After Baltimore: It’s Time to Make Things Right
From slavery to police brutality, reconciliation begins with the truth.
On May 1st, 2015, Baltimore’s State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that six officers from the Baltimore Police Department will be charged for the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
“I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace’,” Mosby said in response to the tens of thousands of protesters who occupied the city’s streets this week.
It seems that in Baltimore, activism paid off. Freddie Gray will not join the long list of black people who die anonymously at the hands of law enforcement. Mosby’s statement demonstrated that killing has consequences—even when the victims are young black men; even when the killers are police officers.
The prosecution is an important step, but only a beginning.
More than 50 years after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and six years after the inauguration of an African American president, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood is suffering from unemployment rates above 50 percent, and life expectancy is 10 years shorter than the national average. The exclusion and impoverishment of people of color continues, as does state-sponsored violence against them.
So is there hope of taking on racism?
This is what we asked as we developed the upcoming summer issue of YES! Magazine, “Make It Right.”
Noted civil rights leader Fania Davis guided us as we explored this question. Davis believes that restorative justice processes can be used to forge new futures based on transformed relationships, recognition of one another’s humanity, and new social structures. Her restorative justice work—which she practices in the Oakland, California, school system—involves truth-telling encounters, deep dialogue, acknowledging harms, and taking action to make things as right as possible.
That gives us a roadmap. It means we own uncomfortable truths: That this country’s wealth was created by the forced labor of kidnapped Africans using land taken by violence and duplicity from Native peoples. That the trauma continued after emancipation through convict labor, lynching, land grabs, Jim Crow laws, job and housing discrimination, and other practices that excluded African Americans from economic opportunities. Native peoples saw the intentional destruction of their culture and livelihoods, their children taken away to residential schools where they were physically and sexually abused.
The result of this brutality is enormous wealth for some (almost exclusively white people) while others are left impoverished.
Acknowledging this truth is a first step toward reconciliation. Just as important is looking for the many ways injustice continues in our communities, workplaces, relationships, and in the criminal justice system—and working to make it right.
If we want to someday live in the Beloved Community envisioned by Rev. King, it will mean acknowledging the pain and anger, along with the love. It will mean the descendants of slaves and slave traders meet face to face and make peace. It will mean acknowledging that some of our revered universities were founded by men who fostered genocide. It will mean making real change in our police system and in the systems that create poverty, and ending mass incarceration. And it will mean drawing upon the best of our spiritual teachings on healing wounds. If we do that hard, challenging work, day by day—with anger, at times, and with compassion—we can begin to make it right.
Listen to Sarah van Gelder’s interview with radio host Marc Steiner about the making of this issue of YES! Magazine.