September is, appropriately enough, Attendance Awareness Month and a good time to talk about how attendance is a portal to many other issues involving Baltimore City students, families and schools. Nearly 85% of our students qualify for free and reduced meals, which is an indicator for poverty; and we can’t discount the attendant barriers and burdens that accompany modern poverty in America.
During the Uprising in Baltimore, police said more than 27 pharmacies and two methadone clinics were looted for pain medications and other prescription drugs. City officials estimate that, as a result of looting, there are now more than 175,000 doses of prescription pain medications available for black market purchase.
When Baltimore City erupted on the afternoon of Freddie Gray’s funeral, many adults froze in front of their television screens. The imagery of high school students hurling bricks and bottles at police in riot gear was, to many, stunning, shocking, astonishing. I was not astonished. Instead, I was saddened, because I was watching evidence of something I’d long known: We’d failed our students.
In the wake of the rise in homicides in Baltimore, certain members of Baltimore’s police department are promoting a deceptive and dangerous narrative, translating the public’s demands for more humane policing as a request for impotent policing.
The events that followed the death of Freddie Gray revealed several Baltimore fault lines, including a disconnect between younger generations who are awakening to the structural racism and inequality that limits their opportunity and established institutions that purport to make things better.
In the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death, photos and video of a city in flames played on a loop in the national media, spurring fear and leading distant viewers to believe that Baltimore was burning for days. Those in the city felt the impact of that fear—in the crowded police presence at protests and the inconsistently imposed curfew. But those of us on the ground, especially those who came out to march, also felt a surprising and tangible sense of hope.
The road to justice and equality in Baltimore does not begin or end with the Baltimore Police Department. The conduct of Baltimore police, however, is front of mind for people who care about Baltimore. Thus, how to improve policing in Baltimore is a logical focus at this time.
The demonstrations and violence that followed the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody took some by surprise. But to others who have lived in many of Baltimore’s neglected neighborhoods, the uprising felt inevitable.
OSI-Baltimore stands ready, with resources and expertise, to make certain changes are made to the underlying root causes that have troubled our city for decades. For 17 years, we have worked with hundreds of grantees, Community Fellows and other partners throughout the city to bring about just policies and practices that respect the rights and advances the potential of each resident.
We must correct errors and maintain a criminal justice system we can be proud of—one where the people involved receive justice and second chances.