For the past several years, a favorite road trip for my family and me, has been a quick jaunt up to Baltimore to catch our beloved Yankees face off against the Orioles. We make a weekend of it and catch a couple of games. The first trip we made, we were a little unsure of what to expect having never been there before, but we fell in love with the area.
We stay right in the middle of the Inner Harbor. We walk to the ball park. Everyone is friendly. The folks in the restaurants and the vendors on the street good naturedly give us a hard time about being Yankees fans — and we give it right back. There are great restaurants throughout the harbor, cool shops and other attractions. It is a great weekend get away, and it has become a tradition. Sometimes we go alone as a family, sometimes we take close friends.
So it was with a great deal of distress that I watched the footage of the protest turned to mayhem that streamed across the television, my computer, and my iPhone over the weekend. The peaceful streets resembled a war zone. We watched shocked as the innocent restaurant owners, store owners and vendors became targets. It was, needless to say, painful to watch.
Our distress as outsiders, cannot begin to match that of the residents of the city, the business owners and those who found themselves caught up in the mayhem — many of whom were just in town to catch a game. Of course, nothing can begin to approach the pain of the peaceful demonstrators who were trying to bring attention to the death of Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody, as they watched their planned protest deteriorate into madness.
According to news reports, Gray, a 25-year-old black man, was arrested after he made eye contact with police officers and ran away. Officers gave chase, caught him, held him down, handcuffed him and loaded him into a police van, where he was physically restrained with leg cuffs. According to police reports Gray asked for medical help before he was put into the van. Paramedics were finally called but it was too late. Gray died from an unexplained spinal injury. Since the news broke of his death, protest have occurred daily in the city, but none have been as big or have been violent.
News reports agree that Saturday’s protest began as planned, with thousands of people peacefully assembling at the site of Gray’s arrest and then marching to city hall. Organizers say the crowd exceeded their expectation, but they did not expect the violence.
No one can identify the tipping point where righteous anger spilled over into mob madness; although many have tried. Some argue, like Baltimore Mayor Stehanie Rawlings-Blake that “a small group of agitators turned what was other wise a peaceful demonstration into a violent protest.” While other news reports argue that there were only three outsiders for every 30 residents participating in the violence. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, who deployed roughly 1,200 officers to the downtown area to try and keep the peace believes that the “violent agitators” were not from Baltimore.
I would like to believe that. I have seen Baltimore at its best, and it does not resemble what played out on our televisions but happened painfully to the residents of the city.
Restaurants and stores were sacked. People peacefully walking the streets on their way to the game or catching a quick bite to eat were beaten by groups who broke off from the protest. These splinter groups threw chairs and tables through store windows, tossed flaming trash cans at the police, broke out car windows and demolished police vehicles. At city hall, they tore down the American Flag and attempted to set it on fire, while voices of reason tried to hold them back
City leaders went on television begging for calm. Gray’s twin sister broke her silence to issue the following statement, “ My family wants to say, can you all please, please stop the violence? Freddie Gray would not want this.”
The violence of a few drowned out the message of the thousands —this has got to stop. Nothing comes from looting and destroying. The message gets lost and only fuels the racial tension in our nation, which is at a boiling point. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was beaten and jailed during his fight for Civil Rights, saw the same thing. But he knew that violence wouldn’t solve the problem; it would only make it worse.
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,” said King.
King’s spirit and beliefs still live on in like-minded people who are seeking peace, who are seeking understanding. We saw that in Fredericka Gray . We saw that in the quiet dignity of the family of Walter Scott in South Carolina. Both families who suffered a great loss knew that violence was not the answer, and they acted in a manner to bring peace to the horrible situation in which they find themselves.