Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Hooterville Junction
Will no longer be so damned relevant
And women will not care if Dick finally gets down with Jane
On Search for Tomorrow because Black people
Will be in the street looking for a brighter day
The revolution will not be televised
— Gil-Scott Heron, 1971
It took more than 40 years for the above lyrics to happen, but they did in Baltimore over the past week. We may think the revolution was in fact televised, but the cameras seemed more interested in rioting, vandalism, the burning of cars and buildings and a well-meaning mom doing what mothers do: smacking her kid upside the head.
But, with the news that all six officers involved in the case have been given multiple charges from negligence to second-degree murder, the focus has now been placed on where it always should have been: on the death of Freddie Gray and the cops at whose hands he died.
Remember, we’re talking about a man who was zip-tied, handcuffed, unrestrained, and thrown into a police van for what may have been a “rough ride,” and somehow injured along the way, but not given any medical attention even when he begged for it. He had done nothing illegal to even be stopped in the first place. So if there’s any question of why people are in the street looking for a brighter day, there’s your answer.
So the true revolution in Baltimore, as in Ferguson and even Los Angeles a generation ago, was not televised. Peaceful, organized demonstrations rarely get attention from the national news media until they turn ugly, and then it becomes about people who decide to destroy, vandalize and loot rather than the reason they are doing it. But on Friday, the revolution—the non-televised one —was effective, because those in power heard the collective voice of the people who typically do not have it.
EYE ON CHANGE
Kevin Shird has kept his eye on what happened in Baltimore and says that what is going on there now will be the catalyst for change.
An author, community leader and activist, Shird has been on the ground since news of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody hit the street. He says while the rioting, looting and vandalism are a negative, this finally draws attention to a city that had never really recovered since the riots of 1968.
“There were protesters, there were some people who were wilding out, and then you had a lot of bystanders that wanted to see history,” he explained. “That was history that was made, this is going to change the landscape in Baltimore and hopefully it’ll change the landscape across the country, when the conversation is held about police brutality as well as other things like poverty and joblessness.”
Shird, 46, whose book “Lessons of Redemption” tells his story from Baltimore’s tough streets to federal prison and finally to activism and advocacy for drug prevention, is no stranger to what fueled the anger behind the violence. Police brutality, he explained, is so common in the city that it is part of the culture of the poor neighborhoods there.
“IS THAT JUSTICE?”
“Twenty years ago when I was in the streets in the Western District, it was a known fact—and this was practiced—we knew if we ran from the cops and got caught, you’re subject to a beatdown by the cops,” he explained. “In the Western District, this was common practice.”
“So the guy on the street with a pocketful of dope, he gets the charge for resisting arrest, but he doesn’t get the heroin charge, so he’s OK with that, he’s not going to press charges. This case versus the other case. Is that justice?”
That is what Shird, and so many others who have been in the streets of Baltimore—peacefully and otherwise—are expressing. None of this is a secret there, or in any other community that experiences overpolicing.
But now that a window to justice could now be open, the criminal charges against the officers shows that pressure from the community gets the politicians and government officials to respond. And in this case, the non-televised revolutions have a chance of working.
Shird says he believes justice will be served in the case because of a story Marilyn Mosby, the Maryland State Prosecutor who brought charges against the officers, told him when they first met.
“When I met her, I said here’s another politician,” he remembered. “But she told me her cousin was murdered in front of her when she was living in Boston by some guys in a gang. The look in her eyes told me this woman was real. When you have those experiences, they continue to drive you to do the right thing.”
Shird says he does not believe all six cops will be convicted on all charges, but the most culpable in the case probably will, as deals are made between prosecutors and defense attorneys. But what will come out of Baltimore is nationwide policy change on how police deal with the community.
“This is going to change the game on so many levels,” said Shird, who believes that police should wear body cameras and hopes that legislatures will mandate them across the country. “This is huge, every police department across America is on notice. There’s no more business as usual because the world is watching.”
Madison J. Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based multimedia journalist specializing in urban issues and criminal justice. He writes for NewsOne on the subject of Black males in America. Follow him on Twitter:@madisonjgray
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty