Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Is Baltimore Burning?

Several years ago a good friend and  I put together a document packet for use in the schools on the 1967 riots in Cambridge, Maryland, and the 1968 riots in Baltimore, which we later updated to include the work of a University of Baltimore conference on the topic.  We called it "Is Baltimore Burning?" as an allusion to the cable Hitler sent to his commanding general in Paris as the Allies approached the city.

Perhaps the most telling document we provided was an unauthorized recording of a meeting Governor Agnew held with the black leadership of Baltimore which I found buried in the video archives of the University of Baltimore.   In it, Keiffer Mitchell's grandmother was not allowed to speak or ask questions of the Governor who proceeded to berate those present as not only not doing enough to quell the disturbances, but also pointed the finger of blame at them.

A lot has changed for the better since that sad day in 1968 when a white governor displayed his racism and ignorance with such reckless abandon and to such ill effect.  Juanita Jackson Mitchell's grandson, Keiffer is on Governor Hogan's staff, giving advice and helping the Hogan administration to realize that the problem of the recent riots are deep seated, extending back to the days of slavery when the predominant political and social structure perceived of blacks as inferior creatures, only capable of serving their white masters in perpetuity.

It serves no useful purpose  to re-state the obvious here.  President Obama has been most eloquent on the problems facing American society today and the only solutions: affordable education, employment that proves meaningful and remunerative, and strengthening community values that help our children realize that the principal aim in life should be a concern for the health and welfare of others, not self-gratification and a license to attack the defenseless, or stealing several pairs of Nike's.  The real Purge that needs to take place in our world today should not be a license for crime at any time, one day or many days.  It should be a cleansing of our souls, perhaps not quite the way recommended by Eldridge Cleaver, but instead rooted more in understanding the past and making the present better through informed discussion, negotiation, peaceful demonstrations, and legally binding action.

Civil rights activist H. Rap Brown, center, is seen in this April 1968 file photo with his lawyer, William M. Kunstler, left. He is surrounded by police after his arraignment on charges of inciting a riot. (Capital, Annapolis, MD, July 24, 1992, p. A5.)

We should confront the rhetoric of today's H Rap Browns with historical reflection and reasonable collective action.  We should stamp out the pernicious influence of the Bloods and the Crips, regardless of their pleas for calm, by collectively providing a viable alternative, beginning with a city wide movement in the schools, private, public, and religious, to confront the past through the surviving archives, understand it, and move beyond it without the violence and destructive presence of armed gangs.

Parts of Baltimore are burning, but in addition to putting out the fires and restoring order, it is essential that we constructively confront and overcome our past with our eye on the future.  Fortunately the Governor is listening, unlike Governor Agnew, and the Mayor took time during her efforts to manage the crisis to use it as a teaching moment at a school to those who need it the most, our children.  Would that the rest of the Schools, including the exclusive private schools of Baltimore, had done the same instead of closing yesterday in fear.

Let's bring 'civics'  and history back to the schools with an emphasis on both the past and solutions for the future.  Let's give the archives that we have a chance to assist in the teaching of what has happened and why, while providing insight and paths to do better through participation in the political process and community building. 

No comments: