Submitted to the AFRO by Dr. Kaye Wise Whitehead
I believe that it is now fair to say that despite our best intentions—our marches and our calls for peace, our prayers, sage burning, and our moments of silence—Baltimore City is rapidly becoming an experiment in urban living that is going horribly wrong. Ever since the fallout from the 2015 Uprising, this city has become more violent, more deadly, and more frightening. In the past month alone, we have seen a rise in homicide numbers and a sharp uptick in the number of shootings, including 11 people being shot in one day and two dozen people being shot in less than a week. Our cultural milieu is reminiscent of the wild wild west, a place without laws, without the law, but with guns (lots and lots of guns).
The mayor believes that the city is in the midst of a drug and turf war while I believe that this is what tends to happen in a Category Five deeply segregated poverty-stricken city without enough police officers, a police or a health commissioner, and a history of predatory policing. There are communities in the city where the sounds of gunshots and police sirens have become so familiar that they are embedded in the cultural fabric that stitches the community together. We are in a dark sunken place in need of some encouragement and some hope.
Now, I may not have all the answers on how to turn this city around, but I can offer a little light. Baltimore City is a city of survivors and despite how grim it may look at this moment, I believe that no city has worked harder to push for equality and peace more loudly or with a stronger voice. We must remember our foundation and our roots. We must remember that though they are trying to bury us under a narrative laced with stories of violence and destruction filtered through a lens of White supremacy, we are seeds and we will find a way to sprout and grow. We must remember how to fight and that we come from a long line of people who were willing to sacrifice and fight in order to save us and to save our communities.
Frederick Douglass once talked about what it would finally take for people to resist and fight. He stated that there comes a moment when people reach the end of their tolerance with injustice and mistreatment and that when that happens they will resist with “either words or blows, or with both.” I sometimes wonder if we (as a city) have reached that moment? Are we frustrated enough, angry enough, pissed off enough to want to fight to save this city? Are we willing to get out on the corners and into the faces of those who are destroying our community and force them to flee? How much longer are we willing to allow death to happen at our doorstep while we pretend that we do not see the bodies? Douglass knew that we needed to be the ones to fight for our freedom, to record our history, to tell our stories, to remind the world of who we were, and to show them what we have become. We need to be the ones to tell our young brothers and sisters (the ones who seemed to have lost their way) that the strength of our people and the strength of this city is uniquely tied to our ability to mobilize the best and the brightest. We must remember that even though our city has a myriad of challenges, we are standing on Holy Ground, in a country that has been built on our backs, that has survived because of our sacrifice, and that continues to be a place of greatness because of our brilliance. We must remind them.
It is time to reclaim our neighborhoods, reclaim our children, and reclaim the future that we have worked for hundred of years to have in this country. We have to teach them a lesson about themselves, the one that America often fails to remember about Black people, that we are resilient and failure for us has never been an option; that we are brilliant and we can effectively mobilize the collective strength of our genius and strategically plan for a better tomorrow; that we are knitted together so that our collective strengths support our collective weaknesses; and, that we are always on the defense and have never stopped being on the lookout for those subtle shifts when the winds of oppression and degradation, of second hand citizenship and destruction begin to blow once again in our direction. We must be the ones to save this city.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM and the author of the forthcoming “Dispatches from Baltimore: The Birth of the Black Mommy Activist.” She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons.