By Mark Naison
Many people are upset with the unrest in Baltimore that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Fair enough. But if you spent time in the neighborhood he lived in, or in neighborhoods like it around the nation, you might still be upset, but you will not be surprised. Abandoned houses. Vacant lots. Stray dogs. Rumors of mass displacement by the same people developing other parts of your city. No decent paying jobs anywhere. Police who patrol your community who do not live in it. Friends and relatives pushed out of the area by rising rents even though much of the housing in your neighborhood is decayed or vacant. Huge numbers of people rendered unemployable by felony convictions.
It is a toxic mix. And the policies that are made to address it are made by people far far away. Who never include your voice.
So I raise the question. Did anybody ask the poor people of Baltimore when you:
Closed their neigborhood schools and gave them charter schools and test after test;
Decided to wage the drug war in their community in a manner which would never be done at Johns Hopkins University, which has as many drugs on campus as any “hood” in Baltimore;
Encouraged them to take subprime mortgages on the homes in their neighborhood and forcelosed on them en masse when the financial crisis hit;
Appropriated their experience and music and used it for entertainment;
You know the answer. No one ever asks them anything. They are America’s Expendables, whose suffering keeps our thriving prison industrial complex alive, and whose cries of pain are the material for popular music narratives, or hit tv series, that people around the world turn to for pleasure or inspiration.
They have a lot to be angry about. Will you finally hear their voices? Will you finally ask them what they want and what they need?