On Thursday, the verdict was announced for the officer driving the van in the death of Freddie Gray. Not guilty on all charges.
I reflected back on what happened last April. Like many of my fellow Baltimoreans, I felt outrage that a man could enter police custody alive and end up dead. Everybody knows one side of the aftermath. Riots on the streets of Baltimore.
The day after the riot, the National Guard descended upon the city, just a couple miles from my place. Tanks and machine guns in the streets.
I couldn’t help but draw the parallels between April 27, 2015 and the Rodney King riots of April 29, 1992. I recalled the familiar Sublime tune I listened to so many times growing up, half an hour away in Baltimore County.
My dad called me to ask if I wanted to come back to the county for a couple days. I told him, no way. I’m smack dab in the middle of one of the most important events in the world right now. There is nowhere else I’d rather be.
My initial reaction was anger and disgust as I beheld a police state before my eyes. But then I thought back to a recent ayahuasca trip. In this experience, I was rid of all negative feelings toward other people. I had an overwhelming sense of compassion for all.
It occurred to me that although I had anger about the situation and the system behind it, these people in uniforms were also just human beings. Just like me. I decided to put aside my fear and anger and actually talk to some of them. What they said opened my eyes in profound ways. And I had to share it.
Everything in the media about Baltimore was focused on the negative. The riots were long over, but the fires were still playing on repeat. I thought, “Fuck that. Everybody is the media now.” I changed my posts to public and took to Facebook to tell the positive side I was seeing. This was the other side I witnessed firsthand.
“Believe it or not, I’m a man of peace… I have a family. I just want to know I’m doing the right thing.”
“I WANT TO PROMOTE PEACE AND EQUALITY.”
“I HOPE NOTHING HAPPENS. THAT WAY WE CAN ALL GO HOME.”
Throughout the rest of the week, massive protests continued.
Massive peaceful protests.
The evening news was still showing the fires on loop. But this was not what was actually happening anymore on the ground. The whole city came together, and it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
The cast of the Marley musical put on a love-filled performance at the infamous intersection of North & Penn.
You could even find some police laughing with children.
And holding flowers.
The problems here are far from solved.
I can’t truly grasp the struggles faced by the most affected communities, much less know the answers.
But I did learn a lot from this experience.
The narrative on the evening news focused on the rioting but missed arguably the most important part of the story – the beautiful unity in Baltimore that followed.
This narrative blamed the riots on “thugs” but completely neglected the deeper root causes – systemic inequality and injustice. We can’t pretend the symptoms happened in a vacuum and blame the most victimized and powerless among us.
On the opposite side, where I have sometimes found myself, a common counter-narrative demonizes the police. But when I spoke with the individual human beings, this theory also fell flat.
So maybe it’s not about casting blame and finding the bad guys.