Racial Tension in Baltimore: Law Enforcement, Better Police Procedures, and Cultural Education

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore, Maryland

The political discourse is awash with interpretations of the Baltimore tragedy following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died in police custody. Some blame the police; some blame the culture of crime in the African American community. Some say we need more African-Americans in the police force: but Baltimore has a good percentage of African-American police officers. Others say we need a good racial balance of political leaders: but Baltimore has a good racial balance of political leaders.

Some say they do not trust the police department to conduct a fair investigation when the perpetrator is a police officer: but in Baltimore, the police chief and the mayor are African American.

Some say the President of the United States should do more to solve these urban problems. But as I was listening to the US President address the riot in Baltimore, I realized that there is only so much a US President can do to affect the situation on the ground at a city level. The president appeared to be as confounded by the racial challenge as are so many citizens. The federal level can call for better police procedures in our communities, can establish task forces between law enforcement and community leaders, and can come up with constructive, concrete proposals that can make a difference. But those things will be only part of the solution. We know that riots are a problem for law enforcement at the state and city levels, and there is not much that the federal government can do.

When Riots Erupt

Detroit burns in riots of the 1960s.

Detroit burns in riots of the 1960s.

By the time a riot happens, such as in Baltimore, the only thing that public officials can do is respond with law enforcement and city protection. A riot is like a forest fire: you need to fight it early and fight it decisevely—or else it will engulf everything. Only decisive action can prevent damages to human lives, businesses, people’s property, and city infrastructure. If not stopped in time, the damages can become irreparable, as was the case in Detroit in 1968. People may move away from those communities, and an endemic poverty may set in.

Law enforcement needs to be decisive and well empowered. At the same time, it is necessary to implement all these other things that community leaders talk about: body cameras for police officers, federal grants for local jurisdictions to train law-enforcement officers; better community relations with the police; a well-integrated police force; and other recommendation to improve police procedures.

Culture vs. Economic Conditions

Besides law enforcement and better police procedures, we also need a culture of empowerment. There are those who believe that the best way to bring change to the impoverished communities is to invest in those communities with school reform, job training, and improved infrastructure to attract new businesses. The improved economic conditions would bring about the culture of empowerment.

Others say that the best way to start is to provide the culture of empowerment first—and then this new culture will bring about an improvement of the economic conditions. Which side is right? As always, both sides are right. I clarify this point by looking at it from the Back-to-the-Body Perspective.

From the Back-to-the-Body Perspective, we say that there is a stomach (the economic conditions), a brain (education), and a heart (the culture of empowerment). But you don’t start with one, and then create another, and then create the third one. You have to start with all three right away. All three need to be there from the very beginning.

In other words, we need to work on all the three fronts at the same time: stomach, brain, and heart. A community improves through economic infrastructure, education, and cultural empowerment. But where do these three things come from? Here is a summary, based on the Back-to-the-Body Perspective.

Economic Infrastructure

Will to thrive brings development.

Will to thrive brings development.

The economic infrastructure of a community derives from people’s will. When the citizens decide that they will build a prosperous economic structure for their community, that is where everything starts. Human will and human decision: that needs to be there from the very beginning. This is the desire to thrive, to do well, to prosper. That is the beginning of everything. Where there is a will to prosper, there will be a plan, and there is hope. This is the essence of Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

EDUCATION: Education is needed in order to establish a plan to implement the people’s will to have a prosperous economic structure for a community. But this must be education with a purpose, a goal, a will to do well. A community that has a will to thrive knows how to establish an educational system that suits its needs. The goal is not simply to pass some tests or to achieve some credentials, but rather to achieve the intellectual and technical means to fulfill the community’s will to thrive. As you can see, the WILL TO THRIVE is fundamental to everything that happens in a community.

A CULTURE OF EMPOWERMENT: The best way to understand the culture of empowerment is to understand what it is NOT: The culture of empowerment is NOT a culture of RESENTMENT. If you talk to someone for three minutes, you will know whether this person is a person of empowerment or a person of resentment. Here’s the difference between empowerment and resentment, in a nutshell:

Person sees opportunities vs. Person sees problems
trust vs. suspicion
gratitude vs. accusation
possibilities vs. impossibilities
everyone will help vs. everyone will hinder
my situation is good vs. my situation is bad

An empowered person never allows her/himself to be pushed down by circumstances; a resentful person never feels satisfied with circumstances—nothing is ever good enough.

Women and the Culture of Empowerment

Women are the keepers of the heart.

Women are the keepers of the heart.

Women are the keepers of the heart in human society, and it is only through the power of women that a community can feel empowerment. Grandmothers, Mothers, sisters, wives, aunts, girlfriends—the heart of empowerment and hope begins from the heart of women. If women become suspicious and resentful, men will likely follow the same path. Therefore, if there is going to be a cultural change in our impoverished communities, we have to look to women as the agents of change.

As we can see, then, the three aspects of economic infrastructure, education, and culture of empowerment need to come together in order to create a prosperous community. And we need to look at the women of that community to provide the engines of hope and empowerment.

Paulo-Juarez Pereira
Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA
April 29, 2015

Photo Credits:

Photo Author: Mr.TinDC; Source: http://bit.ly/1IodUCT; Creative Commons License: Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Photo Author: lpeters199; Source: http://bit.ly/1EpUx9y; Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Photo Author: Find Your Feet; Source: http://bit.ly/1HS3V8o; Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

Photo Author: Unión Europea en Perú; Source: http://bit.ly/1KuKthy; Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

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