Much has been said about Maryland State Delegate Pat McDonough’s inflammatory statements about Black youth in Baltimore. Last month, he characterized African American youth at the Inner Harbor as “Black Youth Mobs.”
He cited an alleged incident where he and his wife were driving in downtown Baltimore and supposedly 50 to 100 Black youth began to walk near his car. He was so afraid, he said, that he ran the red light to escape. He also cited a much-publicized incident where a tourist was attacked and robbed on St. Patrick’s Day.
His solution? State police, a “solutions summit,” a citywide curfew, and more press conferences.
It should be no surprise that these types of characterizations of Black people and extreme “remedies” for Black youth are being bandied about. Citywide curfew (of course just for the city’s darker residents) and state police being called in give the imagery of a city under siege.
Sadly, these extreme measures would appear justified. That is – if you believe the popular narrative that’s held up about Black youth in Baltimore. I’m not interested in attacking Delegate McDonough because he said “Black Youth Mob.” He only extended a storyline about Black youth that is already in play by Republicans and Democrats alike.
The frame that they would like us to view Black Youth through is one that suggests that our young people are: out of control, predisposed to crime, disinterested in bettering their lives, and worthy of the most egregious treatment by law enforcement.
You can see the frame in play throughout the city’s media and politics – not least of which on the pages of the Baltimore Sun. The Sun and many other outlets frame the story of Black youth in such a way that invites the worst of human character to the foreground. The Sun’s online comments section serves as safe harbor for some of the most racially prejudiced and bigoted views of Black people.
I don’t put the spotlight on The Sun as if it is the sole offender, however, it is one of the easiest places to observe the results of racially prejudiced characterizations of Black youth.
Local politics also helps to create the framing through which we see Black youth.
Despite schools, recreation centers, public pools, and the summer youth jobs program being closed or wholly inadequate because of budgetary constraints, state government is still committed to building a multimillion dollar youth jail in East Baltimore with Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s support. This reinforces the frame that Black youth are predisposed to violence and in need of incarceration much more than education, recreation, and employment.
The frame and storyline that are championed in the media and through the lips of elected officials help to justify behavior toward Black youth in Baltimore that would not be tolerated toward non-Black youth and young adults.
For example, White youth and young adults have been getting drunk, fighting, and engaging in all manner of reckless behavior at the infield at the Preakness for years, but you have never heard anyone characterize them as a “mob” that’s terrorizing the surrounding community. In addition, on St. Patrick’s Day this year hundreds of White young adults were openly drinking and getting drunk in Canton’s O’Donnell Square and trashing the area while Baltimore Police stood by and did nothing.
The harshest language and tactics are reserved for Black youth.
I’m not surprised by Delegate McDonough’s comments or the actions by politicians (both Democrat and Republican) that support the dehumanizing characterization of Black youth.
However, I do get worried when Black people start echoing the same sentiments and supporting the same harmful storyline about our youth that’s championed by those outside of our community. South African Freedom Fighter, Steve Biko, once said, “The greatest weapon in the arsenal of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” If Black Baltimoreans internalize the storyline about Black youth that’s created by those who have shown no tangible commitment to the well being of our community; then we will be positioning ourselves to turn on our own children.
This is not a call to excuse all of the behavior of Black youth, but we should be reminded that Black youth make no more or no less foolish decisions than any other group of young people. Our children are no aberration. All youth make decisions during their formative years that most responsible adults would frown upon. I know I did.
However, I’m glad that I was surrounded by Black people who loved me and refused to use the oppressor’s language and storyline to characterize my missteps. They lovingly corrected me and provided me the wherewithal to learn from my mistakes and do better.
We as responsible Black adults in Baltimore can do better by our youth by speaking up when they are demonized in local media, boycotting those Baltimore businesses that won’t hire them, and pulling our votes from those politicians who overtly or covertly dig political ditches in hopes that they fall.
If none of that is possible, then at the very least we should not surrender our minds to the vulgar perspectives about Black youth that are spewed by those with no allegiance to our community. When we believe the best about our youth, we believe the best about ourselves. The inverse is also true.
Rev. Heber Brown, III is pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in North Baltimore. He regularly blogs at www.FaithInActionOnline.com