Reflections on the Baltimore Riots

Let me preface this by saying I didn’t sleep much last night, so my ideas are all half-baked. I am tempted to blame my insatiable curiosity about the Baltimore riots on the industry I work in, but it may be the other way around. Regardless, I could not look away from Twitter last night despite the horrible images, violent videos, and – worst of all – the oversimplified commentary coming from people around the country.

I knew immediately how I didn’t feel about the riots: I wasn’t excited or vindicated by the people I saw taking the streets with violence, nor did I completely condemn those involved. But until now, I haven’t been able to articulate how I do feel.

It came to me this morning. A friend and I spoke about the tragic events unfolding with all the perspective of one restless night.

“I don’t feel like I can have an opinion because I’m not there,” she told me.

For context, this friend lives in Charleston, South Carolina. You may remember, North Charleston recently made national news headlines when the New York Times released a video showing a white police officer shooting a fleeing, unarmed black man.

I, on the other hand, am in Rochester, New York. Yesterday I was in court covering the trial of a young black man who shot and killed a white police officer during a foot chase.

Maybe these incidents, taken at face value, are not directly related, but they and others are all connected. Those of us in other cities across the United States watched as Baltimore burned. We experienced emotion across the spectrum from heartbreak to frustration to anger, and some of us wonder if it could happen here.

We live in cities where income disparity and racial segregation draw lines criss-crossing through our neighborhoods but we look at places like Ferguson, North Charleston, Baltimore as if they are worlds away.

I don’t know the answer to the deep-rooted, systemic problems that plague cities across this country – how do you end something like poverty? – but I know that burying our heads in the sand and saying NIMBY is only making matters worse.

When the fires are put out and the rioters go home and the media frenzy that has swarmed up around these tragic events finally quiets, we cannot forget how this started, because what happened in Baltimore not only could happen anywhere, but it already is.

UPDATE: Here are some people that say stuff and write things better than I do:

Jelani Cobb’s Baltimore and the State of American Cities

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Nonviolence as Compliance