Baltimore, Freddie Gray, There but for the grace, quick thoughts

Chaos in Baltimore.  City Burns.  Freddie Gray. It’s make your own headline, and regardless of how one looks at the situation people are being hurt.  So what’s the problem and the solution?

Personally I just keep hearing the same words in my head:  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

I’m closer to DC than Baltimore, and I’ve only been to Baltimore a handful of times so I’m not familiar with the different areas of the city.  Still, I think an ability to assess the situation involves some context or delving a little deeper beneath the surface. My information below about Sandtown is from this Washington Post feature:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/freddie-was-our-family/2015/04/24/662956a2-e9d4-11e4-9a6a-c1ab95a0600b_story.html

The Sandtown area of Baltimore is 72 square blocks of boarded and crumbling row houses. More than a third of the residents live below the poverty line. No grocery stores or even a fast food restaurant is within Sandtown or the immediate vicinity. Freddie Gray was born into and lived 25 years in this neighborhood in West Baltimore. The Justice Policy Institute reports that the majority of the state’s prison population consists of inmates born into and living in Sandtown, again an area of 72 square blocks of the entire state of Maryland is the starting point for more than half the inmates.

In Gray’s case his mother, according to court papers and dispositions, is addicted to heroin and cannot read. When Freddie Gray played in a youth football league, some people noticed some health problems. Eventually in 2008, a lawsuit had been filed alleging that there was enough lead paint in the home, much peeling from the walls and windowsills, to cause mental and physical problems for Gray, his twin sister, and another sister. Educational testing of Gray for the lawsuit showed him being at least 4 grade levels deficient in reading. He and his sisters won the lawsuit and received some unknown amount from the numerous lead paint settlements throughout the country.

Think about it….

In that type of environment, I cannot envision the numbers and types of people who would descend upon anyone who received a financial settlement. Given the norms in the only area which he had ever known, how could Gray or others like him know any different?

Yes he had a police record as both a juvenile and adult. Supposedly he was a readily recognized individual by the law enforcement officers who worked at the jail. Yes he ran from the police on the day that he died.

In taking him into custody, however, was it necessary to possibly sever his spine? While in custody was there a legitimate reason to not seek medical attention? While handcuffed and shackled, was there any excuse not to secure him with a seatbelt during transport?  How many times was it necessary to have a handcuffed and shackled individual flung to the floor and against the sides of the vehicle?  Are the allegations that during transport the driver intentionally slammed on the brakes repeatedly coming to sudden stops and that turns were taken at a high rate of speed to increase the number of times the prisoner fell from his seat to the floor?

Just to be clear.

The actual events are still in question as the investigation has just started. To the best of my knowledge all officers involved have been placed on administrative leave pending the results, and no officer or any other individual involved has had the opportunity to present their testimony concerning the arrest of Freddie Gray, what happened while he was in custody, the medical aspects, and the subsequent death of the young man.

The violence and destruction in the area following the funeral are inexcusable.

Rationally nothing good will happens by destroying the little that exists in the neighborhood. For some in the neighborhood rationality does not exist. They’ve never had the chance to experience it. Others in the neighborhood are trying to keep their homes and community from being completely destroyed. They lack the strength and numbers. Preachers, Imams, and other civic leaders are working together to try and provide some steadying influence. Civilian groups such as 300 Black Men are doing the same. These people are putting themselves in harm’s way to stop the violence and regain even an inkling of sanity. They’re trying to isolate the outside agitators already on the scene and to prevent additional ones from coming in to cause more problems.  They’re meeting with the various gangs who instead of fighting each other, before the upheaval decided to assist one another in taking down the police and authority.

Nothing excuses the detrimental actions taking place.

The easiest way, however, to stop those actions was to have taken action years ago. Instead of isolating the neighborhood, those with authority, leaders, and those who care needed to invade the neighborhood. You have to provide the children with proof that a different lifestyle with hope and opportunity exists. These children must have mentors who are concerned for the well-being of the kids and not merely taking advantage of those kids.

Arguments in the line of they should know better, they’re only getting what they deserve, they created their own problems and they should fix them, it’s their responsibility just don’t fly with me. Why, because kids did not have a choice to be born into this environment. As generations pass, some never know of a different way.

It’s easy to say that it’s not my problem and that others have overcome similar situations.

Without education, however, it makes it harder to comprehend.

Without hope one cannot dream.

My personal opinion is that we often spend so much time talking about the plights of the poor and oppressed in other countries while ignoring the same in our own. For example, I believe that it is 100 percent correct that kids should not be having kids.  To stop that there must be opportunities to learn about sex education, consequences, and responsibilities.  Just saying that it shouldn’t happen, or they should know better accomplishes nothing.

If one believes that abortion is murder, the only way to prevent a murder is to focus upon stopping the events which lead up to that murder.  After the fact posturing does nothing to help that child. It does nothing to help those individuals who created that life to understand that there were alternatives.  Then we compound the problem by not giving a hoot about the life of the child if it is born.  We just allow the perpetuation of the cycle by arguing that the solutions are simple. Outlaw abortion, stop making babies, get a job, have some pride, show some respect, mean very little if we are incapable or unwilling to set examples and create the conditions to allow others the same opportunities that we had.

I tick off a number of people with this thought, and I admit that it is a difficult opinion to consider. Perhaps if I had not found myself unable to walk without assistance for a year, confined to a bed, during one period puking for 389 days in 400 days because of the sensation of constant motion, and being told by MD after MD that they either did not know what was wrong or that I was just a wuss or faking, I would not feel as strongly as I do about this matter.

In my opinion, most of us are just a single step away from being that person confined to a wheelchair, that person killed by the police, that person hit by a car, that person murdered by a relative, that person who lost a job and becomes homeless, that person who gets sick and can no longer function, that person who loses all hope, whether it is through our own fault, somebody else’s doing, and because of some freak event that nobody had any control over happening or preventing.

When I look at someone who is down and out, I think “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

That’s my judgment.

Note:  While often attributed to John Bradford, a 16th century Englishman, I have no documentation to cite a source for the statement:  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

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