Op-Ed by PA State Representative Jordan Harris (D-Philly)
The events of Baltimore are troubling but not at all surprising. Let me first say that as a rule I do not support or condone acts of violence, against people or property. I believe that reason and intellect usually help all of us find a way to agree or as my mother says: Agree to disagree. However, as Americans, we have supported the violent uprisings of many peoples throughout the globe. I would like to believe that this support of oppressed peoples around the globe has been about more than just politics, but more also about the responsibility of man to care for his fellow man. What I wonder today, after watching yet another American city burn is this: who or what, is most responsible for this upheaval?
I know that yet another young, unarmed black male was murdered. However, I don’t believe that’s the reason why 13- and 14 year-olds were throwing rocks at police officers in the streets of Baltimore. I was once a 13-year-old boy and I feared adults, especially armed adults. I know things are different in the minds of today’s young black males, but if they are indeed that different we should all be asking ourselves the question: Why?
Over the next several days, the media will be inundated with folks who will talk about the righteousness or the heinousness of the tactics used in Baltimore. But tactics are left for the tactical-minded; this is not a trait we attach to teenagers. Teenagers aren’t thugs — they are children. They aren’t criminals – at most they are delinquents. Yet as a society we have continuously blamed our children for acting out in a violent fashion when they have been neglected, abused and left for dead by the system, the system that they are supposed to trust to serve and protect them. I was told as an educator that “kids don’t know how much you know, but they do know how much you care.” I think that, if we examine the lives of the children of Baltimore and their relationship with those who claim to serve and protect them, we will be able to see how a peaceful protest in Baltimore evolved into a whirlwind of destruction.
Baltimore’s youth face some of the highest poverty in the nation. In the areas that children in the upheaval come from, they see as many vacant houses as they do occupied ones. They live in the shadow of an open air drug market so fiendish that the TV series “The Wire” was based on it. Yet they know that a short trip south takes them to the home of the most powerful man in the world — he sees them, year after year, administration after administration, and he does nothing for them. The reality that these children live in is unfamiliar territory to many who will read these words. Most of us only deal with people who are like us — people who hold our views and values, people who come from where we do. It is this lack of knowledge that makes it easy for us to dismiss these violent outbursts as senseless and those who have participated in them as thugs.
This brings me back to my earlier point about uprisings around the globe. What do we say when citizens of a foreign land, who live in deep poverty, who are cut off from jobs, who are systemically undereducated, who are consistently victimized and brutalized by police, and disenfranchised from judicial protections due to them by right, rise up to break these long trains of abuse? We tell them we support their uprisings with our moral and financial support. We demand that their rights are protected and respected as members of the human family by their governments. We intervene and if necessary provide military force to guarantee the success of their rebellion. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that we arm the youth of our inner cities across this country, but I am asking why aren’t they good enough, why aren’t they worthy of intervention?
Until we answer that fundamental question and act upon it, Baltimore won’t be alone and more cities across this nation that are in the same situation will find themselves, and the powder kegs of frustration they hold, waiting for ignition.
State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., (www.pahouse.com/Harris) represents the 186th Legislative District.