Baltimore, like Ferguson last summer, erupted and took to the streets to show its displeasure at what has become an all too familiar display of excessive force by several of members of the city's police force. Last week, Baltimore city state attorney Marilyn Mosby announced criminal charges against six police officers involved in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in their custody, his life snuffed out as the result of a severed spinal cord.
What is equally troubling is the fact that Gray was arrested by police officers for making eye contact with them and then fleeing. The officers claimed that after apprehending Gray they found a switchblade on him. Mosby said that the knife Gray had was not a switchblade and was lawful and that the police "failed to establish probable cause for an arrest."
Incredulously, initial reports leaked to the media attempted to make the argument that Gray was responsible for his own injuries. We were supposed to believe that Gray snapped his own neck, crushing his own vocal cords and severing his own spinal cord. Please! I will give the police commission credit for having unmitigated gall and unalloyed arrogance. It was enough to make my blood boil. I still am having trouble comprehending such a senseless act of barbarity by law enforcement. God only knows that I hope justice will be served in this case.
One would have to be deviously and pathetically dishonest to argue that race had "nothing" to do with the death of Gray, although that has been the perverse narrative echoed in many conservative circles on the political and cultural right.
A few Democrats who want to dispel the notion that they are soft on crime have adopted a tough-talking posture on the issues as well. Such a high level of intellectual dishonesty is downright obscene, although it should not be all that surprising. For quite some time now, many individuals on the political right and racists in general have been in deep and vehement denial about the fact that systematic and structural racism is indeed a pressing factor in our society.
What is more ironic and quite frankly, insulting, is the fact that those on the right who do acknowledge racial conflict exist tend to direct the cause to "Black pathology" or supposed deficiencies associated with minority neighborhoods while often denying or obscuring similar vices of deviance and dysfunction in their own communities.
Absurdly, some members of this crowd have had the audacity to attribute the current state of race relations and racial discord to President Obama. Yes, President Obama, a man who has probably been the most bipartisan and inclusive president in our nation's history, has been responsible for the racial tension that has gripped certain segments of our society. Such nonsensical rhetoric is laughable.
The fact is that misrepresenting the facts or blaming the victim has been a longstanding practice among some in the media. We recently saw the shamelessly opportunistic veteran journalist, now FOX News commentator, Geraldo Rivera attempt to infiltrate a crowd of city protesters and portray and denounce the Baltimore demonstrators as "thugs." Rivera got a verbal dress down from several protestors and one man in particular as he attempted to flee.
Rivera was hardly alone in his sinister antics. A number of internet trolls posing as rioters/looters took to Twitter in an effort to discredit the protesters that were largely peaceful in purpose and spirit. It had also been troubling that, for a few days, the mainstream media focused more on what they saw as unruly mobs and violence as opposed to zeroing in on the fact that a young man had died under highly suspicious circumstances. The latter fact was the real story, not attempting to stigmatize Black and brown youths as hoodlums and lawless criminals.
The outrage being expressed by citizens in Baltimore, Ferguson and many other urban areas is totally understandable. These are impoverished communities that have largely been ignored by those in power. These are areas where young people all too often lack hope, adequate health care, stable environments, employment and educational opportunities and face numerous other disadvantages. The indifferent or clueless mindset by many who do not inhabit or live with their predicament only intensifies their level of resentment and anger.
They live in a cycle of despair that is very difficult to break out of. Life is hard. To add insult to injury, they are frequently and unfairly scapegoated by others for their predicament. Hope is all but nonexistent.
What is needed is a Marshall Plan for our impoverished urban areas. With both houses of Congress currently being controlled by conservative Republicans and coupled with an increasingly Gilded Age model of economics that has seeped into much of the nation's economy, such a prospect is largely futile.
There is a crisis in our urban centers and something has to be done to rectify the problem immediately.
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