The neighborhood where the riots erupted has no supermarket. People can’t buy healthy food unless they have a car–and most don’t. The schools are old and battered, no labs, no frills. Teachers labor in a battle zone. Half the high school students don’t graduate, and on a given day, half the high school students don’t show up for class. Unemployment is several times the national average. There’s little for kids to do besides hang out. There are few organized activities, clubs, sports, enrichment–enrichment? That’s for the rich.
All that applies to Sandtown, the neighborhood where rioting erupted here in Baltimore just before I arrived nearly a month ago. It also applies to Ferguson, Missouri, which erupted last year.
It is to our eternal shame that the same description also applied to Watts. That’s the Los Angeles neighborhood that exploded in what were then called “race riots” in 1965.
So despite all the progress that’s been made in the past half century, including election and re-election of a black president–not much has really changed on the ground.
Besides celebrating my grandson’s bar mitzvah, I was hoping to get a handle on where the US’s head is at these days. I’m heading home tomorrow, and I think I have an idea, though I admit that I am more a tourist than an American these days–I haven’t lived here in more than 40 years.
It was 1971 when my mind started wandering. I had graduated from Indiana University at the end of the ’60s, identifying with “the movement,” a generation of university students like me pledged ourselves to making our country a better place for all its citizens, especially the disadvantaged ones and those oppressed by decades of overt and covert racism. We marched, we demonstrated, we volunteered, we helped. Then the ’60s came to an end, the Vietnam war came to an end, and for the most part, the movement came to an end.
I was wrapping up two years as the 11pm news anchor at a TV station in Indiana, ready to move on, and I decided to try out Israel. I’m still there.
Over the years, I’ve had repeated confirmation of my decision to cast my lot elsewhere. Not that Israel has no problems or lacks commitment to solve some of them–of course it has both. But there’s a feeling that something can be done, some things are being done, and I can help.
What I’m saying here isn’t scientific, and it isn’t a proper journalistic research piece, as if those still exist. These are my impressions.
Around a dinner table, I heard the rioters in Baltimore referred to as thugs, and no one batted an eyelash. On another occasion, I heard someone assert that he could fit all those responsible for the riots into his living room. No one mentioned the underlying reasons I listed at the top here.
Then I heard an interview with the mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, on WBAL, the Baltimore all-news station. It came a day after a black activist led demonstrations on freeway ramps, demanding that millions of dollars allocated to building a new jail for juveniles tried as adults be put into the schools instead. Traffic snarls resulted. The local paper reported “hours-long” tie-ups (they lasted about 20 minutes) and gave most of the coverage to a single local academic who criticized the demonstrations. On the jump page, the mayor was quoted as supporting the goals of the demonstration but criticizing the methods. That’s graf two where I come from.
But in the radio interview, she concentrated on the little freeway bustup–it was the police who blocked traffic, not the demonstrators, she would not tolerate such demonstrations and on and on–while the three anchors, at least two of them black like the mayor, badgered her about why police made no arrests. The three anchors continued talking about the issue for several minutes after the interview, and everything was about the inconvenience suffered by the drivers because of the demo.
Not a word, not a syllable, about the “inconvenience” of the people of Baltimore’s poor neighborhoods from lack of supermarkets, good schools and jobs. Nothing. I don’t live here, never have, but the ’60s part of me was absolutely outraged.
Maybe somewhere else, someone is talking about the root causes of the unrest. I didn’t see it or hear it. The fact that I’m still angry about this shows that the social injustices in this country can still get to me.
And the fact that they’re exactly the same problems that faced this society 50 years ago, and they’re still with us despite the progress that’s been made in many areas–that shows I was right to leave in 1972 and go someplace where I feel I can really make a difference.
Sometimes I hate it when I’m right.