Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Or does it explode

My facebook feed has been full of two streams: anxious anticipation of the Supreme Court's hearing of a challenge to state bans on gay marriage.  This morning brings two and half hours of oral argument.  The best place to follow the action is always SCOTUS blog, and they have helpfully included some "in plain English" coverage.  Check it out here.http://www.scotusblog.com/

The other stream is the Baltimore protests/riots/uprising/as well as some kids being kids.  While I don't think of the Baltimore Sun as the best newspaper around, their coverage of present events includes important details not covered in national outlets.  The Sun has made all of their coverage freely available and it also includes timelines of the death of Freddie Gray and investigative coverage of the 5.7 million dollars the Baltimore Police Department has quietly paid out since 2011 for beating and otherwise brutalizing the citizenry of Baltimore. And if you want to know what that brutality looks like on the ground, check out Conor Friederdorf's article in the Atlantic, "The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore."

If you're looking for some analysis, Ta-Nehisi Coates does it again with his article "Nonviolence as Compliance." If you are watching coverage of the Baltimore protests on CNN and you're horrified and you are telling the tv "you're doing it wrong!" "why are you destroying your own city!" (I'm not even going to touch the "they are all animals!" commentary) then this article is a must read.

If like me, you feel like you're trapped in the way back machine, you can check out the Kerner Report, commissioned by LBJ in 1967 to explore the causes of riots (Watts, Newark, etc.) it was released shortly before the massive nationwide riots after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. The famous quote from the report is "Our Nation is moving toward two societies-one black, one white-seperate and unequal." There is a lot of video of the 1968 riots available online-the most interesting thing about these videos is, once you get past seeing armed troops on the streets of an American city, they are boring.  Most of what happens is people standing in the street.  This video does illustrate the role the 1968 Baltimore riot played in the mass incarceration of black men that now decimates cities like Baltimore.  If you look at arrest rates by race historically, 1968 shows a huge bump that just keeps rising over the following decades.  Here's some NPR coverage from 2008 on the 1968 riots and their aftermath.

Baltimore's the only city where I've felt so freaked out walking that I turned around and went back.  And that was after years spent traversing the South Side of Chicago.  Baltimore just has such a high percentage of busted/broken/non-functional compared to the parts that do work. Despite that I've spent a good amount of time in parts of Baltimore where white ladies don't usually go, and, as is my usual experience, people have always been good to me.  Shortly before I left Baltimore for good, I was walking a group of my students through a historic old black neighborhood in Baltimore, telling the history through the architecture.  Looking at abandoned buildings, an open middle school with its huge windows thrown open and no screens, the few limping businesses.  A neighborhood still filled with apple and cherry blossoms. Wondering what the Dean would say if anything bad happened.  Nothing happened.

My Baltimore was filled with love and threat and suffering.  Filled with the friendly and loving people, who could not fix the crumbling infastructure, the massive disinvestment.  Baltimore is a colonial outpost where the wealthy extract what they can-the University studies the local population, where strong young men go to prison to work for free.  Baltimore is the most civic-minded place I have ever lived, where local people know that if you want something done you have to get your neighbors together and do it, because the city will never show up to help.  My Baltimore was one of compassion fatigue, where every educator, health care worker, law enforcement officer created a hard shell to survive in the face of so much suffering-and so did I.

B and I were once driving through some shitty neighborhood in East Baltimore-not the one that looks like London after the Blitz, a different one, with people.  I was in the passenger seat fiddling with the ipod as B pulled up to a light.  I looked out the car window and a young Black man caught my eye. As he looked a me, he moved toward the car reaching.  I looked at him and my arm moved to hit the lock on the car door.  He drew his hand back and laughed, and I laughed.  We had both played our parts pitch perfect, the way we were born to do.

Violence isn't the answer, but neither is peace.  When I see the young people of Baltimore throwing rocks, I see Palestinian children, I see the children of northern Ireland.  When you've got nothing, when you'll never have anything, when your only recourse is to gather the gleanings of the wealthy and powerful, you pick up a rock.

We are all bound together in this world.  I hope for a Supreme Court ruling that will be LGBTQ people closer to equality-closer to fundamental protections for our families and our bodies.  But even as we get more, we must remember that we are still "the least of these." Our strength as LGBTQ people is that we are a cross section of everyone.  We are rich and poor, people of all races and religions, of all genders, of all political orientations.  Our shared oppression, throughout history and in the present, can have meaning if it makes us more empathetic and compassionate to the suffering of others.  We are all bound together and our victories only have meaning if they make the world more just, more equal for all people.

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