Perspective on the Baltimore Riots

Like most people across America, I am deeply saddened by what is taking place in Baltimore right now. I have been asked to give my opinion several times, and to be honest, I don’t really have one. There are a lot of things running through my mind, but I have more questions than answers.

I am a white male in my 20’s. I grew up in the suburbs, and currently live in a low-income, urban neighborhood where I am a minority. I am a little more than an hour drive from Baltimore City, and while I have been there several times, I am not familiar with the inner-workings of the city.

One of the things that bothers me, perhaps even more than the riots themselves, is that many people on the Internet appear to suddenly be experts on the situation. There are a few of them that I’d like to stop and ask, “Have you even been to Baltimore?” Because if you’re not right there in the middle of the situation, can you really speak to what is taking place there? You may have some good thoughts, but even those are likely based on the very limited information you have.

I am one with limited information myself, but I’d like to share a few things I have observed over the past several months, with more and more incidents like Baltimore making their way into the headlines. My goal here is not to prove a point, but to offer perspective in an age where most of what we hear on the news is one extreme or the other.

  • Racism Still Exists in 2015

I am good friends with an African-American family of six that lives in the Midwest. They are your typical hard-working, God-fearing, respectable, middle-class family. The only difference between them and anyone else in their small town community is the color of their skin.

One morning, they awoke to find that their vehicle had been tagged with several choice words and racial slurs. The individuals who were responsible for this were later caught. As it turned out, they were students who went to school with two of the boys from this family.

Both the husband and wife have had to endure countless racist remarks, and have even been openly discriminated against in their places of employment. Yes, in 2015.

  • Sometimes, Angry People are Simply Looking for a Voice

It’s easy to divide people into categories, because if we label them, we can distance ourselves from them. But what there are no “angry people?” What if there are just people?

I have not met very many people who are angry over nothing. Sure, it may appear that way on the surface, but there is always more going on behind the scenes. For many people, their outbursts of anger are the result of deeply-held pain and anguish.

If I were black, it would probably bother me to hear people say things like, “It’s 2015, get over it already!” when I know very well that systemic racism still exists. It would probably bother me to hear people say, “But he was a criminal!” when an unarmed black man is shot and killed by the police. If this were to happen repeatedly, I would probably grow to be quite angry. Sure, I may not have the best perspective on the issue, but I would definitely feel a lot of raw and troubling emotions.

If this were me, I would probably take part in a peaceful protest in the streets. If the result of this decision was upper-middle-class white people harshly telling me to, “Go get a job and get over it!” I would likely get very emotional, and those emotions might get the best of me.

I doubt most people involved in the Baltimore riots took to the streets with the intention of hurting people and damaging property. Some may have, but the most likely did not. Still, in the heat of the moment, some of them may have resorted to some less peaceful methods of making their voice heard.

If I felt like I had no voice, I would probably yell and scream and do all sorts of things, if for nothing more to prove that I am human and my voice matters. If I crossed the line and engaged in some actions that I would later grow to regret, I would hope that people would try to understand my point of view, rather than writing me off and pushing me away. I would hope that people—Christians, especially—would build bridges of peace toward me, rather than spew words of hate.

  • We’re All Guilty

In the midst of the violence, President Obama stated, “That is not a protest … they need to be treated as criminals.”

While I do believe that people should be held responsibly for their actions, I don’t think that locking up everyone who participated in the looting and vandalism will keep this from happening again soon. I am not saying they should be given a free pass, but that we should be addressing the actual root of the problem, not just the fruit of it. We should be asking ourselves, “Why are these people acting the way that they are?”, rather than labeling them from a safe distance.

Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the way we relate to God. No longer are we given a rigid law to follow. Instead, God addresses the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). In other words, He looks at our inward motives, not just our outward actions.

If a criminal is defined as one who breaks the law, than anyone who exceeds the speed limit is also a criminal. That means I am a criminal, and you likely are too. I have engaged in criminal activity today, both intentionally and inadvertently. Obviously, different behaviors carry different consequences, but if we are going to live by the letter of the law, we have to go all the way with it.

We’re all guilty, and we all stand in need of mercy. The more we realize this, the more merciful we should be to others in response.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. … judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. ~ James 2:10, 13