Baltimore is Burning: Who Are You and What Happened?

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

But what if one day, you not only discover that you cannot fly, run, walk, or crawl, but you are told not to. Not only are you told not, but you are told when and where, leaving you only with how and why. How and why do we move forward if we cannot at all move? If these questions cannot lead us to answers to what we do, then who we are cannot merely be defined by whether or not we fly, run, walk, or crawl, but by people, places, and things which define our actions. So, when our things are taken with police, places are trespassed without warrant, and our personhood tortured by such actions, we can not only move forward, but we can move in who we are and what we do. We can not only ask the thieves, trespassers, and torturers, “Why are you here,” but we can say, “We live here.”

We live here. Three simple words can be the difference maker. Words like, “I can’t breathe,” from a slain, black male in New York became a difference in why we react to police killings. Words like, “Black Lives Matter” from unslain, black men and women became a difference in how we react to police killings. How when our sons and daughters are murdered, brothers and sisters have to hold police accountable for their corruptness. “I can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter” rearrange our lives through that which we are not strangled, breathless, or wordless. Our lives are not only under regulation, but subject to evaluation. There lies an opportunity to reconstruct that which we have been murdered by, forgetting an obligation to construct what is still alive. Our homes, businesses, and communities are not vacated in the presence of corrupt cops, but in the absence of bodies who are witnesses to the corruption. In addition to the murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore’s Gilmore Homes neighborhood by Baltimore police, Baltimore’s neighborhood has been slaughtered by a part of Baltimore’s population whose feelings for police have tampered feelings for the community. Spontaneous damage done to our bodies has given us rage of the same nature to destroy property, yet we live here. Three simple words can be the biggest difference between police and our reaction toward the police, which leaves corruption no space to penetrate. Police can invade our spaces and our spaces will evade their return to their spaces, however, the invasion of of one’s own space places vacancy, forgetfulness, and rage at our doorsteps for the hierarchy between privilege of police and under-privilege of minorities to enter. When attempted erasure comes to our door, we can become vulnerable to utter, “I can’t breathe,” but because “Black lives matter” in the form of colored bodies and colorful buildings, we have the power to say, “We live here.”

Looting is not specific to Baltimore, just as Baltimore is not distinct from other burning cities. The term stands out in the event of protesting, but vandalism does not articulate a city’s cry. Baltimore’s inclusion of looting in protesting against the death of Freddie Gray signals an opportunity to consider the city a “riot,” however, to muddle over the differences between protesting and rioting would distract us from the fact that a city in protest is the riot. Protesting has become a result of countless murders, but intensifying into rioting has come to distinguish the murderers. Murdering Freddie Gray has reminded us that our bodies matter, but our vandalism reminds us that our lives are not bodies, but buildings. Our bodies are not just the sounds of a voice, hands, or feet, but the poster which our hands uphold, the ground from which our feet walk, and the words which may differentiate Baltimore from New York or Missouri. Which may differentiate may also be an example, and our examples not only lead us to definitions of our actions, but definitions that do not label our actions by rage or cry.

What is happening in Baltimore is exemplary of how one moment can trigger one movement that cannot be erased. Baltimore serves as an extension of what has been happening across the United States, which allows for a confrontation with our history to set a tone for our future. What remains after one moment of confrontation is often our demands for the present. Our demands, however, do not always reflect a necessity, but cause needs for the people. A necessity for the country is for its systems to cooperate, and cooperation does not come without calling into question individuals which make up these systems. We are uniquely distracted by reports on the division, just as we are on the division itself, highlighting avenues of agency. Recognizing power forces us to continuously negotiate who is holding power, ultimately challenging how such power is being held.

Coming across headlines of the behaviors of slain citizens in conjunction with report on police brutality, ignites an expectation on a city living in these conditions to provide answers. Our questions arise out of the need to know why a black male — often unarmed and under 21 — cannot walk across the street, let alone certain neighborhoods, without becoming a headline. The framework that is projected from unjustified encounters is not, “Who is he,” but “What happened,” which starts a dialogue unfiltered by feelings and attitudes. What happens when a community decides to investigate its system is implicit throughout our questions, but what becomes of a community and system when a community and system decide to investigate itself is untamed, non-orchestrated reinvention. When the Department of Justice released a report on Ferguson police in March, a need to know “what happened” was not so much motivated by our emotions for the seemingly endless headlines, but by supported facts to know what happens next.

A necessary conversation on police brutality does not arrive without the collaboration between community and family. Unlimited murders can perpetuate a habit of overlooking consolidation through the family for answers from a justice system, however, the work of justice departments have far too long sacrificed obvious outcomes for evident incomes, In cases where a narrative is familiar, such as the interaction between black males and law enforcement, the story is easily manipulated through interpretations of history, not accounted by analysis of current information. With data from the event, the story is equalized and our trajectory of victimization is re-imagined, which inspires more grand jury and open investigation. An investigation into the FPD has given a record on police that is otherwise private to our conscious, until America makes justice public, present, and personal.

Disturbance is inherit on any police department with discriminatory practices, which hinders reconciliation processes between the police and community. To report on that department, however, is a clear effort to fix what is not working within the system. Many men and women have been murdered at the hands of  individuals in police academies of blended identity, further implying the necessity of monitoring racial discrimination as a cause for the violent approaches. Healing has come from active protest, but healing as social, political, and economic change must come from proactive building. A community being owed justice requires the community to allow space and time for justice to be served, and the justice we seek often lies in what we do between that space and time.

Buildings are burned, and we say it’s because men have been murdered, not concerning ourselves with consequences of each isolated situation. We say it’s because of “what happened,” forgetting what is happening. We say it’s because we need answers when questions are the key to them. Perhaps, a loss of questions is a consequence of losing a community brother, but the loss of the trust of his mother and the community itself produces an internal dialogue far greater than our external problems. We say to each other what we yet have begun to say to ourselves. Black lives do matter, but who lives here and what happens when our importance comes to fruition? May these questions spring from the encouragement of one community leader, such as MLK, who insisted we can do something, to another, such as Malcolm X, who dared to insist that we not only can do something, but be somebody when he asked, “Who are you?” And when we are questioned, “What do you do,” or “Who are you,” we may have answers that turn the question back on the first person: you.




Sister Kahrima


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