Unarmed African-American men are shot and killed by police at a disturbing rate. The latest victim to garner national attention is Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man from Baltimore who was illegally arrested and died after sustaining a spinal cord injury while in police custody.
Today, Gray’s death has been ruled a homicide, and charges will be filed against six police officers involved in his death. Preceding today’s breaking news, major media outlets have championed the unsettling sentiment that the Baltimore protesters are merely “thugs” and portrayed the entire movement as a “riot,” exercising outright disregard for the struggles of the people of Baltimore.
Martin Luther King Jr. made one important point about riots — “A riot is the language of the unheard.“ While not condoning the violence, we cannot lose focus of the problem — rising inequity between haves and have-nots, a pattern of unwarranted lethal force against people of color, and a continuing dismissive attitude about these conditions by the American public.
Protests broke out on Monday after Freddie Gray’s funeral. News media covered the protests with a grossly imbalanced lens. While the majority, such as the 10,000 peaceful protesters marching in Baltimore, were mostly overlooked, the media turned it’s full attention to those looting stores and destroying property. Baltimore’s cry for change was quickly reduced to a “riot.” Social media users fought back against this unfair narrative, and within hours, the hashtag “#BaltimoreRiots”transformed to “#BaltimoreUprising.”
We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the consistent underlying factors that spark such unrest. Protesters came to voice their concerns and frustration over the lack of progress in the on-going discord between law enforcement and black communities that has plagued American cities for decades. There has been little attention given to the undeniably high poverty rates in Baltimore, where 28 percent of the African-American population lives below the federal poverty line — nearly double the rate among whites.
We can’t rewrite history, but by directly addressing the issues that led to these protests – rather than the mere symptoms – we can determine a better future for America.[Contact: Riham Osman, Communications Coordinator, email@example.com]