This is a story which cannot be separated from the city in which it unfolded, Baltimore, Maryland. We are a city deeply divided and yet deeply united. In spite of our flaws. Because of our flaws. If you read the history of our town and of our race relations, you know that things here have not always been so nice. But if you read your history, you also know about Francis Scott Key and about Edgar Allen Poe. And that we are a city that thrives on our contradictions.
We have been featured in sleazy John Waters films and in poetic dramas like Clara’s Heart. We have our jazz clubs and our inner city ghettos. Our streets teem with business men wearing suits and with artists who carry their easels in their hearts. We have thrived as much on racism as we have on black culture. And yet all is not black and white. We bleed in color, in purple in winter and in orange in the summer, but yet on this day in red for all to see.
And in our city there was a man who solidified for us all of our struggles and contradictions on one fateful afternoon on the west side of town. His name was Freddie Gray. He did not aspire to be such a person who would bring everything to a head. And yet, that is exactly what happened.
He was a criminal. And yet on this day he had committed no crime except making eye contact with a police officer and running away. And the way he died he has come to represent an all-too-familiar story. One of policemen and of criminals and of presumed guilt, one of black men and of a lack of due process, of brutality and of tensions that bubbled once again over the surface and unto city streets.
And the issues are not black and white. Except that they are. Had Freddie Gray actually been arrested for the commission of a crime, he would have been entitled to due process and would have had a hired or an appointed attorney. After all, the officers involved were not denied any of these rights. As it should be.
It is not hard to see that our laws forbid a man like Freddie Gray, though convicted in the past of committing crimes, from being killed on his way to jail. The law should have protected him from even having being arrested at all as he had not committed a crime. Too often black men are denied these basic rights.
And for most police, it is a dangerous and thankless job which they carry on day by day. For most of them the reckless actions of a few have only served to make their jobs, and their lives, harder. Most are upstanding citizens carrying out a task that no one else wants to do. Most of them are out to protect the greater good and they deserve our respect. And for those who would brutalize and deny our citizens the rights to which the Constitution would afford them, there must be consequences.
But in this case there were consequences. Consequences for being black. Consequences for being suspicious to the police and of the police. And for our city there have been consequences splashed all over the country’s media and newsfeeds. People who have never been to Baltimore have weighed in on a social struggle which they will never understand.
The case of Freddie Gray has shown us our contradictions, in black and white, and has held them up for all of us to see. And I truly think only those from bustling Baltimore get it. Only those from Baltimore see what it is and understand why a mama will hold on to her black son just a little bit tighter before letting him go. And why a police officer’s wife will hold her husband’s hand just a little bit longer before he leaves for work any given day.
Our divisions have divided us for so long that we think we know where the battle lines have been drawn. But sometimes we forget that so many of us are really on the same side. We forget about the police officers protecting young black men and the young black men applying to become police officers. We forget about the mamas teaching their sons to respect policemen and the officers who want to serve and protect us. And so I would urge the citizens of my beloved Baltimore to remember what draws us all together as a community and as the humanity that comprises this messed up city full of brutal contradictions.
Rosa Hopkins blogs at www.lifeinsidethehouseontherock.com and is a recording artist whose songs have been played on the radio. She is the co-host of, ‘The Joe and Rosa Show’ on WDZY, AM & FM, Richmond, VA. She lives in the hills of WV with her husband, miracle baby, Jack Russell and a shapeless hound named Lou.