My City in Flames

by Alan Jennings

Most people who know me know that I am a diehard fan of the Baltimore Orioles. I am from Hagerstown, Maryland. My family could only afford vacations returning home to visit aunts, uncles, grandparents. I learned racism there. It was weird: one of my baseball heroes was

Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson; I never understood why people who looked like my baseball hero were getting beat up by people who looked like my father, simply because of the color of their skin. I remember driving, on the way to old Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street, past the row houses charred by the riots in 1968. Tonight the Orioles game was postponed because Baltimore is in flames again. It is painful, sad, disgusting how little progress has been made in these 40 years.

I am obsessed with fairness. I have spent my life getting between the bully and his target. I have fought like hell trying desperately to make a difference. With a lot of help from so many good people in the Lehigh Valley I have created the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, helped the marginalized buy their first home, start a business. And, yet, I am despondent over how little progress has been made.

Watching cops shoot black men running for their lives, then planting a Taser at the feet of the dead body – it seems like a modern day lynching. We’ve gotten better at screwing people of color out of the liberty and justice for all that we fool ourselves believing we really care about. We know all the tricks: we use zoning rules to require minimum lot sizes, the only real purpose of which is to exclude; we pay for and govern our so-called public schools in ways that can only be characterized as educational apartheid; we cut funding year after year for programs that can make a difference and then say, “See? Government doesn’t work.”

And we deny we are racist. We get indignant when people of color point out, over and over, the many ways we clearly are. Imagine: you get mistreated, left out, shot in the back and you’re not allowed to point out that you’re being mistreated, left out, shot in the back.

There is no excuse for the looting.  It defies reason that they are looting the best assets in their neighborhood. And focusing on the looting when there are hundreds of people peacefully pointing out that we have very real problems seems almost like it is designed to let ourselves off the hook.

After this op-ed runs, read the comments people post. People hiding in the shadows will make ugly, despicable comments. Your coworkers will say things to you that they must know they shouldn’t say but they won’t be able to help themselves. I will get emails from friends who will be outraged by what I’ve written.

They know enough to know it is a bad thing to be racist. But they don’t know enough to realize how racist they are. In fact, my friend, Ed DeGrace, says denying there is racism is the new form of racism.

Folks, we can do better. We can be better. You can stay in Lala Land or you can stand up. You can turn your back or you can face the truth. You can take more or you can give more.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But nothing will change if each of us doesn’t search our souls looking for a way to douse the flames of hatred that are just too damned real. When will we stop blaming the victims? How many times do you have to have the door slammed in your face? How many times do you have to be kicked when you’re down before you take to the streets? Time’s up, America.  It’s time we hugged the stranger, loved our neighbor, understood oppression, unlearned racism, fessed up to our role, asked for forgiveness and found a way to be better people.

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