We began this week wanting to talk about transparency and the lack of it in local, state and federal government. From police departments to the wonderful statehouse, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and ending up with the White House – where a public information officer actually hung up the phone on me – something that hasn't happened to me in more than 30 years as a reporter. We were ready to go off on the problems of transparency in government.
Then a funny thing happened.
People rioted in Baltimore Monday afternoon and evening and well into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, April 28, 2015 ostensibly because of the funeral of a young man who died after police arrested him.
Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man died after suffering a spinal injury when taken into custody by police. He died April 19, and city officials compared the resulting riots to a similar outbreak of violence that occurred 47 years ago – the riots which swept Baltimore in the wake of the death of Martin Luther King Jr.
There are curious parallels in both riots. The Governor in 1968 was a republican, Spiro Agnew and he called up the National Guard. Larry Hogan, the current governor, is also a republican and did the same. Hogan is actually taking the step of moving his office to Baltimore this week to witness the events himself.
In both cases rioters destroyed their own neighborhoods. A Baltimore city official pointed out the parallels in a news conference on Monday, and said the situation is enough to piss him off.
The chilling video of people throwing rocks and chasing police, and the police throwing rocks at people and beating them and the stray video of a mother apparently beating her child for being involved in the riots sends a message that we should all embrace: violence is not the answer.
Lost in the looting and the rioting are the root causes of the uprising. We focus on the horrifying without scrutinizing how we got here, and in many cases unable to factually ascertain how we arrived in this situation.
The fact is there are parts of this country that have been stripped of dignity. Huge parts of this country, whether it is rural or in an urban setting, deal with institutionalized poverty, limited resources, little education, and dwindling hope for a decent future. It crushes the human spirit.
Some of us will say the people living in this situation are to blame. They must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. There are those who live in such situations who can’t see any escape except through violence or criminal behavior. Both mindsets are wrong.
I once heard it said there is nothing wrong with America than cannot be fixed by what is right with America. And that is very true.
It is also true, as President Obama pointed out on Tuesday – that we cannot continue in a business as usual mode.
But the inertia in the system dictates that it will be a cumbersome effort to change attitudes and teach people how to climb out of this prison of our own making.
Police have to quit treating people as if they are all criminals just awaiting a beat down. People have to quit treating police as if they are bullies. Respecting each other is a huge step in solving the problem. Where have I heard this before? Many places, including The Bible, Gandhi and from Martin Luther King Jr.
It is a simple concept and hard to implement because so few of us ever really turn the other cheek, few of us want to walk around in our neighbors’ shoes and even fewer of us care.
I don’t want to sound cynical or skeptical, or even like Polyanna, but the magic to changing the situation lies within ourselves.
Unfortunately we have failed to raise our children to grasp or even understand reality. We have created disposable children who care little for life because life has offered them so very little.
I read an article recently in which the writer mused how amazed he was that people born in this country could be attracted by terrorist groups like ISIS. I am amazed more are not.
For we have created this mess. Greed, hatred, corruption and pettiness fuel it.
Take a step back and look rationally at the causes and the solution. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to fix it – just clarity and transparency.
Okay, I’m back at the beginning. Let me gripe about the White House.