What really happened in Baltimore last night

It’s an easy and simplified perspective to see the protestors in Baltimore as thugs and unlawful criminals.   I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen  the word ‘animal’ used to describe the children caught up in the melee.  Have we become such a indifferent society that it easy to objectify children?

What you’re seeing in Baltimore are the effects of community trauma.  Baltimore is a city that has struggled with extreme pockets of poverty, drug addiction, high rates of crime, inadequate social resources and emptiness.  Baltimore was once a city of proud working class residents and was vibrant.  There are still areas that are charming, beautiful and thriving.  However, various social and political forces have divided the city between the have and have nots and the have nots have very little.  Driving through some neighborhoods, one can easily feel overwhelmed by the blight.  There are once beautiful, brownstone homes that are boarded up, but still inhabited. Rats run freely through the streets, businesses have fled and a sense of hopelessness if prevalent.   There has been over policing, which has not decreased the crime rate, but increased the frustration and anger from people who have complained about abuse of power.

So here we are in a place that has finally erupted.   Chronic exposure to trauma, stress, poverty, instability, literally changes the brain.  Specifically, it interrupts the part of the brain that controls emotions, the ability to regulate responses, aggressiveness, inattentiveness and impulsivity.  Imagine the brains of children who have no choice but to bear witness to violence in their communities and sometimes their own homes.  Imagine witnessing your father, brother, cousin being carted off by the police only to learn that he died from a severed spine?  How do you process this?   How do you learn how to express your feelings in an appropriate manner and not risk being seen as ‘weak’ or a ‘punk’.  We live in a hyper-masculine society where males are taught from a young age that you don’t talk about feelings?  The brain suffers and the ability to self-regulate becomes compromised.

Exposure to toxic or chronic stress will interrupt the ability to learn.  It causes anxiety and depression. Further, it causes chronic health problems.  These children aren’t animals.  They are victims of an environment that cannot meet their needs for nurturance and safety.   The rioting and looting is a an extreme example of the manifestation of toxic stress and hopelessness.   I don’t condone violence or other criminal behavior.  However, I understand the neurological, psychological and sociological causes.

But why do they tear up their own community?  This question presumes that there is a sense of ownership to things in the community.  Many of these families don’t own their homes.  They don’t own the businesses.   But more importantly, rage from oppression, racism and chronic poverty would bring out the worst in most of us.  Rage is an aftereffect, not a character flaw.

I ask that as you view what is going on in Baltimore and perhaps in your own home, evaluate it with a wider lens and critical eye.