Wednesday, April 29, 2015

1479 Baltimore: Letter to a Young Old Friend

Across time, I’ve rarely found cause to disagree with your views, but today is different.  You’ve posted much on social media about the conditions in Baltimore, condemning racism and I salute you for that.  But please hear me out on rioting.

I’ve covered disturbances since the 1960s. I’ve seen the aftermaths and they are ugly.  Baltimore is no different from Harlem or Newark or Los Angeles.

When streets are washed in blood, then dried by fire, what is accomplished?  Usually it’s the very people and property of the afflicted who suffer the most.

You posted an article “Black People Riot for Justice, White People Riot for Pumpkins and Football.”  The white part can be true and stupid.  But we can write those riots off as the work of addled college kids with too much time, too much money and too few uncontaminated brain cells.

A “riot for justice” is not a riot for justice. It is a riot for rage.  And often -- nearly always -- the rage is justified. But not the destruction. What’s destroyed in hours and minutes takes decades to rebuild.  And the cost is not just money and property and lives.  It’s trust and a willingness to heal.

Yes, we have a race problem in this country. Part of it is learned, some of it may be tribal.  Part of it is because violence prone police don’t read the papers or the internet and learn from the mistakes of their counterparts or think they can get away with mistreating people.

Rioting has a non-physical component.  It’s a threat: “Do this or I’ll come for you and put you into the hell in which I live.”  Think about how you respond to threats.  You don’t cower in a corner or pack up and leave.  You say “Oh, yeah? Bring it on!”

Well, newsflash. That’s what many people do.  You mention the racist comments from the readers of the articles you posted.  What were you expecting?

Riots don’t change hearts and minds.  Sometimes, demonstrations do.  But not riots.

And look at this: when people who are wronged riot, they’re destroying the part of the city in which they live and work, not the part where the people with the power and will to make changes ever go. They ignored the area yesterday, they’ll stay out of it today. They’ll stay out of it tomorrow.

And as soon as the story is off the front page and out of the 6:30 news, they’ll forget what happened.  But not completely.

What they’ll remember summarizes thus: “I can’t trust ‘those people.’”  There’s that concept again.  Trust. Yes, it works both ways.  But the only side over which you have any control is your own.

Send an army of cops out to control an uncontrollable crowd and you build hatred.  Send an uncontrollable crowd to put the cops in their place?  Same thing.

I can understand that you’re looking for a fast fix. We all did.  But there IS no fast fix.  It’s a slow process.  And every thrown brick makes it slower.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

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