“Why Doesn’t This Happen More Often?”

Today I’m honored to share with you a guest post by Andy DeVos.  Andy originally wrote this as a post on Facebook and has given me permission to repost it here. I myself haven’t read (or watched) all of the resources that Andy recommends and I am planning to work my way through them over the next few months. Andy has managed to set down in prose many of the thoughts that have been in so many disconnected pieces in my head and I’m grateful that you’re able to read them today.

Andy and I attend the same church, Faith Christian Fellowship.  Andy is the husband of Nicole, the father of a two-year-old daughter, and a PhD candidate in the  Language, Literacy, and Culture program at UMBC.  His academic research focuses on race relations history and race in popular media.  He has been working with urban youth for the past 15 years and has lived in Baltimore most of his life. Andy is currently the Information Technology Coordinator at City Springs Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City.

IMG_0893 (800x600)Andy’s daughter with Ellie and Mark at a recent play date in Sherwood Gardens

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[Originally published on Facebook, Wednesday, April 28, 2015]

The day after the unrest in Baltimore City, many are asking, “Why did this happen?” Sadly, I find myself asking, “Why doesn’t this happen more often?” The violent incidents that occurred last night and this morning were tragic, deplorable, and self-defeating. But they are also totally unsurprising and utterly predictable. Explaining why something happens is not the same as justifying or excusing it. There is no justification, but there are reasons, and they deserve a hearing.

Many years ago, I began serving and later working with kids from cities like Baltimore. I came in with a head full of easy answers and arrogant solutions to urban problems. “If only ‘these people’ would do X, Y, & Z, these communities would be fine.” Nearly two decades later, I feel like I’ve learned more than I’ve taught, have gotten more than I’ve given, and have had all my wisdom turned on its head.

Here is the sum of what I’ve learned: the issues that fueled these events are incredibly, irreducibly complicated. I see on social media people both Right and Left using this as an opportunity to beat their political drum, but neither is dealing honestly with the complexity of the situation. Likewise, the media specializes in sensationalism and slant. Even the best news stories can’t account for all of the variables that have made inner cities in Baltimore, L.A., N.Y., and a hundred other places tinder boxes waiting for a match. After the National Guard pulls out and the news cycle moves on to the next ‘big thing,’ the poverty and despair that sparked this will still be there. This will happen again somewhere, maybe here, relatively soon. That’s not very cheery, but it’s simply true.

I have a lot of Facebook friends living in or outside of Baltimore that seem at a loss to explain what’s happening. My encouragement to you is this: in whatever capacity possible, be willing to listen to the voices of people who have lived and continue to live through the experience of urban poverty. It may challenge your ideas about race, about policing, about the American Dream and America itself. It might be very hard to hear and might make you extremely uncomfortable or angry. Be willing to sit in the fire (metaphorically speaking). You may just come away a little wiser and humbler.

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Here are some resources to help you do that. First are a few articles that (in my opinion) try to explain the anger that fueled the protests and, later, the violence. These articles also offer some thought-provoking critiques of the media’s portrayal of the protests.

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Finally, I truly believe that the issues in urban America cannot be captured in a single article. Complex issues demand complex analysis, and I want to point you to some readings (and one film) that have helped me understand the deep historical roots of what’s going on.

The Fire Next Time” is an essay written by James Baldwin in 1963. Despite its age, it reads like it could have been written last week (minus a few outdated references). It’s one of the only times I’ve almost cried from reading something.

Crips and Bloods: Made in America is a documentary about West Coast gangs. It does an amazing job piecing out issues that essentially describe every inner city, from L.A. to New Orleans to Baltimore.

For those who like to read, here are two books on Baltimore that have deeply impacted my thinking.

  • Not in My Neighborhood talks about the history of racism in Baltimore that created the isolated, angry ghettos of today.
  • The Corner (written by the 2 creators of The Wire) is a devastating study of the drug trade in Baltimore.

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One last thing: I spent the morning with my dear friend Blake, also my church’s youth pastor. We took a group of Black and White teens from our neighborhood of Pen Lucy to a sister church in Sandtown to help clean up the mess. By the time we got there, so many residents and helpful outsiders had been working since daybreak that there wasn’t much left to do. There are beautiful, wonderful things happening here, and I am grateful to have spent the morning with a group of kids trying to be the change they want to see.

015 - copy (798x800)My (Laura’s) fabric representation of Pen Lucy row houses (in collaboration with Joanna King)

Please share this with anyone you think might benefit. And keep our city in your thoughts and prayers.

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One Response to “Why Doesn’t This Happen More Often?”

  1. Pingback: Please Don’t Pray For Peace (A Lament) | Salmon and Souvlaki

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