Several thousand students marched in support of Freddie Gray during the week. (Andre Small)
I believe in Baltimore.
I don’t believe for a second that Baltimore is the Shame of America. I believe Baltimore is the Pride of America.
I believe the people of Baltimore refused to stay silent when a monstrous injustice was done to one of their own and they refused to rest until they forced the wheels of justice to finally turn.
There are many lessons to learn from the events of the past week. Some should be obvious. Others have been completely overlooked.
First, public protests are good and necessary. But public violence at protests is wrong, bad, and dangerous to scores of millions of people, every time.
When I was a teenager I saw with my own eyes how idealistic protests for social justice on the streets of my native city in Northern Ireland, degenerated into a full-scale civil war that lasted for 30 years. Last year, we saw the same thing happen within weeks in Ukraine.
Second, true justice is always color blind. It is striking that three of the cops facing charges in Freddie Gray’s death are white and three are black. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn, greatest of modern novelists and a wise and good man, famously said, the line between good and evil runs through every individual human heart.
Third, the police are good to have and always necessary, but they need oversight. Everyone does. As the Bible rightly says, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
Fourth, let us be grateful to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. They worked well separately and they worked well together. They are both able, responsible, honorable and well-meaning people. They did not anticipate this crisis: No one did, or could. But they both rose to the challenge and did their best for the city and the state.
Be proud Baltimore. Be proud Maryland. Your civic, political leaders have put the national leaderships of both parties to shame – especially in Congress.
Fifth, democracy works wonderfully well: But only when you work hard and shout loud to make it work.
Stay passive and silent and the apathetic majority and well-organized tiny pressure groups will pulverize your interests and those of the rest of the country every time. At its best democracy is a guarantee of nothing. It only offers different groups the chance to organize to defend and expand their own interests. Read James Madison’s contributions to The Federalist Papers. He understood that even then: His vision and wisdom remain clear and true today.
There are many more lessons to learn from the riots. The most fundamental one is very simple: If national governments do not carry out their side of the Social Contract by maintaining conditions for ordinary, decent people to honestly earn a decent living around the country, pathologies of anger, rage and despair are certain to erupt. Throughout American history, U.S. presidents, national administrations and congresses have repeatedly risen to the challenge of providing those conditions. But they are failing now.
I explore the reasons for this in my most recent book Gathering Storm: The Seventh Era of American History & the Coming Crises That Will Lead to It, available at www.martinseiff.com.
Follow Martin on Twitter at @MartinSieff