An Open Letter to Mayor Rawlings-Blake about Baltimore

I am posting this letter here because the Baltimore City's Mayor's site is giving me error messages when I try to contact the Mayor directly. For those who don't know, Baltimore is dealing with civil protests and some violence in the wake of the police involved death of Freddie Gray, a young, innocent, black, male citizen of this city.

Dear Mayor Rawlings-Blake,

I am heartbroken to hear you call the youth of our city — the youth who are scared and angry because their lives are those most likely to be lost in the back of a police van — "thugs." 

When I turned on the news yesterday afternoon, I didn't see thugs. I saw a bunch of kids running from a phalanx of police, militaristic in their riot gear. I saw police throw tear gas — at least, I assume it was tear gas — at what looked to be fleeing teenagers. 

I understand that the police are probably frightened too — I know they are, I have friends on the force, and I want them safe. But what I saw, in the live footage from WBALTV, looked like soldiers descending on civilians. 

I don't know why anyone is surprised by the violence and the looting. Kids were the first ones out on the streets today for a variety of reasons, but most importantly because they are those, it seems, most likely to get killed by a cop, no matter what they do, no matter how innocent they are.

Of course they will protest.

And they are scared and angry...scared and angry at cops...and they face a sea of cops marching at them? Of course they are going to react poorly. Violence and looting? This is what people do when they feel powerless. Is it any wonder that given the news that the self-review of the Freddie Gray case is likely to be delayed (the self-review, I hasten to add, that even if completed on time, I would hesitate to believe, given what I have heard of the old school tactics of our police force) and the army-like response of our police officers toward protestors, that the streets of Baltimore are crying out?

Madam Mayor, I am ashamed to say that when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson and Walter Scott in South Carolina, I was sad, I was angry, I thought, "I hope that doesn't happen in Baltimore," but I did nothing. But now it is happening in Baltimore, where I live, where I own property, where I work, and where I spend the majority of my time.

Now I find I must write to you.

I must write because no decent person can stay silent when human beings are being killed by police instead of being kept safe. I must write when an injustice is being done and it isn't clear that it will be corrected. I must write because it will take all of our voices, regardless of race or gender, to ensure that in Baltimore black lives do matter; that they aren’t devalued as thugs.

I want my friends, my neighbors, my colleagues, and my family to feel safe on the streets of the city I love. I want the kids next door to never have to fear that a police officer will hurt them. I want my godmother's family to feel safe when they come to visit. And even if I didn't know a single person who might be affected by violence by cop, especially racially motivated violence by cop, I would still be speaking up, because it is the right thing to do.

I write to you today to urge you to do the following: 

First, the officers involved in Mr. Gray's death must be held accountable. If I were driving a car, and I had a passenger who was injured while I was driving, I would be held liable. At the very least, these police officers should face the same charges I would, were it me behind that wheel. They also must be held, again at the very least, as negligent in their duty. A handcuffed prisoner in their care is not buckled in? That is so completely unacceptable, it baffles the mind.

I also urge you to initiate a truly non-partisan review of the police force's apprehension and arrest tactics. It must be run completely independently from the police's own review board. And, if the rumors I am hearing are true, then methods from a bygone era — those like rough rides — must be abolished.

Finally, consider a different approach to handling the protestors. Martial law will not defuse the situation. Walls of angry, scared cops who are already feeling ideologically attacked can not possibly convince our protestors that they are safe.

Lest you think I am anti-police, please let me clarify. I don't blame the police for acting as they have. Their behavior (unless reports on Mr. Gray's death show otherwise) has been standard operating procedure. Even if Mr. Gray died because of being unseat-belted, it would not surprise me if that were also a tacit standard operation, as I have been hearing. Throughout the protests and subsequent unrest, I have only seen police operating as they have been taught — with military precision against our citizens. So no, I do not blame the individual police officers. Just as I want my friends and family to not fear the police, I don't want my friends on the force to fear my friends and family.

Current policing tactics do not work. Things must change, not just now, during the protests, but systematically, to ensure the lives of all our citizens are protected, not just the privileged. The catchphrase is important: black lives matter. I know you know that, and I can only imagine how difficult this situation has been to manage.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake, these are not "thugs" even if their behavior is similar to what we would label "thug-like." Calling that “others” them, and makes them less than human. Labeling them as such dismisses their valid concerns, their rightful fear, and is a disservice to all of us. This country is already primed for truly horrible racial relations. I don't want to see Baltimore make it worse. 

I know you must be exhausted, and I have been proud of the statements you have made regarding the Freddie Gray murder over the past week. Please, do not let that good go to waste now. Please, please condemn the violence, but see the humanity in the people — all of the people — involved.

Respectfully,

AM the Elder

co-signed by SM, KB, and TH