All of us who love Baltimore have experienced a week of profound sadness and tears.
The images of these last days are now seared into our collective memory as a people — a new senior citizen center engulfed in flames, a new drugstore burning. Small neighborhood grocery stores looted and burning. Police cars and neighbors’ cars vandalized and burning.
Perhaps many of us, for the first time, felt a sense of the constant state of vulnerability that so many of our black neighbors must feel every day, and feel especially for their sons growing up in the United States of America today.
The burning anger in the heart of our city — broadcast around the world — reminded all of us of a hard truth. It is a truth we must face as a nation. Because it is a truth that threatens our children’s future. It is the reality that eats away at the heart of America and the very survival of the American Dream we share.
The hard, truthful reality is this: growing numbers of our fellow citizens in American cities across the United States feel unheard, unseen, unrecognized — their very lives un-needed.
This is not just about policing in America. This is about everything it is supposed to mean to be an American.
As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” And, this week the people of our city and our entire country were forced to listen.
Listen to the anger of young American men who are growing into adulthood with grim prospects of survival and even lesser prospects of success.
Listen to the fears of young men with little hope of a finding a summer job, let alone, a job that might one day support a family.
Listen to the silent scream within the vacant hearts of young American boys who feel that America has forgotten them, that America doesn’t care about them, that America wishes not to look at them, that America wishes they would go away or be locked away.
Surely this cannot be the enduring legacy of the birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner.
Surely this is not what has become of the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Surely we are capable of more as a nation.
Justice must be done in investigating the tragic death of Mr. Freddie Gray. His family deserves our deepest sympathy and respect for their loss, and our admiration for their courage in calling us, as a city, to act as our better selves. Our mayor, our police chief, and our states’ attorney — all of whom happen to be black — are committed to the open and transparent pursuit of justice.
Mr. Gray’s case was not the first police-involved death in our city, or our country. Sadly, we know his will not be the last. Every loss of life demands that we seek answers, justice, and a better understanding for the future.
We must continue to work constantly to improve policing and the way we police our police. Public trust is essential to public safety. Public trust is essential for officer safety. Enlightened police chiefs across our country understand this.
Let’s talk about policing and public safety. Let’s debate what works and what does not. We must abandon practices that do not work, and do more of the things that actually do work to save lives.
Let’s expand drug treatment and find smarter ways to protect society from repeat violent offenders while incarcerating fewer of our citizens.
Let’s do more of the things like body cameras, and the timely and standard reporting of police-involved shootings, excessive force, and discourtesy complaints so that we can improve public trust for public safety.
But make no mistake about it, the anger that we have seen in Ferguson, in Cleveland, in Staten Island, in North Charleston, and in the flames of Baltimore is not just about policing.
It is about the legacy of race that would have us devalue black lives — whether their death is caused by a police officer or at the hand of another young black man.
It is about declining wages and the lack of opportunity in our country today.
It is about the brutality of an economic system that devalues human labor, human potential, and human lives.
It is about the lie that we make of the American Dream when we put the needs of the most powerful wealthy few ahead of the well-being of our nation’s many.
Extreme poverty is extremely dangerous.
This is not just about policing. Not just about race.
It is about the country we are allowing ourselves to become and the affront it is to the country we are meant to be.
Our belief as a nation commits us to “liberty and justice for all.” Now is the time — for the sake of all of our children — to reform our ways and start living up to that creed again.
This is not too much to expect of one another. This is not much to ask of one another. We are Americans and we are still capable of re-making our future. And this generation of Americans still has time to be called great.
But only our actions can save us.
Only our actions going forward can heal the wounded-ness we all must now feel.
We must believe in one another again.
If we believe together, we have the ability to listen to one another, and to hear each other, and to better understand one another and the powerful truths that unite us.
We are still capable of acting like the compassionate, and generous, and caring people our grandparents expected us to become and that our children need for us to be.
For, surely, there is no such thing as a spare American.