For young people of color, growing up in Baltimore is often anything but Rockwellian.
Most of the community lives below the poverty line and there’s a widespread distrust of law enforcement. Consequently, for many of those young people, the recent death of Freddie Gray was a tipping point. On Monday, the frustration of a community boiled over into rioting and looting.
Kimberly Moffitt is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She says that the riots that took place earlier this week are just an outward expression of the local community’s dissatisfaction with what they perceive to be a severely biased criminal justice system.
“Young African American boys feel like they’ve become targets. Especially if they’re in particular communities,” Moffitt tells Take Two. “There’s this shift that starts to happen that we don’t any longer look at them as young children, but we’re actually viewing them as young adults who we consider to be guilty already, and to face levels of political violence as if they’ve already been accused of a crime. If that is a bias that, as adults, we’re bringing to the table or bringing into situations with young children, then what that does is breed an energy among young people where they’re reacting to what they’ve been subjected to for so long.”
Community activist Melech Thomas grew up in Baltimore. He says that members of the black community begin to understand their social status early on in life. “I remember being in some spaces where my school book was almost as old as my parent’s college degree, and my parents both graduated in the 1970s,” Thomas tells Take Two. “Because of the existential absurdity of what a lot of our young brothers and sisters in Baltimore have to deal with, this is a result of years and years of neglect and ignoring their cries for help and for justice.”
Many of the environmental factors that lead to Monday’s riots are not exclusive to Baltimore. USC law professor Jody Armour says that things may have been worse, had it not been for the Rampart Scandal. “As a result, there was a decree between the DOJ and the L.A.P.D., and the LAPD underwent some real reforms. Bratton was brought in, he had to move away from [the] broken windows approach and adopt those reforms and take a more community-oriented approach,” Armour explained. “Over the last five years, we’ve seen a 50% reduction in gang-related violence in L.A. under this new community-oriented approach at the L.A.P.D. [The] Sheriff’s Department is going to have to follow the example of the L.A.P.D. and undergo reform; [then] we can start to stave-off some of the issues going on in Baltimore.“
To hear more of today’s Baltimore youth roundtable, click the play button above.