Writing this at 8:30pm on Monday night. For the past few hours have been watching the coverage of the horrific events going on in Baltimore tonight.
To call this evening surreal would be a gross understatement. I had work to do tonight and maybe I'll get a little done before turning in, but I can do it tomorrow. Tonight has been a historic night and for not very good reasons.
I was too young to have any memory of the riots in Baltimore in 1968, but I do recall the riots after the snowstorm in 1983. And of course, I've seen recent examples of riots in American cities, for various reasons, over the decades-- from Los Angeles to Seattle to St. Louis to New York. But I never thought such a thing, such a visceral, wanton expression of anger and contempt, would go on in a major American city. And certainly not the one I consider my home city. Not the one in which I've worked most of my professional life, including a year in the employment of the city.
And there is a "there but for the grace of God" aspect to this, since if I had been working for Baltimore City now, I'd likely be at the Emergency Operations Center helping organize the Health Department's response. And I saw on CNN, two burned vehicles across the street from a city health clinic of which I'm very familiar. I feel for all my former colleagues in civil service in Baltimore City, and all my friends who serve the city in so many ways-- politicians, activists, clergy, nonprofits-- as well as former co-workers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. The city has been gashed and is bleeding.
There's been a tourniquet applied in the form of a curfew-- no one on the streets from 10pm to 5am for a week. Except in the case of a medical emergency or going to or from work. What about the Orioles games this week? Restaurants and bars? Taxis? Stores? Forget it. The whole thing's been shut down for the week. Baltimore City will stop being Baltimore City for a week. The anger and the fear and the insanity have won.
The violence and destruction have moved beyond all of the circumstances surrounding these protests. During these past three hours I've been watching this coverage, if I heard the name "Freddie Gray" ten times I've heard it a lot. And that's a great indignity and injustice to the memory of that young man, and to the desire to find out why that young man died and to bring to justice whoever was responsible for his death.
In full opposition to the wishes of the Gray family, his death has touched a nerve. Lit a fuse that has touched off a powder keg. Years of anger and frustration and fear in Baltimore City have boiled over. But, to go into a long description of all the problems-- all the cases of violence over recent decades that have made Baltimore's population so unstable-- right now, that all seems so inappropriate and small. Same with discussing politics, the Mayor's news conference, the whole lot of that stuff. It really doesn't seem to matter right now, because what's going on right now is so terribly dangerous and so horribly wrong.
Right now, all we can do is watch. Watch and pray. Watch and pray that some humanity returns to the city I love.