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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Baltimore Is a Wreck, but Yes, We Are Okay

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Baltimore Is a Wreck, but Yes, We Are Okay

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out of the light star
As word of Baltimore's troubles becomes national and now international news, people are starting to contact me, so I'm going to start by saying that Bobby and I are fine. We live about an hour northwest of where the worst of the violence and rioting is taking place. I am in school right now; almost no students are here (14--the attendance list just came in), since City schools closed today. Social media is reporting that there will be a riot at Security Square Mall, which is about a mile from my school. That is the closest it should come to either of us. (And my school is in a business park, not a commercial district, so no, I don't think there is much risk of any chaos at Security reaching us. Hopefully, they will preemptively close the mall today as they did Mondawmin Mall yesterday and Towson Town Center last night, due to similar social media activity.)

I thank everyone for your thoughts and concerns. Please think of my students, many of whom do live in the areas affected (and many of whom will get themselves embroiled with the chaos).

We were supposed to have a field day today, but that has been canceled due to the potential violence at Security.

Huffington Post has a good article summarizing everything so far. Some of the pictures are staggering. I am bitterly disappointed that yet again an opportunity for peaceful protest and constructive dialogue has been hijacked by a spectacle of violence and chaos, but the picture of the woman "looting" a CVS for diapers? Does kind of say it all.

The short version: a young African American man, Freddie Gray, died in Baltimore City Police custody after suffering a broken spine and trachea. His family pleaded for peace, and there were peaceful protests this weekend, but you know that if any city was going to turn up, it would be Baltimore. As I said, I am disappointed that the chance to turn attention and possibly inspire change on the very real problem of racial bias and brutality among U.S. police departments (and the BCPD is a very well known offender) will instead turn into gawking once again at the chaos. I've been talking to my students about what is going on; I can assure you that what motivates what is going on in Baltimore as I write this is not rage at injustice or a desire for change. As one student told me this morning, watching the riots on TV last night, he thought it "looked fun." I've been trying to talk with them to help them see the social justice issues that are at the heart of this--and we read MLK's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" earlier this year and they went to see Selma, so they have that background--and maybe consider how doing things just because they "look fun" might hijack that movement for justice and end up providing the means for injustice to be further perpetuated. But, as I told a friend this morning, it is like trying to talk down a tsunami.

It was illustrative when I went on Slate last night, and almost every article at the top of the page was about Baltimore, and most of the titles had the tone of "We knew Baltimore was bad but damn."

It is a sad time for a lot of reasons, and my feelings are extremely complicated right now.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • I'm glad you are okay! I have your addy but didn't remember exactly where it was, which is why I didn't ask.

    I hope things get better over there.
    • Maryland and Baltimore tend to become synonymous since we're such a tiny state and Baltimore is smack in the middle of it all. To look at a map, it doesn't look like I'm that far at all.

      I hope everything gets better, but I'm afraid that this is just the beginning. Any trials that come as a result of this are sure to bring more uproar, just like in Ferguson. I doubt there will be any convictions, since it seems all the evidence is circumstantial, and U.S. juries almost always favor police.
  • I'm glad to know you are ok. I hope that the worst of the trouble will not come too close to you and your students. Though I am saddened to hear that they seem to think that the violence "looks fun". :(
    • Most of them come from a background where the streets are romanticized, even though most of them are scared of their own shadows. A few actually do have real backgrounds on the streets, in gang violence, etc. But most of them want to look tough by inventing involvement or interest that often doesn't really exist.

      The ones I worry about are those without a lick of sense and not much in the way of adult supervision outside of school.

      I hope it will pass soon too, but I worry that this will be like Ferguson, and any trials that come out of it will provoke new waves of violence.
      • I saw this on my fb page (from the Nursing Clio page) and thought I would send it on: https:// medium.com/ @austinmccoy/ the-logic-of-rebellion-68946b7a44b
  • When I saw all the pictures from Baltimore on the news this morning (there was very little in the way of information) the first thing I did was think of you. But I knew you lived outside of the city and that you'd probably be all right. I'm surprised that your school is open at all, but maybe it's a good thing that it is.

    Anyway, my best wishes go out to you, Dawn. It certainly must be disturbing to be close to the mess that's going down, your thoughts and feelings in turmoil and not sure how to respond. I know you worked at the police department at one time and probably still know some of the people.
    • The school ended up closing early, at noon. City schools were closed, so those students didn't come in (except two from group homes that sent them in despite a lack of bus service and no provisions for how they were going to get home. *facepalm*)

      A lot of the turmoil comes from very much recognizing the problems that exist in our criminal justice system and systemic problems with poverty and lack of opportunity that produce the kinds of conditions where these sorts of incidents can occur, while simultaneously loathing loathing loathing the street/gang culture that also produces this sort of thing. It's a very push-pull feeling, and the fact that I'm white, middle-class, and privileged doesn't help.

      I used to work for parole and probation and worked with several retired BCPD cops. Thankfully, I don't know anyone who is currently active, and I'm grateful for that.
  • How terrible. I'm glad you and your school are doing okay. But so disheartening that some of your students think the rioting and looting looks like fun (I wonder though if that sort of flippant statement, even if true, might be masking a more insidious and frankly not entirely unjustified sense of resentment/retribution).
    • Actually, I think most of the tough talk is an act. These are the same kids where I managed to strike terror in their hearts over a pair of Canada geese! And if there is a spider in the classroom?? OMG! Most of them are scared of their own shadows but come from a background where being "street" is romanticized.

      I know there is anger and resentment--and justifiably so--and I do believe that this provides the excuse for this sort of thing. But I do think it is just an excuse. It is hard to take violence and mayhem as an act of social justice from students who show no interest in effecting political or social change, even to the extent of registering to vote when they turn 18. If I had a dime for every time I've been told "I don't care about that shit" when trying to teach texts or history related to social justice! Especially when the victim's family and community leaders are calling for peace, and those who are committing the violence were conspicuously absent from the peaceful protests that went on this weekend, I just don't believe the violence is about really effecting change.
  • I'm glad you're okay! What you said about peaceful movements being hijacked and disappointment pretty much sums up my thoughts about it.
    • Yep. A lot more people should be outraged at the barbarism with which U.S. citizens are treated by those who swear to "protect and serve." The violence and mayhem only turns attention from that.
  • I am sorry for your troubles. Violence has to be conroled on both sides. Civil servants shouldn't be killing kids and respespectable citizens shouldn't cause others grief that had nothing to due with the case. Please,stay safe. I don't mean to sound fearful, but people rioting is dangerous. Police can be trusted just don't throw rocks at them. People also don't have to be injured. I am hoping for the best. Justice will e served. Thanks.

    • Thank you. I am actually nowhere near the violence; I live in a rural town about an hour outside of Baltimore. I do work in a school in Baltimore County, near the city-county line, but not in an area that is likely to be of interest to rioters, unless they are interested in robbing a carpet store and a print shop. :)
  • So happy to hear you are safely clear of everything.
  • I hope things soon calm down. I'm glad you are safe.
    • Me too. The National Guard had to be called in, so that should quell the worst of it. Bobby and I went out for Thai tonight, and they had on news coverage in the restaurant, and seeing the family businesses that were completely demolished was heartbreaking.
  • For some reason... I just assumed you'd be ok. Otherwise Bobby would not have allowed you to go. I think.

    I managed to read one small mention of the riots (superbusy day at work, landscaping stuff at home and many other things), but I also saw and read this. I do hope more moms like her felt so ashamed of their sons wanting to partake for the fun of it.

    But, as I told a friend this morning, it is like trying to talk down a tsunami.

    Sure, it will feel like a drop... yet you are planting seeds of awareness and you know, even if the seed takes root at one of your kids.. it is at least one who knows now he should know better. And you are not sitting back, not at the very least.

    • He probably wouldn't. We have ultimate veto power on each other's potentially dangerous/foolish activities. It's not something that we use very often, but since we both take risks sometimes (professionally and recreationally!), it exists to give the other one peace of mind. He's not allowed to snowboard down sheer cliff faces, for instance, and I'm not allowed to use fire props in bellydance! :D

      Our director would have closed the school if there was danger. As it was, she sent the kids home early for a half-day, held a brief all-staff once they were gone, and then sent us home too.

      On Ms. Graham ... yes, she has become something of an instant celebrity here in Baltimore. :) And I think that a large part of that is because she represents resistance to one of the major problems that allowed these riots to occur. So many children in the city are held to no accountability by their parents, and their parents are barely involved in their lives. Yes, some of that has to do with poverty: A mom working night shifts is going to have a hard time monitoring how her kids spend their evenings. But that's not all of it. I see it all the time at my school: Kids who have to have an IEP meeting rescheduled three and four times because we can't even get the parent to pick up the phone for a meeting that has been scheduled weeks in advance. Our "Parent Night" last week had about four parents attend. It's easy to conclude that these parents simply don't care.

      A lot of the unrest in Baltimore was caused by high school kids. Those kids belong to someone. They have parents. Where the hell were there parents? What kind of parent wouldn't be sick to death with worry, knowing that there was literally rioting in the streets, and they could not account for their child?

