, when they’ve no one to model this from. The schools in inner cities are underfunded and poor performing. The availability of school counselors and mentors are nonexistent, so from where do these ‘social pundits’ expect inner city children to make responsible choices?

Poverty comes with a lot of unwanted byproducts, such as teenage pregnancy, under education, financial illiteracy, poor employment prospects, poor diet and nutrition, diseases which are associated with poor diet and nutrition and all of that will eventually result in welfare dependency. Nobody wants to live on welfare, it’s no life, certainly no ticket to prosperity. Americans have a lot of pride, Americans like to be self-sufficient, we like to take care of our own families on our own dime. Americans only turn to government assistance when there is no other way.

“If you came of age in one of America’s poor inner cities like I did, then you know that we are good, decent people: in spite of no money, no resources, little to no services, run down schools, landpersons who only came around to collect rent, and madness and mayhem everywhere, amongst each other — from abusive police officers, and from corrupt politicians and crooked preachers — we still made a way out of no way. We worked hard, we partied hard, we laughed hard, we barbecued hard, we drank hard, we smoked hard, and we praised God, hard”. – Kevin Powell

I don’t know what would induce a community to destroy its own neighborhood, or a newly established and much needed CVS Pharmacy. It certainly doesn’t seem rational or economical, especially if it’s an underprivileged area and you need every standing, usable building available. But I don’t live there, I don’t know what it’s like to live there. I’ve never been brutalized by the police. I grew up in a single parent household, but we were supported by our extended family, we were middle class and I attended good schools, I had rules enforced upon me. It never occurred to me to get myself arrested or get in any kind of trouble with the police. In fact, I actively avoided people and situations where I would run into law enforcement of any kind. My only interactions with the police were when I was pulled over for speeding, rolling a stop sign and talking on my cell phone. I am not black or Hispanic and during each of those interactions the police were polite, I didn’t get off with a warning either, I was written up a ticket each time. But I am the result of my upbringing, no one in my family has ever been arrested for been in trouble with the law, I was not taught to fear the police, but to keep them at arms length and to only call them when I needed them, which hopefully was never. I am the product of my upbringing, my neighborhood, my environment, though not extremely privileged, it was a model of stability. So it is very easy for anyone from similar background as me to pass judgement and postulate on why inner cities are so disorderly.

To the all the police forces of this country, this is not a time to demonize the police. 99% of police do excellent work at protecting the community they serve, they do so at the peril of their own safety, they respond and go to places many do not dare to venture, many go above and beyond their calls of duty and save countless lives, but when the same story happens over and over again where a white police officer has shot, killed, or grievously injured an unarmed black man during the commission of misdemeanors or arrests, it is a time for reckoning for everyone. Right now civil rights groups are advocating body cameras on all officers, which is an expensive proposition but would at least document in real time what transpired so that the chances of police cover up or a police said/suspect said situation would be greatly mitigated. But this is only a band aid fix, what needs to happen is better training for police officers, to train them to not be so trigger, taser and baton happy at each slight movement of a possible perpetrator. Police should be taught to assess danger better and not just go on knee jerk reactions and then later say ‘I was in fear for my life, I didn’t know of if suspect was armed’, well – you are the police, you, out of anyone should know how to assess real versus perceived danger. Also the police need not be so rough with people during arrests, slamming people’s head in the squad car or breaking someone’s knees while slamming them to the ground is not necessary, and the verbal abuse, name calling and excessive shouting is not necessary either, we are innocent until proven guilty in this country and that should start at the time of arrest. It’s actions like verbal abuse and name calling by the police and if the suspects talks back then he could be charged with ‘resisting arrest’ and if the suspect gets injured and dies of the injury as a result of that arrest is what tips the boil pot over. It’s not just the death of Freddie Gray that has people angry and riled, it’s the whole arrest process, the roughness, being manhandled, shouted at, verbally abused and then finally dying from his injuries, the whole chain of events has people up in arms. Arrested citizens are not convicted criminals yet, only a court can decide that, they are only suspects, thus should be treated as just suspects.

When communities are segregated along the lines of race or ethnicity and the police force responsible for policing that community are mostly white, and add to that the only interaction between these two groups is under duress or possible commission of a crime, deep suspicions will develop against each other. Police need to become part of the community they serve through daily interactions outside of arrests and confrontations, so that the community they serve and the police force know and understand each other so when it comes the time to respond to a possible crime or incident, the police do not come in with preordained suspicions and biases and it would help the police assess the situation better.

Lastly, all persons, including people who are victimized by circumstance, government, system of governance and police, needs to, at some point take responsibility and account for their lives and actions. Victims cannot blame their perpetrators forever, everyone needs to own their lives, their decisions and how they came to that place in their lives, apart from from what’s been inflicted on them. The victim mentality is as every bit insidious and poisonous than an abusive police force. Thinking and acting like a victim will keep one a victim forever and one will slowly forget that no matter what that the circumstances are, we as individuals have the ability to control how we react to them and how we choose to battle our situations. That is one thing no police department can take away from us.

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