The real Baltimore stands up

Published 9:46 pm Wednesday, April 29, 2015

As the ravaged city of Baltimore began to pick itself up on Tuesday and Wednesday, following days of riots tied to the funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody, there were signs that humanity had begun to replace brutality, brotherhood had replaced hostility, love had replaced hate.

Among the most popular images on social media were some showing residents of the city lined up in front of ranks of police officers that had been deployed to help restore calm to the riot-plagued city. By Wednesday, it seemed, Baltimoreans of all colors had decided they would no longer cede their city to those who would foment anarchy in the name of justice.

In the end, it is incumbent on all Americans to stand — as the people of Baltimore did — in defense of the law. Our nation itself stands on the foundation of a Constitution that is considered the law of the land. Respect for property and respect for life are both part of Americans’ respect for the law. But respect for the law must be paramount in a civilized society. Without it, men are left with nothing but fear and intimidation.

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Those in Baltimore who rioted, who burned more than a dozen buildings, who looted businesses, who pelted police officers with bottles, bricks and rocks, did nothing to advance the cause they claimed to be championing. They played into the hands of the basest, most despicable stereotypes; they hurt people who had nothing to do with the incident that sparked their rage; they gave police reason to be more, not less, suspicious in future encounters in that part of the city; and they brought discredit to a cause that deserves attention.

The answer to injustice is not anarchy and further injustice. Such a response serves only to marginalize the very people who have been treated unfairly.

Much has been said in the past couple of days about how civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. might have responded to the events in Baltimore. A popular quote on social networking sites is this, from a speech King gave in 1967 at Stanford University: “I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.”

But in that same year, in the essay, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” King had something to say about violence that every potential rioter should understand:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

To that, we might add that injustice cannot drive out injustice, and anarchy cannot create a social order that benefits a people. We can only pray that the real Baltimore is the one that showed itself on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Baltimore that respects the rights of others in its pursuit of justice for all.