Baltimore, Star Trek and a Day in the Death of Freddie Gray

During the height of the recent Baltimore unrest over the Freddie Gray tragedy, I was in New York City. After monitoring its reported developments for some time, I watched a 46-year-old episode of the original Star Trek series entitled "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield". The episode is an allegory on racial discord that is as relevant today as the night it first aired -- less than a year after Baltimore's 1968 Holy Week Uprising sparked by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.

Very few things can be current, timeless, dated and ahead of their time all at once. The 1960s Star Trek series is one of those things. The grim "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" must seem even grimmer today because the issues that inspired it still plague us.

In the episode, two nearly identical aliens from the same planet board the Starship Enterprise (in very different ways) hell-bent on defeating each other. The ideology, tactics, rationale and leverage of each alien are telling. Roughly halfway through the story, one of them co-opts the Enterprise and declares, "You cannot change the course of this ship any more than you can change me." Soon thereafter, the resourceful Captain Kirk initiates the ship's self-destruct sequence.

The startling conclusion opines on the astronomical price of the "alien" zealotry. Ultimately, the episode speaks for itself better than I can so I encourage you to watch it.

After its closing credits, I took a bicycle downtown, had lunch and then stepped into the midst of the scene pictured here.

Copyright Geoffrey Fletcher

The police eventually ran these people off the street and arrested 142 of them.

An hour later, I was back home working while learning that these protesters reassembled and made their way to Times Square--their originally intended destination. Some time afterwards, I even heard them chanting in the distance through my window.

Just as I returned to work in earnest, a dear friend called me. She was close to tears after having been ordered to vacate an apartment for the second time in less than two years through no fault of her own. It seems her latest landlords were willing to upend her life and those of her neighbors for additional profit. She said the situation was even more catastrophic for some elderly residents in her building.

At this point, it was nearly 11 p.m. and I really hoped to get back to work. Before I could, however, a cable network informed me that for the first time in history, a major league baseball game took place with no "civilian" spectators due to fears associated with the local uprising. The significance of that moment was striking. America's pastime, like the American dream, had finally been vacated.

None of this was lost on John Angelos, the COO of the Baltimore Orioles organization. Days earlier, he authored a remarkable distillation of our times. It was eloquent, succinct and evocative, and it contains the following passage.

My greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night's property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle-class and working-class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American's civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

With any luck, the tragedy of Baltimore will be our last and a significant number of Americans may no longer live in fear of those hired to protect and serve them. However, luck has been in short supply for the everyman. And, the plunder of a CVS in Baltimore pales in comparison to the astonishing nation looting abetted by elected officials, many of whom effectively bought their way into office with vast wealth from special interests expecting a return on their investment. It seems the destructive acts of the uprising qualify as a lesser offense.

Star Trek's original series isn't the only thing that is current, timeless, dated and ahead of its time all at once. Clearly, the cry for equity and justice is another.

Copyright Geoffrey Fletcher