“It ain’t the first and it ain’t the last!” That was the response of Avery, an elderly man who is always at my barbershop (though he never seems to get a haircut) when he was asked about the current unrest in Baltimore.
Indeed, many of us said after the Ferguson turmoil, polarity, and finger-pointing that it could happen anywhere. We acknowledged that issues in many of America’s inner cities were at a boiling point. Twenty-three years since Rodney King and twenty three days since Freddie Gray. From the west coast to the east coast and countless cities in between, lives have been lost and reduced because of racism, classism, unjust laws, oppressive systems, and benign neglect. From coast to coast we have seen a rapid rise in hatred, racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, inattention, and abandonment. Impressions of our sisters and brothers have been reduced to what is reported by the ever so selective evening news, or discriminatory twitter or latest Facebook feed.
Yes, another straw has broken another camel’s back and another spark has been fanned into flame as the ever so elusive peace continues to avoid our cities. It is important to note that there are always many straws and many sparks long before the camel’s back is broken or the fire erupts.
Exclusion and marginalization continues to plague communities and manifests itself in often violent protest. In the words of Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel: “The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility” (no. 59).
It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of people who struggle with poverty or marginalization do not show their disgust in violence. Rather they participate in peaceful prayer services, marches, and demonstrations. A far greater number do nothing at all but find themselves paralyzed trying to figure out what might do the most good.
It would be unwise to assume that the problems are only one dimensional, that it is only racism, or only classism, or only family structure, or only urban, rural or suburban. The issues are complex and require a complex and diverse response. No response only fuels more smoldering embers.
Avery continues to lament with grief, “it ain’t the first and it ain’t the last!” Have we given up on Baltimore? Ferguson? New York? Etc.? And what of the ones who would be husbands or fathers? Scholars? Role models? Stewards and caretakers of inner cities? Is it totally impossible to dream that Baltimore could be “the last”? Is it possible that enough courageous faithful people could rise and say, “Enough!” Could it be that folk will call racism the sin that it is and commit to doing whatever needs to be done to eradicate and dismantle it? Can decent affordable housing shelter people in all neighborhoods? Why can’t we ensure education that provides a path to college and then a path to employment? How can we reform the criminal justice system so that it doesn’t target and oppress people of color?
Numerous questions, and frankly, I don’t have a good answer for any of them, but I am certain apathy and indifference doesn’t maintain the status quo; it only makes matters worse.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)