Pubdate: Sun, 24 Apr 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Elijah E. Cummings
Note: Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is a Democratic congressman from Baltimore.


History will remember April 2015 as a time of rebirth for Baltimore 
and for our nation

It has been nearly one year since I spoke at Freddie Gray's funeral - 
and since our city found itself in the throes of unrest. During the 
past year, I have had the opportunity to work with many people who 
are dedicated to securing a better future for our city and our 
nation. Yet, at this one-year mark, we are still seeking the answers 
to the question that I asked when facing the cameras in the pews at 
New Shiloh Baptist Church. Freddie Gray, who died from injuries 
sustained in the back of a Baltimore police van, is shown here in an 
undated family picture. We all know his name in death, but did we 
truly see him when he was alive?

"Did you truly see Freddie Gray while he was alive?"

The answers to why we have failed to truly see the Freddie Grays of 
our society are complex, but this much is clear: We have not done 
enough to assure pathways to opportunity for all the people of our 
community. We have relied too heavily upon our law enforcement 
officers and mass incarceration to address the most crippling 
segregation of all - the segregation from hope that is an inevitable 
consequence of generational poverty.

The obstacles that prevented our truly "seeing" Freddie Gray and 
prevented him from becoming all God meant for him to be, did not 
begin when he was born, or even when I was young more than half a century ago.

I was a student at Baltimore City College when President Lyndon 
Johnson's Kerner Commission examined the cause of rioting in American 
cities during the 1960s.

More than a century after the end of slavery, the Commission 
concluded that "our nation is moving toward two societies, one black 
and one white - separate and unequal."

Less than two months later, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was 
assassinated and Baltimore was engulfed in riots for an entire week.

Fast-forward nearly 50 years, and the images of Baltimore on the TV 
mere hours after Freddie Gray's funeral were uncomfortably familiar.

Having lived through the riots of 1968, it pained me to see another 
generation of young Baltimore residents crying out in anguish and 
frustration at the reality that, despite a century and a half of 
struggle, far too many of the same barriers to opportunity remain.

The tenacity of these inequities has instilled desolation and anger 
in young Americans of every racial background, but it is clear that 
extreme poverty and over-incarceration have been imposed 
disproportionately upon people of color.

The Congressional Joint Economic Committee recently found that more 
than 25 percent of all African-Americans nationally still live in 
poverty; the median net worth of white households is 13 times greater 
than the level for black households; and the unemployment rate for 
African-Americans nationally is still more than double the 
unemployment rate for whites.

Since 1980, the failed war on drugs has increased the number of 
federal prisoners by more than 700 percent, while the U.S. population 
has grown by just more than 32 percent. Academic studies highlight 
the racial disparities within the system, including that prosecutors 
are twice as likely to impose mandatory minimum sentences on 
African-American defendants than on white defendants who committed 
similar crimes.

Yet, for all these challenges, my faith in America and Baltimore 
remains strong. We have the ability to build a better community if we 
work together to channel our pain and frustration into sustainable 
political will.

We must work to implement reforms like the Baltimore Metropolitan 
Council's Plan for Sustainable Development that offer practical 
remedies for the extensive pockets of generational poverty that 
beleaguer our region.

The plan is practical and achievable, focusing upon workforce 
training that will qualify more of our neighbors for midskilled jobs 
that pay living wages, expanded public transit services to connect 
working families to jobs and training opportunities and more 
affordable housing near existing and planned job centers.

We must continue our efforts to moderate the use of force by our 
police officers and comprehensively reform why we put people in 
prison, what happens to them there and how they return to society.

We must remain committed to bringing much-needed federal funding to 
our innercity neighborhoods, helping formerly incarcerated 
individuals have a fair shake in applying for employment and 
investigating the troubling trend toward privatization of our 
criminal justice system.

Baltimore will always be at the heart of my commitment to ensuring 
that the Congress addresses these challenges in meaningful and 
substantive ways. Yet I realize that lasting change for Baltimore and 
all of the underserved communities nationwide will require a 
sustained commitment from us all.

Fifty years from now, there should not be another person in his 60s 
pained to see the same unfairness and inequity that led to the unrest 
that I saw as a teenager in 1968.

In achieving this vision, the dedication and hard work that I have 
witnessed in my neighbors here in Baltimore since last year have been 

I remain convinced that, working together, we can assure that history 
remembers April 2015 as a time of rebirth for Baltimore and our 
nation - the moment when we began to truly see all of our people and 
include them in America's promise of opportunity for all.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom