Silence. That's the first thing you notice in Baltimore these days. No news crews. No Congressmen preening for the cameras. No angry crowds. No Geraldo. Anderson Cooper is nowhere in sight.
In May Baltimore set a record for the most murders in one month in city history. The last time it came even close to recording that many deaths was in the 1970's when the city's population was probably close to two hundred thousand people larger. Per capita, in other words, there has never been anything close to the slaughter that's occurring on the city's streets.
Yet, no one's talking. All the pundits that descended on Baltimore when Freddie Gray died in police custody have left. The marches are over. The Mayor is largely silent. People are dying; some of them only small children, and no one has anything to say.
Truth is there is a lot to say, but none of it fits with the knee jerk, politically correct commentary that passes for analysis and critical reasoning in many circles these days. Gray died after being arrested by police officers and placed in a van for transport to a police station. Whatever the truth of the circumstances of his death, about which I don't pretend to know anymore than anyone else, that situation lent itself readily to sloganeering and grandstanding. Another black man had died in police custody. This was evidence of ongoing and widespread abuse by police officers, and the victimized citizens of Baltimore needed to be defended. Gray's body was hardly cold before the posturing began.
As I noted above, I don't know anything more about how Freddie Gray died than what I have read in the news. Like most people I hope and pray that the justice system will uncover the truth and that, if crimes were committed, the guilty will be punished. The reality is, though, that the bloodbath Baltimore is currently experiencing does not have anything to do with police brutality or misconduct. Young black men are shooting and killing each other, and they are doing so out of desperation born of failed policies and years of pretense.
Hence the silence.
Silence, because 22 trillion dollars and 50 years after launching the "war on poverty" all the federal government's grand initiatives have failed to address the root causes of the poverty that is destroying entire cities and leaving young people without hope. Baltimore does not need "handouts". It needs jobs, and those have been hard to find in a state taxed to death and, until the recent election of Governor Hogan, notoriously unfriendly to business. Those have been hard to find, truth to tell, nationwide, under an Administration more focused on the idea of redistributing wealth and increasing spending than on economic growth and job creation.
Silence, because in an economy increasingly "knowledge based", Baltimore's schools are abysmal, and even high school graduates are likely unprepared for anything other than the most basic, minimum wage positions. The schools need dramatic reform, but that would entail criticizing an entrenched bureaucracy of administrators and bureaucrats that care more about the status quo than the children they are supposed to educate. Parents and true educators must take a backseat to political expediency.
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Silence because Baltimore is the largest city in a state, which has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, and those laws have done exactly nothing to stop the bleeding. The reason is not hard to understand. Maryland's gun laws focus on the issues of "assault rifles", background checks and firearms safety training. None of those have anything at all to do with what is happening now. Virtually no one in Baltimore gets killed with "long guns", which are expensive and hard to hide. Virtually no one in Baltimore gets killed with a gun that was purchased through legal channels. People die everyday when shot with small, cheap, illegal handguns procured via channels that completely circumvent all of the legal procedures Maryland so carefully crafted.
Silence, because what is happening in Baltimore is that the social fabric is literally disintegrating. This is not a problem that lends itself to government programs, rules, regulations and appropriations. This is a problem to be solved by parents, teachers, clergy and the community as a whole. It turns out it does make a difference how children are raised and who raises them.
Silence, because reality is uncomfortable. Silence, because, to quote Al Gore, the truth is inconvenient. Baltimore needs change. It needs policies that address the reality of its condition and give its people hope. It needs massive, structural educational reform. It needs economic growth that produces jobs that will support a family and give a young man or woman something to aspire to and live for. It needs effective policing and security for all its citizens. It needs community.
All of that is possible, but first we have to admit that change is necessary. For many of the "talking heads" and politicians that appeared in flocks in the days after Freddie Gray died, that apparently is something they can't or won't do. So, for now the murders will continue. There have already been more than a dozen this month. The city will continue to bleed, and all we will hear will be silence. Long, uncomfortable silence.