Freddie Gray’s Death & Baltimore’s Ongoing State of Emergency

Arnebya Herndon

State of emergency.

We’ve been in a perpetual, slow drip of emergency for years. This has been coming for decades – the demonstrations, protests, riots, violence. People respond differently when bone tired, mentally weary when faced with what else can I do? People respond differently when they’re made to feel like there are no alternatives.

You will say that rioting is never the answer. And I will ask have you ever felt your very existence was so unwanted that attempts would be made to extinguish you. We can’t talk about riots without talking about the injustices that lead to rioting. The logic of the action is moot; when do we discuss power versus protection?

You will say that looting is never the answer. And I will ask if you’ve ever not had enough money to buy diapers, to feed your family, even as you work each day, even as you do the normal things that other people do to successfully support themselves.

You will say there is no justification. Work harder to overcome adversity. And I will agree. And then I will ask you to consider whether you truly understand what life is like in Baltimore or similar urban areas. I will ask if you know about association and how it affects the brain when too many negative images and situations involving the police are provided. I will ask if you understand that fear of the police is real.

You will say that violence is unjustified, undignified. And I will agree. And then I will remind you that the roster of dead Black people in just the past few years is unjustified. I will show you photos of Eric Garner dead on a sidewalk. I will show you Michael Brown dead in the middle of the street. Walter Scott dead as mud seeps into his clothes, making for a pretty undignified demise. Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd. John Crawford. Akai Gurley.

You will say that violence against policemen is intolerable. And I will agree. And then I will ask if deadly force by an armed person toward an unarmed person should ever be tolerated.

This state of emergency has been brewing. It comes to a head with each new killing – the ones we find out about, that is. It dissipates. And then it comes roaring back and scenes like those in Baltimore play out on a continuous loop on the news, showing smashed and burning police cars rather than peaceful protests. Peace doesn’t get ratings. We must be shown how the animals know no better, how they will destroy mom and pop businesses, ruin their own neighborhoods. That is anger. That is deep-seated frustration at not being heard, not being wanted, of always being suspected.

You will say that I am making excuses. And I will remind you of this: It is not against the law to play with a toy gun. It is not against the law to be in a stairwell at night. It is not against the law to be afraid of the police, though, admittedly, running from police because of that valid fear isn’t the best idea. And yet, I can’t say in good conscience that one should never run because have you ever been afraid? Fear causes us to make poor choices, and running, freeing oneself, saving oneself, is a natural reaction.

You will ask why run if you’re doing nothing wrong?

And I will say why stay and die anyway?

What’s happening in Baltimore is about distrust of a system. It’s about systemic oppression, one that shackles us mentally, emotionally, educationally, and physically, much like Freddie Gray’s legs. It is about all of the men, women, and children who have been reduced to property or held down or jailed wrongfully or jailed rightfully, but without suggestion that there are behavioral modification alternatives. Lock them up, get rid of them. It is about not holding anyone accountable for the numerous senseless deaths of Black people. It’s about thumbing noses at civil rights, about essentially telling us we have no rights. That is what Baltimore’s protests are about right now. Understandable or not, riots are disappointment, hopelessness, and sadness fueled. No amount of curfews will quell this uprising.

The state of emergency is not new. It is what we live with regularly, internally, and this is what happens when people are fed up.


Arnebya Herndon wrote this post exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.

Arnebya is a writer, blogger, and speaker. In 2006 she was a recipient of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Larry Neal Writers’ Award (Adult Fiction) and in 2012 and 2013 was named a BlogHer Voice of the Year (Op-Ed). Her work is featured in The Washington City Paper’s 2013 fiction issue and she is a featured a guest writer on multiple parenting and lifestyle blogs. Her blog tagline reads, “I write to keep from killing.”