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Marches and more police won't stop Baltimore's violence

Violence in Baltimore is not unique or even out of the ordinary — it is to be expected. For those of us who grew up in neighborhoods that were more like war zones and in communities that were more like deserts, the truth underlying the violence within this city can be found in our own narratives, our minds, bodies and souls. For those of us who have struggled to survive on little to nothing, went to schools that operated more like prisons than places of critical learning and engagement, or suffered harassment within various institutions because perceived or actual sexual orientation, the context underpinning not only the violence recently but also the violence that has persisted since my childhood is crystal clear.

Whether we are discussing violence writ large in Baltimore or this recent upsurge of gun violence in the city, it behooves us to see these incidents not as abnormalities but as symptoms of underlying social and cultural issues that have gone unchecked for decades. With drastic cuts to vital civic support services over the years, it is no surprise to me that violence persists and spikes. I hope that we take this moment, on the heels of devastating news about gun violence, to have a different conversation and provide different solutions for this pernicious series of events.

While more policing seems intuitive and the obvious way to stop the violence in Baltimore, it will not. History has shown us, especially in Baltimore, that more policing simply displaces violence but never effectively stops it. That is what has happened as a result of the blue light cameras, and it could be seen again last week when four people were shot just around the corner from a block that police had effectively walled off. Some might even argue that greater policing only serves to create and sustain root cause issues that fuel violence; it sends more people to prison, which makes them unemployable and prone to more crime when they return to their neighborhoods.

It is my belief that to meaningfully address the issue of gun violence we must remedy the underlying causes. I grew up in South Baltimore, mostly Cherry Hill, one of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in the city. I now know from experience and education what I knew intuitively as a child — that we must rectify black unemployment and underemployment if we are to effectively deal with gun violence. We must talk about both race and racism, what it means to be both black and of low socioeconomic status in Baltimore, and how it often forces people to the margins all the while denying them access to vital support services.

To effectively address gun violence in Baltimore City we must address the contexts that produce violence. We must dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, stop intimate partner violence, and not only interrupt bullying based on perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender expression but also create affirming spaces for all youth to feel safe and supported. The reality of the situation in Baltimore is indeed dire and holistic, and systematic approaches are what is needed to curb the tide of violence.

Therefore, I do not believe that events like the recent 300 Man March or more police presence is enough to rectify this string of gun violence or the long history of violence that has plagued Baltimore since my childhood. These types of responses attempt to address individual level issues, which is absolutely critical, but they fall overwhelmingly short in addressing the larger systematic and sociocultural context that fuels and sustains violence in its many manifestations. What is truly required to address gun violence in Baltimore cannot and will not be remedied by 300 men and will most likely only be exacerbated by increased police presence.

Instead, what we really need is authentic dialogue around race, gender, sexuality and how some kinds of violence are treated differently from others. We need to hear not only from the men who are most immediately impacted, but we must also hear from women and the youth. Ultimately, we need more affordable housing, increased employment opportunities, better schools, more parks and playgrounds, more recreational centers, affordable child care, an increased minimum wage and meaningful employment for youth. In reality, effectively addressing gun violence should be less about capturing the "bad" guys but instead should be concerned about the social and cultural forces that produce them.

Durryle Brooks, a Baltimore native, is a doctoral student in Social Justice Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His email is dnbrooks@smcm.edu.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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