What Are We Going to Do About Violence?

Race and Politics

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By Sean Yoes, Baltimore AFRO Editor, syoes@54.204.251.142

Like a veteran NFL quarterback, I had to call an audible as I was writing my column this week and I did it with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, to extend the football metaphor.

I was set to write about something totally different this week; something brutally political, but decidedly more boring. But, I would choose boring every time if it meant I didn’t have to write about the murder and mayhem that continues to bludgeon the psyche and spirit of our city and kill its people.

But, here we are.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

After 11 people got shot and three were killed on Oct. 16, I felt compelled to change course in the final hours before this week’s deadline. And although most of the victims have not been identified yet, I’m 99 percent certain, most, if not all are Black people (I do know one of the victims is a woman).

AFRO reporter Michelle Richardson wrote about the details of the shootings this week, at least as much as we know about the violence, which was concentrated mostly in West Baltimore.

But, I don’t want to just wring my hands and voice outrage over the ubiquitous shootings that continue to terrorize our city after a particularly violent 24-hour period. The question is what are we prepared to do about it?

I’m born and raised in West Baltimore; I still live in West Baltimore, so violence has been a part of my reality for my entire adult life. When the shooters go hard, which they have been doing for weeks now in our city, you tend to put your head down and if you are inclined to do so, pray harder. But, we’ve got to do more than duck and pray. To borrow a mantra from my friend Erricka Bridgeford of the Baltimore Ceasefire Movement, “Don’t be numb.”

Honestly, the courageous and seemingly indefatigable young survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida in February forced me to change course in this column this week.

After a gunman walked into their high school armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and shot up dozens of their classmates, killing 17, many of the surviving students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have been fighting ever since. Instead of being paralyzed by pain and fear, these dynamic and determined young people have lobbied Congress, fought against the massive and diabolical gun lobby, agitated on social media, marched through cities across the nation and mobilized voter registration drives across the country. Some cynically argue they fight in vain. But, most importantly, they fight. I think we would be well-served as communities under siege to tap into their sense of urgency.

We know what plagues us; poverty, substandard housing, substandard public education, lack of jobs, segregation, White supremacy, complacency, wretchedness. It’s easy to lay out the problems, but what about solutions?

Of course there is no one solution when it comes to healing our city. Perhaps, we have to change the trajectory of the conversations we’ve been having for decades focused on somehow rehabilitating a corrupt governance infrastructure and instead, deconstructing that poisoned infrastructure because it doesn’t work for poor people and people of color, which is the vast majority of our city.

But, ultimately this isn’t about governance, or policing policy; this isn’t about blaming Mayor Pugh or any other politician. This is about us, the people. Baltimore, this great imperiled city is broken and it has been for decades. The city is broken because it does not work for the majority of its citizens, who are mostly Black and mostly poor. There is a lot of brokenness in our neighborhoods.

But, if we are honest, all of us are broken in some measure by the pervasive pathology of our city. If we weren’t we wouldn’t be human.

What are we prepared to do about it?

Sean Yoes is the Baltimore editor of the AFRO and author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.