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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Baltimore Is Burning

Why Baltimore Is Burning

By Kevin Powell
Via- Victoria Hess
April 29, 2015

I am from the ghetto.

The first 13 years of my life I grew up in the worst slums
of Jersey City, New Jersey, my hometown.

If you came of age in one of America’s poor inner cities like I
did then you know that we are good, decent people: in spite of
no money, no resources, little to no services, run down schools,
landpersons who only came around to collect rent, and madness
and mayhem everywhere, amongst each other, from abusive police
officers, and from corrupt politicians and crooked preachers,
we still made a way out of no way.

We worked hard, we partied hard, we laughed hard, we barbequed
hard, we drank hard, we smoked hard, and we praised God, hard.

And we were segregated, hard, by a local power structure
that did not want the ghetto to be seen nor heard from,
and certainly not to bring its struggles out in plain sight
for the world to see.

Indeed my entire world was the block I lived on and maybe
five or six blocks north south east west.

A long-distance trip was going to Downtown Jersey City on the first
of each month so our mothers—our Black and Latina mothers—could
cash their welfare checks, buy groceries with their food stamps
and, if we were lucky, we got to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken
or some other fast food restaurant on that special day.

When I was about 15 I was badly beaten by a White police officer
after me and a Puerto Rican kid had a typical boy fight on the bus.

No guns, no knives, just our fists.

The Puerto Rican kid, who had White skin to my Black skin,
was escorted off the bus gingerly.

I was thrown off the bus.

Outraged, I said some things to the cop as I sat handcuffed
in the back seat of a police car.

He proceeded to smash me in the face with the full weight
of his fist.

Bloodied, terrified, broken in that moment, I would never again
view most police officers as we had been taught as children:
“Officer Friendly”—

Being poor meant I only was able to go to college because
of a full financial aid package to Rutgers University.

I did not get on a plane until I was 24-years-old because of that
poverty and also because I did not know that was something I
could do.

These many years later I have visited every single state in America,
every city big and small, and every ghetto community you can

They all look the same.

Abandoned, burnt out buildings. Countless churches, funeral
parlors, barber shops, beauty salons, check cashing places,
furniture rental stores, fried chicken spots, and Chinese

Schools that look and feel more like prison holding cells
for our youth than centers of learning.

Playgrounds littered with broken glass, used condoms,
and drug paraphernalia.

Liquor stores here there everywhere.

Corner stores that sell nothing but candy, cupcakes, potato chips,
soda, every kind of beer you can name, loose cigarettes, rolling
paper for marijuana, lottery tickets, and gum, lots and lots of gum.

Then there are also the local organizations that claim to serve
the people, Black and Latino people.

Some mean well, and are doing their best with meager resources.

Others only come around when it is time to raise money, to
generate some votes for one political candidate or another,
or if the police have tragically killed someone.

Like Rekiya Boyd in Chicago. Like Miriam Carey in Washington, D.C. Like Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland. Like Yvette Smith in Texas. Like Aiyana Stanley Jones in Detroit. Like Eric Garner in New York City. Like Oscar Grant in Oakland. Like Walter Scott in South Carolina. Like Freddie Gray in Baltimore….

Yes, we have the first Black president in the White House but
it feels like open season on Black folks in America once more.

100 years ago this year the Hollywood image machine was given a huge boost by a racist and evil film called “Birth of A Nation,” a movie so calculating in the way it depicted Black people it set the tone, quite literally, for how we were portrayed and treated in every form of media for decades to come.

100 years ago it was common to see photos of African Americans, males especially, lynched, hung from trees, as the local good White folks visibly enjoyed their entertainment of playing hangman.

100 years later “Birth of A Nation” has been replaced by a 24-hour news media cycle still obsessed with race, racism, racial strife, racial violence, but no solutions and no action steps whatsoever, just pure sensationalism and entertainment.

100 years later the lynching photos have been replaced by cellphones capturing video of Walter Scott running away from a police officer, like a slow-footed character in a video game, only to be shot in the back—pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!

Except all of this is mad real, Black people in America—the self-proclaimed greatest democracy on earth—are being shot here there everywhere, by the police, in broad daylight, with witnesses, sometimes on video.

And with very few exceptions nothing is happening to the cops
who pulled the triggers.

No indictments. No convictions. No prison time.

And every single instance one of these scenarios occurs, we are
handed the same movie script: Person of color is shot and killed
by local police.

Local police immediately try to explain what happened, while
placing most of the blame, without full investigation, on the
person shot.

Police officer or officers who fired shots are placed on paid
“administrative leave.”

Media finds any and everything they can to denigrate the character
of the dead person, to somehow justify why she or he is dead.

Marches, protests, rallies, speeches.

