Seismic Shift

Baltimore State Attorney

Baltimore State Attorney

My muscles trembled when I read these words from Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, “Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to bring justice for Freddie Gray.” Until then the earth had rotated around the sun sixty three times and I’d never once allowed myself to perceive that state attorneys and local district and even city attorneys ever worked for me or on my behalf. I mean “me” in the sense that Freddie Gray represents my children, dad, brother, and me, Black people. And I worked for the L.A. County Sheriff for eighteen years.

State and local district attorneys until that moment always represented the majority population and law enforcement community like Maryland Governor Larry Hogan did when he spoke at the news conference on why he sent in National Guard troops and then again when Major General Linda Singh, the Maryland Army National Guard’s Adjutant General, let viewers know that her job was to get Baltimore back to business. The reality is, notwithstanding inaction of Los Angeles County district attorney and California Attorney General on police misconduct over the years; we (me and you) are the people, too. It took the statement and actions of thirty-five year old State Attorney Mosby, who also happens to be Black, to remind me of my own humanity, status, and citizenship.

Woo hoo! She deserves a seat next to Harriet Tubman, Miriam Mekeba, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Elizabeth Eckford for raw courage. If you don’t know who Eckford is, and you probably don’t, Google it.

Mosby’s stance reminded me of my daughter’s graduation commencement from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley in 2004. I expected to see and hear what I’d heard twenty four years before when I graduated business school. My sights were set on money, Wall Street, as were my fellow graduates. I expected the UCB graduating class to only talk about personal goals, how they’d already lined up jobs with big corporations and consulting firms but that’s not what happened.

Every student on stage that day spoke of changing the world for the better. They had a collective agenda to bring to fruition I guess what secondary schools had taught them about MLK Jr. and others and maybe what they witnessed happening in the Middle East and South Africa at the time. I don’t know for sure but what I believe is that Mosby’s efforts show a paradigm shift; in California we’d call it an earthquake. It’s a change to put in to action what most of my generation had only talked about. It’s change from the inside out. From the very start the revolt was driven by youth in Baltimore, surprisingly, as young as high school. The same situation existed in Ferguson, L.A., and New York. I couldn’t have marched twelve miles if my life depended on it but youth did in L.A. after the Grand Jury failure in Ferguson.

Today my daughter works in education in Chicago and many of her friends and former UCB classmates are about the business of saving the world from what mine and previous generations have messed up. It’s a new business, not the one espoused by Major General Singh in Baltimore.

I support the change.

Another shift is needed however. That happens when “most outstanding police officers” defy the code of silence and police union bluster and  hold one another accountable which they don’t now do. It’s easy to talk about low police morale but few in the media, police fraternal orders, and so-called civic leaders will call out police on their protectiveness of their own even when it’s detrimental to the whole. Is Baltimore police morale highest when they mete out street justice as in Freddie Gray? One thing is apparent, the people of West Baltimore’s morale is never high when it comes to engagement with BPD.

As a public servant for forty years I’d flush down the toilet any employee whose actions were detrimental to the public and to the reputation of those of us dedicated to serving. But then again, I considered myself a public servant, someone who works for and on behalf of the public and that public in effect, were my bosses. In my view, despite what’s written on police cars about protect and serve, most cops in urban areas don’t view themselves as public servants in the true sense. If this was not so, many would not be so amenable to meting out violence, especially toward people of color. At some point violence action is met reciprocally.