How you can stand with Baltimore

This originally appeared on OnFaith.

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr…they're all inundated with posts on #BaltimoreUprising—some defending the police, others the protesters, and others questioning if what happened to Freddie Gray would have happened to them. Through the deluge of posts, what rings true inside and outside of faith communities is that no one can agree on much of anything.

The woman who lashed out at her son for his involvement in the riots got a few laughs, that is, until some realized that maybe there is something to be said about enjoying the sight of a black woman hitting a young black man while speaking out against violence against a pharmacy.

You have no doubt seen one family member suggest that people stop breaking the law if they don’t want to put their lives at risk, and maybe (hopefully) you’ve thought to yourself, “Would police have killed me if I had been the one in that situation? Is it reasonable to use lethal force when you are not threatened?”

You have no doubt watched as one friend writes something to the effect of, “All this violence is misdirected…they need to be calm and collected if they want to change things…I support the police,” only to be rebuked by another friend who writes, “Their rage is totally legitimate, and they have been trying for years and decades or longer to make their lives and their neighborhood better. They have been ignored…or worse. I support the rioters and protestors.”

The only thing anyone can seem to agree on is that we all want it to be over…we just cannot agree on what “it” is.

Inaction and avoidance is not an option—not for the churched, the unchurched, or the dechurched. The following points are derived from a post by Aaron Scott in Seattle, Washington, after she participated in a conference call with folks on the ground in Baltimore.

Thought #1: Poverty is violence.

If you cannot acknowledge this, you are missing out on a humongous chunk of reality. Poverty itself is violence against those who are impoverished, and every ignored murder, every economic move to disadvantage entire segments of the population, and many other actions or inactions are violent ones. Poverty is violence.

Thought #2: It is not only black men and boys who are targeted by state violence.

No, I’m not siding with the ridiculous articles by conservative think tanks that are using unsubstantiated “statistics” and “studies” to insist that something like 80% of the victims of killings by police are white. I have yet to actually find a credible study, though I certainly welcome one. From what I can tell, there is no official set of statistics because there are completely insufficient records. Not only black men and boys are targeted by state violence; black women and girls (including black trans women and girls such as Mya Hall, Rekia Boyd, and Tanisha Anderson), have also been killed by police under more than questionable circumstances.

Thought #3: The problem in Baltimore is not between “bad” protesters and “good” ones.

The problem is the preexisting condition of poverty and repression against poor and working-class Black Baltimoreans. Say it with me, “Poverty is violence.”

Action #1: Do not go to Baltimore unless somebody working on the ground invites you.

If no one who is working on the ground in Baltimore asks you to come join them, stay where you are and mobilize around similar issues at home.

Action #2: Focus on the voices and strategies of the poor and working Black youth.

Listen to these young people speak in their own words and terms, not as told through intermediaries, filtered for “respectability.”

Action #3: Act in solidarity with those in Baltimore.

You can act in solidarity by praying, by using hashtags #BaltimoreUprising and #IStandWithBaltimore, and by lifting up the coalition work of Baltimore United for Change.

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Do these things, but first, take a step back from conversations you are watching or those in which you are participating. Notice how in arguing we often seek to relieve our own guilt by pointing fingers and finding escape hatches to a more comfortable conscience. Avoid that. This and just about every situation is more complicated than "bad" and "good." One cannot condemn violence by rioters without acknowledging how they have been victims of violence far too much for far too long.

Above all, don't lose track of anyone's humanity...doing so is what got us here in the first place.

The Reverend Curtis Farr

The Rev’d Curtis A. Farr arrived at St. James’s in May of 2013 to serve as the associate rector. He received his M.Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2013 and was ordained to the priesthood that June. Before seminary, Curtis earned a B.A. in English from Washington State University in 2009 and spent a year teaching English in Quito, Ecuador. With a passion for equipping Christians for ministry, he spends a great deal of energy in preaching, coordinating formation programs for youth and adults, and connecting parishioners to service and advocacy opportunities.