Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Understanding Unrest in Baltimore.

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Again, we are confronted by images of a modern city burning from the fires of alienation, oppression, and despair. Many of my generation have seen the fires raging before almost fifty years ago in Detroit, Watts and Newark.

I lived through the 1967 Riots in Detroit and know the devastation and destruction they wreaked on a beautiful city just now taking small important steps to meaningful recovery. Between 1967 and until recently, the landscape of Detroit’s beautiful neighborhoods still languished in the ashes of those fires.

I never could understand the incendiary anger that would move people to torch their own neighborhoods, loot stores and vandalize property. I could never understand how people could set fire to the businesses and stores of owners who had helped their families with credit, had established good relationships with people in our community and had given children in the neighborhood odd jobs for pocket change on the weekend.

I could not understand until I left home for college and devoured new information through my studies how issues in life are often far more complex than they seem at first glance. In our assessment of such problems, we often deal with the symptoms of behavior and not the etiology or root causes.

Thus we might say that recent urban unrest and violence in Baltimore are the results in part of many years of pent-up anger, frustration and alienation in a society which disposes its youth and continues their dehumanization through social and economic dislocation and injustice.

Systemic racism, economic disenfranchisement and disparity, the over-criminalization and incarceration of black youths, escalation of police brutality, and a general culture of cruelty in the words of Henry Giroux coupled with an overall apathy to their pain and plight have all helped instigate the current social “dis-ease” and dislocation now plaguing many urban communities.

Adding to these concerns is the absence of black fathers in the home, substance abuse, chronic unemployment, the escalation of crime and physical deterioration of inner cities, and the emergence of insidious forms of structural deprivation and degradation as well as the recessed role of the power of the Black church in providing a strong spiritual foundation in saving, developing and empowering black lives as it has done historically.

What we have are complex problems that cannot be simply explained away or categorically codified in blaming one group or another for the current crisis.  What we have are essentially some of the similar formulas for social, familial and communal combustion that fueled the urban riots of the 1960’s.

Listen, I never make excuses for bad behavior. But some of the unrest has also been instigated by interlopers adding fuel to the fires. Much of the current unrest in Baltimore is deeply rooted in systemic problems requiring solutions that will necessitate intentional long terms strategies that will eradicate and not just alleviate the problems.

At this point, even short-term alleviation is better than no solutions at all. But there is no magic bullet. Addressing such concerns will require a commitment by citizens, government, business, the faith community, parents, schools and other important entities that will develop a wrap around initiative to finally eradicate the ills and woes fomenting such continued unrest.

More importantly we must remove forever the “me versus you” mentality, the “us versus them” way of viewing things. It will no longer suffice for people of means to hide out in their communities declaring that these problems have nothing to do with them. It will no longer suffice for black people to cast the entire blame for the present condition on other people. We must all look in the mirror at ourselves to make our communities better places to live.

What affects one directly affects all indirectly in America, and we must move from this entrenched tribal mentality that says we can only help people who look, talk and walk like us.

Until there is a concerted effort by all citizens and the larger community uniting to address these problems compassionately, intelligently and strategically, we will only see more of the same violence and unrest in the future.




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