The minister of First Unitarian Church in Baltimore reflects on #BaltimoreUprising.
People form a line between police and fellow protesters in Baltimore on April 28, 2015 (© Arash Azizzada, CC BY-NC 2.0).
What’s happening in Baltimore is something that we may not imagine will be “over” for a very long time. There are cries for “peace” in our city—and from outside our city—that imagine stopping the violence-spree of angry (and organized!) youth and getting back to normal is desired. I am not sure that that is desired, and I know that it is not even possible.
The frustration of the young people in Baltimore is the frustration of a people that have known police harassment their entire lives. The “War on Drugs” created a culture that made it illegal to be poor, to be black, to live in the neighborhood you live in and to hang out with your friends. This generation has faced a city where the “Zero Tolerance Policy” criminalized childhood, criminalized growing up in East and West Baltimore, and that is not going to change, even when the State of Emergency is lifted and the National Guard goes home.
Baltimore snatched up its streets Tuesday night. We occupied our space, with courage, pride and joy. To see the 300 Men March walking in their organized fashion and shaking hands, calling for peace, encouraging boys and young men—this was Baltimore. Watching Baptist churches hold services on the street corners, seeing Methodists chatting one to one with every person they could find, walking with robed Catholics who know the poor of their parish—this was Baltimore. Witnessing the gangs, in their colors, claiming their territory and encouraging youngsters to obey the curfew, because they care for each other, and don’t want the police to have any excuse to make additional frivolous arrests—this was Baltimore.
Seeing the drum and pom pom squad marching perhaps 60 to 70 strong, with a core of drummers and dozens of teenagers—mostly black, all fabulous, including many young men who identify as gay and can strut in their teal spangled body suits and shake their pom poms with the rest of them, and have the crowd cheer, show their love, shout their pride—this was Baltimore.
Tuesday night was an amazing moment.
But there are so many tense moments ahead of us. What will the police report say on Friday? [Update: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that police findings in the case will not be made public on Friday.] How will the state attorney respond? The federal Department of Justice?
There will be quite a few moments in the next month when Baltimore’s peace may be threatened. And so it should be.
There is a generation of folk, among many generations of folk, whose lives have been shaped by this oppressive culture, and the particularly oppressive culture of the War on Drugs. We need to be part of re-making the culture with accountability to the people who are marginalized and oppressed. We must work in accountable relationship that repair may happen in that generation and in our nation’s soul.
Of course you are welcome to come to Baltimore. I’ll try to keep things on our First Unitarian Church of Baltimore Facebook page letting you know “what’s up.” But my mantra, every day, as I walk these streets (and then retire to my quite nice, leafy neighborhood) is, “I have come because my liberation is bound up with yours. May we work together?”
Much love to you (us!) all.
David Carl Olson
(The kids call me “Rev”)
This letter first appeared on the Rev. David Carl Olson’s Facebook Page on April 29, 2015 and is reprinted with his permission.
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The Rev. David Carl Olson is senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Baltimore.
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