Thursday, August 11, 2016

These Three Things

I have three things in my head today.

1. Monday's "Tipping Point" conversation about race, sponsored by AACR

2. The DOJ report released yesterday on Baltimore policing

3. The speech given by Marilyn Mosby, State's Attorney for Baltimore, on the decision to cease trials in the Freddie Gray case

First of all, I have immense respect for the organizers of Monday's event, and for all who participated. To take a leap of faith that they could bring together so many people during a time which is so emotionally charged and have a positive outcome is no small thing. Handling the event moment by moment took patience and flexibility.

When you allow people to speak out, it means you are relinquishing some control. You know you must expect the unexpected, and you try to be ready, but of course you won't know what that is until it happens. On Monday the number of people who wanted, not to ask a question of the panel, but to be heard, was overwhelming. One after another they came, full to overflowing with concern, fear, anger, sorrow.

"You invited us to a conversation," they seemed to be saying. "Well, we have something to say."

Some have said that the forum chosen for Monday wasn't the right one, that conversations can't take place in large groups. My thoughts: it was worth every minute. Speaking for myself, it was so important for me as a white person in this community to be in that room and experience what was being said. I'm guessing that it was helpful for African American community members to be able to be unflinchingly candid about their experiences without having to "filter" or self-censor to avoid making whites uncomfortable.

If I was uncomfortable, that was a good thing. Having to sit with the enormity of injustice and systemic racism up close and personal is a necessary step in the process (for me, anyway.) Not being able to leave, or look away, or change the channel when things got rough is such a tiny, tiny thing compared to the depth of harm African American citizens have experienced and are still experiencing in our country.

Also, it's been noted that people were carrying experiences from other jurisdictions into the event, rather than focusing on Howard County. But I think that Police Chief Gary Gardner understood the dynamics in play Monday night. He made a comment about coming to the realization of how much experiences in other jurisdictions can color how someone responds to an interaction with local police. He knows we can't exist in a purely Howard County bubble.

When the DOJ report was released yesterday, I immediately thought of Monday evening. The report is a comprehensive look, with data, numbers, statistics. But it speaks the ugly truth of systemic racism, abuse of power, consistently unconstitutional behavior. Who could stand to even get up in the morning and bear the burden that is being the target for such oppression? Did it surprise me? Intellectually, no. But after Monday night I had a personal connection that changed how I felt about it.

And then I thought of Marilyn Mosby's speech, for which she took a lot of flak, on why the trials in the death of Freddie Gray would not continue. In light of the DOJ report, it becomes much clearer how incredibly difficult, if not downright impossible, it was to bring a successful prosecution for this homicide. If the system responsible for his death is focused first and foremost on protecting itself, there can be no just conclusion until that oppressive system is broken.

I hope that AACR will build on Monday's event and keep having all kinds of conversations to address the issues that came up over the course of the evening. If you weren't able to make this one, I hope you will come to the next.


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