The streets of one of our cities have erupted in violent rioting in response to another death of a young Black man at the hands of the local police force. This time, the city is Baltimore and the death was due to a spinal cord injury while in police custody. We are caught, all of us, in what seems like a senseless spiral of violence begetting violence begetting violence. We are caught because the anger that erupts is not due to only a current event, but due to decades of inequities in many of our cities. In this case, there are two Baltimores—one that is gentrified and where the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature could hold their annual meetings in 2013—the Baltimore that is the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards. The other is the Baltimore of frustration, low-incomes, boarded-up row houses, and predominately Black folk. These Baltimores do not talk with each other very much and there are serious tensions between them and the death of Freddie Gray has exposed these tensions like a raw nerve, an open wound that refuses to heal, a sorrow that deals out an endless spiral of anger and frustration and venom.
One thing we must hold on to is that it was the neighborhood—pastors, politicians, community leaders, laity, and even gang members who have taken to the streets to calm the roiling crowds of violent unrest in Baltimore. We are the ones who must address the inequities with precision and strategic acumen. There is senseless anger and righteous anger in the mix in Baltimore at the injustice and inequality that has become the fabric of that city and in so many of the landscapes we inhabit in our country. Senseless anger that uses violence fails to recognize that 20 minutes of violence takes 20 years to rebuild in many of these communities who have experienced rioting. Righteous anger crafts effective protest against these injustices that recognize that burning down your neighborhood is no way to build a better tomorrow. We must choose righteous anger that does not excuse inequities, does not tolerate poverty, does not sanction false hopes. Righteous anger takes to the ballot box, encourages us to claim the responsibility of citizenship and educate ourselves about the issues of the day and also the ways we can address them, works as communities united with a vision that refuses to accept a weary status quo that allows a few to flourish and the rest struggle to survive.
As Sweet Honey in the rock sings, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”