Local police show up in military-styled “riot gear.”

Tensions escalate.

Folks are arrested, people are agitated or provoked;
all hell breaks loose.

The attention has shifted from the police killing an innocent
person to the violence of “thugs,” “gangstas,” “looters.”

The community is told to be nonviolent and peaceful, but no one
ever tells the police they should also be nonviolent and peaceful.

Whites in power and “respectable Black voices” call for calm,
but these are the same folks who never talk about the horrific
conditions in America’s ghettoes that make any ‘hood a time
bomb just waiting for a match to ignite the fury born of
oppression, marginalization, containment, and invisibility.

These are the same people who’ve been spent little to no time
with the poor.

If you aren’t from the ghetto, if you have not spent significant
time in the ghetto, then you would not understand the ghetto….

No matter.

Big-time civil rights organizations, big-time civil rights
spokespersons, and big-time church leaders are brought
in to re-direct, control, and contain the energy from the
people at the bottom.

Started from the bottom now we here….

But they really cannot because the people have seen this movie
a million times before.

They know it is madness to be told to let justice take its course.

They know it is madness to wait out a legal system that rarely
if ever indicts and convicts these police officers who’ve shot
and killed members of their community.

They know it is madness to be told to stay cool, to be cool, when
they have no healthy outlets for their trauma, their pain, their

They know it is madness to hear pundits and talking heads of every
stripe on television and radio and via blogs analyze who they are,
without actually knowing who they are.

They know it is madness when middle class or professional Black
folks speak the language of the power structure and condemn
the people in the streets instead of the system that created the
conditions for why the people are in the streets.

They know it is madness that so-called progressive, liberal, human
rights, or social justice people of any race or culture have remained
mightily silent as these police shootings have been going down
coast to coast.

And they know it is madness that most of these big-time leaders
and big-time media only come around when there is a social

So they do explode, inside of themselves, and inside their

They would love to reach areas outside their ‘hoods but the local
power structure blocks that from happening.

So they destroy their own communities.

I understand why.

I am they and they are me.

Any people with nothing to lose will destroy anything in their way.

Like anything.

Any people who feel as if their lives are not valued, like they are
second-class citizens at best, will not be stopped until they’ve
made their point.

They, we, do not care if our communities have not rebounded
from the last major American rebellions of the 1960s.

We care that we have to live in squalor and misery and can be shot
at any given moment by each other, or by the police, and no one
seems to care.

A rebellion, a riot, are pleas for help, for a plan, for a vision, for
solutions, for action steps, for justice, for God, someone, anyone,
to see our humanity, to do something.

Condemning them is condemning ourselves.

Labeling the Baltimore situation a riot because it is mostly people
of color is racist given we do not call White folks behaving violently
after major sporting events rioters or thugs or gangstas, and Lord
knows some White folks have destroyed much property in America,

It ain’t a democracy if White people can wild out and it is all good;
but let people of color wild out and it becomes a state of
emergency with the National Guard dropping in, armed and ready.

Black lives matter, all lives matter, equally.

I believe that, I believe deeply in peace and love and nonviolence.

I believe in my heart that we’ve got to be human and
compassionate and civil toward one another, as sisters
and brothers, as one human race, as one human family.

I believe that our communities and police forces everywhere have
to sit down and talk and listen as equals, not as enemies, to figure
out a way toward life and love, not toward death and hate; a way
toward a shared community where we all feel safe and welcomed
and human.

Yes, I love people, all people.

But I also believe in justice, for all people. And I know that what
has been happening in America these past few years not remotely
close to any form of justice, or equality.

Imagine, if you will, White folks being shot and murdered
by the police like this, what the reactions would be?

Imagine if George Zimmerman had gone vigilante on a
White youth with a hoodie in that gated Florida complex.

Imagine White parents having to teach their children how
to conduct themselves if ever confronted by the police.

Imagine that Aiyana Stanley Jones was a little 7-year-old White
girl instead of a little 7-year-old Black girl, shot by the police
as she slept on a sofa with her grandmother, in a botched raid?

It would be a national outrage.

Baltimore is burning because America is burning with racism,
with hate, with violence.

Baltimore is burning because far too many of us are on the sidelines
doing nothing to affect change, or have become numb as the
abnormal has become normal.

Baltimore is burning because very few of us are committed to real
leadership, to a real agenda with consistent and real political,
economic, and cultural strategies for those American communities
most under siege, most vulnerable.

Policing them to death is not the solution.

Putting them in prison is not the solution.

And, clearly, ignoring them is not the solution—

Kevin Powell is a cofounder of BK Nation, a new national
organization and blog website. He is also an activist,
public speaker, and author or editor of 11 books.

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