Over the past week, I have been receiving text messages and emails from friends many miles away from all that is happening in our city of Baltimore. "Stay safe and thinking about you guys over there" a friend in England texted. "Praying for you and hoping all turns out well," came from one in Paraguay. "Thinking about the Gray Family," from a professor in Germany.
These messages remind me that the issues underscored by Freddie Gray's death in police custody are not Baltimore's alone, nor will the response to these issues impact our city alone. The mosh pit of reporters and cameras are here because our local story is global in impact. They are watching Us.
Let me explain a bit about "Us."
"Us" are the protesters, the ones who peacefully march, praying and making clear that the anger coming to the surface is not solely about Freddie Gray. The anger is about communal disparities and a larger reformation of long-standing policing policies that make vulnerable members of our community feel even less safe. "Us" are the ones who won't let this moment pass and who simultaneously pray for peace and progress.
"Us" are the members of law enforcement, the ones who, frankly, when trouble or tragedy happens, run toward the danger, never away from it. It's difficult to comprehend the level of danger that daily confronts all who wear that badge, but that is why law enforcement must lead in their own reformation.
Law enforcement must help lead the conversation that the solemn obligation to "protect and serve" applies to those both presumed innocent and those presumed guilty. Law enforcement must be at the table because they understand more than anybody that strong community relations not only help to make them safer, they also help police do their job better. As an Army paratrooper, I learned quickly the value of "human intelligence" or "HUMINT." Over 50 percent of crimes in our country are solved by some variation of HUMINT, which is why law enforcement understand that a breach in trust makes doing your job and recruiting those you need to help fill your ranks that much more difficult.
"Us" are the elected officials, the ones who must drive the agenda about what should be the takeaway from these troubling few weeks. They are the ones who must make transparency and collaboration a hallmark of our endeavors. Defensiveness and concern about political advantage have no place in the dialogue. These executives and lawmakers have a higher responsibility to understand that this is not only about justice for the family of Freddie Gray, this is about making sure the tragedy of Freddie Gray does not define us and will not be part of our future. Policies must be altered to address both the challenge that law enforcement feels every day, as well as the apprehension too many within our community feel when they walk their streets and just go about the business of living. Progressive policies must be our benchmark, and change must be our watchword.
"Us" are the community members, those who care deeply about justice, about truth, about a peaceful city and about the future of this place we call home. This "Us" is all who have the courage and ability to affect real and lasting change — in their homes, where they work, in the hearts and minds of our youth who deserve so much better and for whom the stakes have never been greater. None of "Us" can act surprised any longer. Nor can we sit on the sidelines. We are all now aware of the divide and cannot close our eyes to it. And we cannot shirk our collective responsibility to be part of the conversation and the solution. Passivity and marking time are no longer acceptable for any of Us.
However, the "They" is as important as the "Us." And by "They" I do not just mean my friends who live in other parts of our globe.
"They" are also our kids, the ones who are watching Us, in this moment. We must show them that neither violence nor passivity can be the answer. Young people must be part of the conversation rather than simply subjects of the conversation. It is indisputable and heart wrenching that some of our youth were involved in the rioting that took place on Monday. It is also indisputable and heartwarming that many of our youth showed up and were involved in our city clean-up up on Tuesday. Our children deserve neither status quo policing policies nor an environment of vitriolic rhetoric toward those who protect and serve. They deserve a holistic conversation that embraces change that is not simply about altering the police force. The next weeks will help shape our next decades.
For our sake — and for all those who are looking to us — let's get this moment right.
Wes Moore is the founder and CEO of BridgeEdU (www.bridgeedu.com). Both of his books, "The Work" and "The Other Wes Moore," are New York Times bestsellers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.