We must take back Bal­ti­more’s streets

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Kar­sonya Wise White­head Kar­sonya Wise White­head (ke­white­head@loy­ola.edu) is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and African and African-Amer­i­can stud­ies at Loy­ola Uni­ver­sity Mary­land and the au­thor of “Let­ters to My Black Sons: Rais­ing Boys in a Po

Bal­ti­more City is a vi­o­lent place, with one of the coun­try’s high­est homi­cide rates. It is also a city that is ac­tively look­ing for so­lu­tions to solve this prob­lem, though, thus far, noth­ing has changed, and our chil­dren are not safe. It is a com­pli­cated is­sue, and it is not end­ing any time soon: Over the La­bor Day week­end, 22 peo­ple were shot in the city from Fri­day af­ter­noon through Mon­day night, in­clud­ing a 4-year old, a 6-year old, and a 16-year old.

Our city, like many oth­ers, is built upon a sys­tem of sys­temic in­equal­ity, poverty, aban­doned houses with bro­ken win­dows, con­crete jun­gles and cracked side­walks. This vi­o­lence is like a cancer that feeds off the city’s ter­ror, off of our pain and lack of at­ten­tion to it. We now find our­selves at a mo­ment where we do not need more sta­tis­tics or so­ci­o­log­i­cal stud­ies, con­fer­ence papers or empty prom­ises. We need ac­tion. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “there comes a time when one must take a po­si­tion that is nei­ther safe, nor politic, nor pop­u­lar, but he must take it be­cause con­science tells him it is right.”

There are no easy an­swers, but no child de­serves to grow up in a city where the hard­est part of the day is just get­ting through the streets safely. They de­serve to be safe. They de­serve to hold us to the high­est stan­dards, to ex­pect us to do right by them, and to hold us ac­count­able for help­ing to cre­ate and main­tain a sys­tem that is de­signed to fail them, be­cause it is un­able to pro­tect them. They de­serve for us to not just try, but to solve the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble prob­lems.

This is hard for meto write be­cause I feel safe in this city, but if the city is not safe for the least of us, then it is not safe for any of us. I take no hope from po­lit­i­cal prom­ises. I am no longer wait­ing for some­one or some­thing to come along and save our city. Bal­ti­more be­longs to us, and if we want it to change, then we must be will­ing to do the hard work, to ask the hard ques­tions and to de­mand more from our­selves and from our rep­re­sen­ta­tives. While I com­mend and sup­port the con­ver­sa­tions that have been tak­ing place around the city to end vi­o­lence, I am acutely aware that this is an election year and there is a ten­dency for stump­ing politi­cians to hear our pain, to march and cry and stand with us, be­cause in this mo­ment they need us and our vote.

Real change does not hap­pen in a vac­uum. It is not a pen­du­lum that swings around an ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum. It hap­pens be­cause we push to make it hap­pen, and so we should:

Es­tab­lish more recre­ation cen­ters so young peo­ple will have a safe space to go when school ends;

Place trauma coun­selors in schools to sup­port chil­dren and their fam­i­lies;

Force our law­mak­ers to en­act stronger laws so that we­can get il­le­gal guns off of the street;

Em­power peo­ple to po­lice their own com­mu­ni­ties;

And re­quire po­lice of­fi­cers to be­come in­ti­mately con­nected with the com­mu­ni­ties they are sworn to serve and pro­tect — not just po­lice.

We should also force our law­mak­ers to change the drug laws for low-level drug of­fenses and grant clemency to those al­ready con­victed. We must also set up more ef­fec­tive prison-to-work pro­grams to dis­rupt the prison-to-home-to-prison cy­cle and stop the re­turn of vi­o­lence to our streets.

Change is painful. It is messy, and it is dif­fi­cult to get right, but it is not im­pos­si­ble. We must fight for our chil­dren’s safety, not be­cause it is safe, or politic or pop­u­lar, but be­cause it is right. These are our streets and this is our re­spon­si­bil­ity.

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