      I am not generally in favor of corporal punishment for children, but my hat's off to Ms. Graham, and her remarks when she was interviewed were very inspiring too.

      And thank you for the encouraging words. :) One must believe that every little bit does count or it's impossible to do this kind of work.
  • When I heard that school was cancelled there on the news I was relieved on your behalf; it didn't occur to me that your school might be open anyway! I guess I forgot about it being a private school meant it might not follow the rest of the city.

    I'm glad that you are okay!

    I'm not surprised that kid thought it "looked like fun". Teens these days in general seem to be desensitized to most violence. Media is saturated with it, and being a part of something that everyone knows will be on the news seems like a chance to be part of some cool reality show. Add in the fact that most adolescents seem to have difficulty with the concept of consequences?

    At least you've had the chance to insert some ideas in their heads.
    • We ended up sending the kids home early, at noon, and we were allowed to leave at 1:30, but we're in Baltimore County, so we follow County closings, and they did not close for the day. (There was no reason. Aside from some threats against malls in the County that never manifested, most of the unrest was in highly concentrated areas of the city.) Today, everything was open again, but attendance was still really low.

      I'm not surprised that kid thought it "looked like fun".

      I'm always rather surprised when people are surprised, honestly! :D It must have looked like getting a chance to live GTA, plus be without rules for a while. And yeah ... teenagers usually aren't the best decision makers. ;)
  • I'm glad you're okay! And I too am disappointed (or more accurately, wearily resigned, I guess) by the reactions to the rioting rather than to the problem.
    • Yep. I think some people wait for something like this to happen to say, "Oh good! Now we can focus on the riots and forget about the catalysts that created this situation in the first place!"

      It always amazes me how cool people are with the fact that law enforcement can just indiscriminately maim and kill citizens without consequences. I suppose I'm guilty of putting myself in other people's shoes too much; I always assume the person maimed/killed could be me or someone I love.
  • I'm really glad you're okay. In fact, I got on LJ today to see if you'd made a post about what is happening there. I'm remembering the rioting that occurred in the 60s in a lot of innercities and disheartened to think that we're back to this. Thank goodness we had Martin Luther King leading the civil rights movement with non-violent resistance, or it could have been worse. And he in turn was convinced by the writings of Gandhi. It's the long way to change but the only one which will ultimately work, so I'm very glad you're talking to your kids about it. As a society we seem ill-equipped to deal with complex situations that don't have quick-fix answers. We can see the factors that lead to this kind of behavior, but ignore them until they erupt like this. Then the response is more suppression. There is no excuse for the kind of brutality many police officers engage in, but from their perspective, when all you see are criminals you get inured to it. It becomes like fighting a war in which brutality is the norm. And the culture of violence becomes the norm, on all sides. And nothing changes as long as young people have no hope for anything better. So, as I said, I'm glad you're talking to your kids, trying to get them to think. Personally, I think a nationwide CCC type program that put kids to work doing productive things that they could be proud of and that teaches them skills would go a long way towards helping this.
    • It is a very complex situation, which is why I always feel such turmoil in situations like this. I recognize the serious problems with racial bias that this country has in law enforcement and the courts. I know the stories my African American friends tell me of being subject to extra scrutiny and suspicion, and these are professional people! They aren't the "thugs" many like to believe are the subject of such attention. And I have seen my share of students' futures ruined because they get tangled with the law, and the law always takes precedence over their education, it seems. (Baltimore City Detention Center no longer offers high school courses, only GED courses, so even though my students are legally entitled to a public education until the age of 21, they often fall so far behind that they can't catch up once they're out again. I'm convinced that that is illegal, but who is going to take up the cause of a "thug"?) We have some serious work to do to truly realize justice in this country. But I also loathe the glorification of violence and gang activity to which so many of my students are prone, and my experience with the kids I teach tells me that most of the people involved in the unrest didn't give a hoot about Freddie Gray or social justice. It is notable that I haven't heard a single student say "Freddie Gray" since it happened, even though most of what they want to talk about right now is the riots.

      Most of the kids I teach simply have no vision of a real future for themselves. If they have any answer to where they see themselves in the future, they want to be rappers or ball players, never mind that they haven't written a set of lyrics in their life and the extent of their ball-playing is against their peers in the gym after lunch. Most of them are so behind in school by the time they reach me that it's unlikely that they will ever make it through college, even if they can get to that point. Addressing such a crippling lack of hope for oneself really feels very insurmountable sometimes because it comes back to such a tangled web of systemic problems that creates it in the first place so that even giving them a first-class education is not enough.
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