05/01/2015 12:41 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2016

I Am Baltimore

There is no excuse for Freddie Gray's death. That the 25-year-old Baltimore man had a rap sheet, that he was black, that he carried a switchblade, or any other extenuating circumstance, is irrelevant. Freddie Gray died at the hands of a few abusive public servants, and there is a price to pay.

There is also no excuse for the terrifyingly destructive and rage-fueled riots in Baltimore for what some say are in protest to Mr. Gray's death. Others say the ferocity is a reaction to the perceived decline of Baltimore, unemployment, police abuse and citywide corruption. Regardless, looting, destruction of property, an intentional commitment to the harm of persons and property is criminal behavior, and for those involved, they, too, must pay.

And yet, if we open our hearts and look closer without judgment, the crisis in Baltimore can be an opening, an awakening, a new beginning for something bigger, better and more powerful than at anytime in Baltimore's history.

We have become a society that defines people, cities, situations, businesses, by their lowest points, and like junk yard dogs, lock on to the fallen reputation, and not let go. Let's remind ourselves that Baltimore is a great city, with great people, and if they so choose, hold a great future.

Instead of seeing Baltimore as something separate from ourselves -- a crazed, violent, out-of-control city -- let's choose to become aware of Baltimore's light and humanity, and see how we, down to the essence of our being, can become part of Baltimore's healing.

Can we -- will we -- choose to step back and ask the hard questions, and be willing to consider how we, in myriad ways, are more like Baltimore than we think?


Who is Freddie Gray? What does the future look like for young, undereducated, poorly trained, black men? Why in a country of opportunity, are so many young people turning to crime or simply giving up? Why if people of color make up approximately 30 percent of our population, do they account for over 60 percent of the prison population? According to The Sentencing Project, although black youth make up about 16 percent of the population, 37 percent are moved to criminal court, and 58 percent percent of black youth are sent to prison. What can we do differently? How can we save other Freddie Gray's? How are we Baltimore?

Who is the Baltimore Police Department? Why across the U.S. is it becoming harder to recruit quality police officers? What challenges do police face with relaxed gun laws, reduced budgets, and higher public scrutiny? Why is it so hard to ferret out abusive, racist cops? And why is the police profession and entire police departments draped in negative press and perception because of statistically a few bad cops? How can we support our police, while vigilantly removing those officers who abuse their power? How are we Baltimore?

And who are the looters? Although their behavior is criminal, what is fueling their anger? What makes them believe they can rob, steal, and injure others? What is their justification for such horrendous behavior? What is their motivation and what can we learn from their fury? Without performing the same unacceptable actions, when have we been so angry at injustice? When do we feel helpless and filled with rage at corporate or government hypocrisy? How do we feel repressed, abused, controlled, manipulated, exploited and mistreated?

There are no excuses for the mayhem and injustices served in Baltimore. Yet, if we look carefully, from the ashes, goodness will emerge. There will be learning, change, growth, and a collective commitment to lifting the great city of Baltimore even higher than before. And if we are willing to step back, drop the labels, drop the blame, set aside the judgment, we can participate in the important work ahead, because in truth, we are all Baltimore.