Approximately a third of the residents we serve in the residential treatment program are African American. Every time an incident like that of the death of Freddie Gray occurs , I am reminded that the African-American residents we serve are as much at risk because of the color of their skin as for any of their behaviors.
In particular, I am reminded of one of our current residents who, a month ago, was going through a very challenging time. He was very oppositional and defiant, requiring tremendous staff attention. He attempted to leave the campus without authorization and in general presented in a very threatening way. At any given time during this period he was much more at risk to himself than anyone else, but I worry that such behavior displayed in the community could lead to law enforcement intervention. As much as the vast majority of police officers are well-trained and professional, all it takes is just one poor judgment call, and life can change in an instant.
Recently I spoke with this same resident who was sporting a tie and beaming with pride after returning from a job interview. From being overwhelmed and defiant he has become confident and determined, and it was a delight to see. But the story of Freddie Gray and that of so many African-American men, who have been the objects of police violence, continues to cause me to worry for the safety and well-being of many of the young African Americans we serve.
It is not acceptable that parents of these young adults must warn their sons to be cautious when dealing with the police as it is not acceptable that those who have sworn to keep the peace are held in suspicion.
The unfortunate story of Freddie Gray points to deep-seated issues that plague our society and must be addressed. We cannot be satisfied with a defensive strategy that reinforces suspicion and divides our communities. Rather, we must encourage a soul-searching examination of the root causes of such injustices. Institutional racism is very much a source of the injustice. Stereotyping, character profiling, and unchallenged biases all contribute to an environment that justifies force without due cause and allows for intentional indifference and disregard for a person’s well-being.
It is this kind of situation that has galvanized not only Baltimore but the whole nation to raise up a cry for justice not just for Freddie Gray but anyone who becomes the victim of unnecessary force just because of the color of their skin. Some may argue that the alleged perpetrator was to blame. Regardless of reasonable cause, there is no justification for unnecessary force or negligence.
These incidents are all too common and our attention to such horrors is quickly diverted. However, we must not be distracted from our resolve to address the injustice that threatens the well-being and safety of the children and youth we serve simply because of the color of their skin.