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September 13, 2016

Op-ed: The residents of Baltimore must end the violence and take back the streets.


By Karsonya Wise Whitehead


Baltimore City is a violent place, with one of the country’s highest homicide rates. It is also a city that is actively looking for solutions to solve this problem, though, thus far, nothing has changed, and our children are not safe. It is a complicated issue, and it is not ending any time soon: Over the Labor Day weekend, 22 people were shot in the city from Friday afternoon through Monday night, including a 4-year old, a 6-year old, and a 16-year old.


Our city, like many others, is built upon a system of systemic inequality, poverty, abandoned houses with broken windows, concrete jungles and cracked sidewalks. This violence is like a cancer that feeds off the city’s terror, off of our pain and lack of attention to it. We now find ourselves at a moment where we do not need more statistics or sociological studies, conference papers or empty promises. We need action. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”


There are no easy answers, but no child deserves to grow up in a city where the hardest part of the day is just getting through the streets safely. They deserve to be safe. They deserve to hold us to the highest standards, to expect us to do right by them, and to hold us accountable for helping to create and maintain a system that is designed to fail them, because it is unable to protect them. They deserve for us to not just try, but to solve the seemingly impossible problems.


This is hard for me to write because I feel safe in this city, but if the city is not safe for the least of us, then it is not safe for any of us. I take no hope from political promises. I am no longer waiting for someone or something to come along and save our city. Baltimore belongs to us, and if we want it to change, then we must be willing to do the hard work, to ask the hard questions and to demand more from ourselves and from our representatives. While I commend and support the conversations that have been taking place around the city to end violence, I am acutely aware that this is an election year and there is a tendency for stumping politicians to hear our pain, to march and cry and stand with us, because in this moment they need us and our vote.


Real change does not happen in a vacuum. It is not a pendulum that swings around an ideological spectrum. It happens because we push to make it happen, and so we should:


• Establish more recreation centers so young people will have a safe space to go when school ends;


• Place trauma counselors in schools to support children and their families;


• Force our lawmakers to enact stronger laws so that we can get illegal guns off of the street;


• Empower people to police their own communities;


•And require police officers to become intimately connected with the communities they are sworn to serve and protect — not just police.


We should also force our lawmakers to change the drug laws for low level drug offenses and grant clemency to those already convicted. We must also set up more effective prison-to-work programs to disrupt the prison-to-home-to-prison cycle and stop the return of violence to our streets.


Change is painful. It is messy, and it is difficult to get right, but it is not impossible. We must fight for our children’s safety, not because it is safe, or politic or popular, but because it is right. These are our streets and this is our responsibility.


Karsonya Wise Whitehead ( is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland and the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America.” A version of this editorial will be aired as a public commentary on WYPR 88.1, Baltimore’s NPR station.

Copyright © 2016, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication

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