Baltimore is burning

The recent issues ravaging Baltimore have once again brought to light the systemic social injustices we face as a country. It is my hope that before one so quickly comes to a contemptuous view of the situation at hand, that they appropriately view it in a socioeconomically relevant context.

 “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – That is the true goal of education.” – MLK Jr.

{mosads}With immense poverty, a failing educational system, and a nationally ranked incidence of crime, it seems as though the people of Baltimore are growing up in a war zone rather than the United States we idealize. My heart bleeds for the youth.  Overcrowding is rampant, with some schools being over capacity by as much as 200 individuals. The quality of education is lacking and they are severely underfunded.

CEO’s are making more money than God while lobbyists incessantly influence the direction of government spending towards corporate interests. Meanwhile, the very individuals and institutions responsible for shaping our youth and the future of our country are left struggling. They are underpaid, undersupplied and overworked in a system regurgitating children with a second class education and minimal skills into the real world.

Access to quality education should not be a privilege. It is a necessity and a right.

 If education is the passport to the future–what message are we sending to our inner city youth?

On top of the educational shortcomings, there is an economic depression and shortage of middle and working class jobs. Yet we wonder why they are so angry, why they protest– why they “act like animals.” But when repeatedly confronted with instances of an unjust system — privatized prisons with occupancy quotas — judges going to jail for “selling” adolescents to prisons for profit, and a global WAVE study published in the Journal for Adolescent Health on youth from low-income neighborhoods revealing that teenagers from Baltimore “…are faring worse than their counterparts in Nigeria.” how can we be perplexed by the high instance of crime, rampant drug use and weak social cohesion? We are so quick to blame the people and not hold accountable the institutions and systems put into place to facilitate socioeconomic stability and opportunity accountable. They are lacking. The educational system is failing them. The government is failing them. The job market is failing them.

And this is a volatile combination. It is these conditions that were a breeding ground for Arab Spring,  unrest in Athens, and the crisis in Spain, where youth unemployment was at 56 percent and they were rioting every night in the streets due to a government they felt had abandoned them.

But while the media is off running a campaign of sensationalism over a comparably small group of aggressive rioters that rival a college town football win, thousands were protesting within their rights in attempts to create a cohesive voice for the people and progress. But the countless attempts at fear mongering imply that the only thing going on in Baltimore is anarchy — a bunch of savages tearing down their own city. I’ll never forget my Communications class at George Mason University when my professor asked us to write down the definition of the media as “a means to which control the masses.”

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said “We cannot and will not let a minority of incendiary individuals exploit our community,” and we shouldn’t let their foolishness distract us from the main issue at hand. If the only message you receive from this situation is one of disdain and contempt for what is going on – if property damage is more important to you than systemic social injustice and economic inequality — then you have lost sight of what is important in life. We call them “savages”, “animals” and I ask:

Are we not all human? Do we not all have a breaking point? What is yours?

When condemnation and apathy are paramount to empathy and a commitment to progress in times of injustice, there will be no justice. That is the easy road. It is easy to sit back in our suburban homes and lead our quiet little lives and condemn. Open your mind. Be a catalyst to change and progression — because injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — MLK Jr.

Holland is a freelance writer, currently residing in the Washington DC area.


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