The traveling road show known as absurdity recently visited Baltimore. Like its antecedents -- in Ferguson, Missouri; Beavercreek, Ohio; North Charleston, South Carolina; New York City; and elsewhere -- once again an unarmed black man was killed by those sworn to protect and serve.
In this latest absurdity, how was it that 25-year-old Freddie Gray was taken into custody by Baltimore Police for possession of a switchblade and within an hour of his arrest had fallen into a coma with a spinal injury and subsequently died?
And like the absurdity in Ferguson, Baltimore became suffocated by rioting.
Absurdity is defined as the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and the meaning of life.
Assuming that most can agree that one should not become belligerent toward police officers when asked to walk on the sidewalk, run from police officers while detained, or sell illegal cigarettes, can we not also agree that such infractions do not warrant a death sentence? Is that not absurdity?
But the mission of absurdity does not stop with the death of unarmed black men; it seductively spreads to other areas.
The human condition desires linear comparisons so that it can understand in its own terms. It is to seek a cause-and-effect relationship, but absurdity does not play by such rules. Instead, it employs a beguiling influence on all sides so that they naively believe "right" exists only in their domain, justifying actions that have been dictated by the absurd.
The power of absurdity lies in the insurmountable quest to understand it. In order to pursue this unachievable goal, one must prune the complexity of issues. Some therefore seek to define this latest absurdity exclusively by the rioting.
The lawlessness in Baltimore becomes reminiscent of the riots that occurred there 48 years earlier in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The bombardment of coverage provided by the 24-hour news cycle makes it easy for those unaffected by this tragedy to conveniently use the conjunction "but" to see only that the law is being broken.
This law-and-order perspective, though understandable, can blind one to other variables such as the human dignity of Freddie Gray. At the time of this writing, though no one knows definitively what occurred that led to Gray's death, there is enough to conclude that something went horribly wrong.
It was an absurdity that awoke the hibernating "Bob Dylan demographic."
Dylan famously penned the words "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose." Do those who destroyed buildings, hurled bricks at the police, and cut hoses while the fire department sought to extinguish a blazing CVS store not exhibit the behavior of those with nothing to lose?
Since 2011, Baltimore has paid roughly $5.7 million in lawsuits claiming that police officers brutalized alleged suspects -- an amount that exceeds the minimum for a community to distrust the police department.
Does this justify rioting? No!
I marveled at those who tangentially supported the violence in Baltimore. They too used "but" to offer an analysis that even called into question appeals for nonviolence.
But the most profound statement for nonviolence in Baltimore was not by those who made such appeals behind the comforts of a podium but by that courageous group of clergy, in the tradition of Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, who were willing to put their bodies in harm's way for the sake of peace.
Absurdity prods, pushes, and titillates us to take a specific side, to formulate answers that rely on speculation, creating a fog of obfuscation. The constant in this narrative is the underlying poverty associated with it.
Traditionally, most of the violence has been self-inflicted on communities besieged by nihilism, but what if that should change?
The human condition's desire for linear reasoning is apt to ponder: Why destroy your own community? But the Bob Dylan demographic is exasperated. The death of Freddie Gray was not the reason per se but the spark that ignited the gasoline of frustration. Paraphrasing the words of James Weldon Johnson, for many, their unborn hope is already dead.
I suspect Baltimore is merely the latest stop on this tragic tour. We may even reach a point of disinterest. Somehow I don't think absurdity cares.
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