It’s not a surprise that there has been lots of tension circulating around social justice issues in America lately. The very recent one being the death of Freddie Gray. The death of Freddie Gray by use of excessive police force is not a new narrative we’ve encountered in recent years. It follows the tragic and sudden death of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and so many other black men as well as black women whose lives were taken away through excessive force by police.
Since there’s already a history of this, when Freddie Gray died in the hands of police officers recently, it brought old and painful feelings to his community members and others all across the nation. This incident erupted different protests and demonstrations in Baltimore City, including rioting, which the media chose to focus exclusively on. Despite the fact that there were many peaceful protests, the media focused on the rioting, to shift people’s attention from many structural inequalities happening in Baltimore City and framed the story as “young thugs who don’t have anything better to do than to destroy their own community”. When I found out that the youth of Baltimore were called “thugs” for fighting for something that is rightfully theirs, I was livid.
Many fail to realize that the situation we are seeing now in Baltimore city is bigger than Freddie Gray. Yes people are fighting for justice for him and it seems like its well on its way after all the police officers have been announced to be charged (yay finally, right? I mean it felt like it took a million deaths of black men, dying unnecessarily, in the hands of police officers to get the movement going this far along). For those who still don’t understand why there is protesting and demonstrations going on, it’s because (like I said previously), this is bigger than Freddie Gray. Many inner city neighborhoods in America are impoverished. They lack resources, their schools lack infrastructure for the youth, many people can’t afford three meals a day, they live in poverty wages and are in poor/ dire situations. These few social conditions alone can drive people to the point of rioting to get their voices heard.
It is not a new scene in America that people are rioting, despite many who are witnessing this in shock as if its the first time happening. Perhaps many haven’t witnessed it in their life time, and that could be the reason, but these kinds of riots have happened in the past. They have happened in different cities because of the same anger people are feeling now, anger that specific people in these kinds of circumstances feel: anger that their neighborhoods aren’t good enough, anger that they themselves aren’t good enough, anger that they don’t matter and anger they aren’t being properly addressed concerning their needs and issues.
When these riots happen, the best thing for us to do as outsiders is to listen and understand the frustration the community is going through. In order to be effective and create solutions, we have to understand the oppressed and create a healthy dialogue with them, so situations get better. If we dismiss people’s struggles and don’t acknowledge them, these things are going to keep happening and we are going to wonder why they are happening (as some of us are doing now), despite the fact that they have happened before for the very same reasons or despite the fact that police officers have been charged in this case.
We need to understand that people don’t just get up one morning and decide to ruin their “poor neighborhoods”, they have been pushed to this level by detrimental factors that we can’t imagine living under, and this specific case being more than Freddie Gray aims to explain the reasons. The best thing for us to do in return, is to listen and avoid all judgement as much as possible. Lives are being taken away unnecessarily, people are in dire living circumstances, and they are hurting. RIP to Freddie Gray and may things get better in the city of Baltimore and other places that are going through the same heartbreak.
Peace and Love,