I have been struggling with what I wanted to write about this month. The editors always want me to discuss the contents of the edition and I always want to discuss social issues.
Since I’m the boss, I usually win.
I was about to cave in and discuss this wonderful issue on the Baltimore arts scene when I finally got around to opening a stack of mail on my desk. Lo and behold, there was hate mail.
Some of you may remember, I wrote previously about how much I love hate mail. It inspires me. Occasionally it makes me think about things from a different perspective. Mostly, however, the mail comes from the depths of someone’s own anger and hate. Mr. B, a Pikesville resident, was the sender.
Mr. B told me that when a “Black person is shot by a white police person rioting always breaks out …” But he goes on, “Why don’t colored people do anything when a black person kills another black person?” He also tells me things were much better in the Baltimore of the 1930s and ‘40s when “we had better police and politicians.” His last line was to tell me that we need a “two-way street on crime.”
I’m not sure where to start. First, I have trouble explaining to an 85-year-old man that he is completely warped in his thinking. But of course, he is. I assure you black folks hate when black folks commit any crime. They also hate when anyone commits a crime. As white folks, we feel the same way. Does Mr. B really think that black people enjoy being the target of crime?
Where Mr. B goes even more wrong is that he doesn’t see a policeman killing a black man as anything more than just another crime. It is way more than that. That a black male is way more likely to be killed by the police is a measure of the degree to which racism is ingrained in the minds of law enforcement and society as a whole. Racism is revealed by a greater likelihood to shoot, or beat, or kneel on the neck of a black person than a white person in identical situations. Until the age of ubiquitous video phones, the police would simply invent a rationale — resisting arrest, etc. Does anyone think that George Floyd was resisting arrest when the police officer murdered him? If you do, you should be required to watch the video 10 times and then explain to god what you saw.
It’s also important to keep in mind that policing issues are only the tip of the iceberg. It is what jumps out and makes folks pay attention but is also just a sign of a bigger problem. Black folks, and others of color, are often treated as second-class citizens. To claim it was better in the ‘30s and ‘40s when we had “better police and politicians” is really saying it was better in the days when all policemen and politicians were white, when black folks were quieter when they were murdered, and the black folks were too scared to protest. Mr. B, it wasn’t a problem because it wasn’t your problem.
By the way, Mr. B, you complained about “looting” in the letter, but I would advise watching something other than conservative cable stations. The amazing part of the protests has been how amazingly non-violent and peaceful they have been for the most part.
Mr. B, what I really think we need is a two-way street on race relations. We need to treat everyone equally and with love and respect. We need to make sure job and educational opportunities are equal. We need to make sure policemen don’t commit murder on anyone.
We need to care as much about a black man dying as we do a Jewish man dying. I invite you to join today’s world. Hiding in the blissful ignorance of the 1950s doesn’t mean the problems didn’t exist back then or now.
Scott Rifkin, MD, Publisher