We will no longer quietly accept injustice

A predictable question trails closely behind their actions, a question that always reappears like the ghost of riots past, asking, simply, why are they destroying their own neighborhoods and setting their futures on fire? The question feels helpless, sometimes cynical, but it is exactly the right question. It should be asked, however, not in anger, but with compassionate curiosity. Because the truth is as ugly as the facts that fuel riots: Without a brick tossed or a building burning, we are hardly confronting the hopelessness of the future for these young people.

The unemployment rate in the community where Mr. Gray lived is over 50 percent; the high school student absence rate hovers at 49.3 percent; and life expectancy tops out at 68.8 years, according to analysis by prison reform nonprofits. These statistics are a small glimpse of the radical inequality that blankets poor black Baltimore. It’s no wonder that black Baltimore erupted in social fury. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. announced in the wake of the Watts riots 50 years ago, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” And judging by the actions in Baltimore, thousands are not being heard…

On Monday, we had a funeral, and said goodbye to a young man whom people remembered as friendly and loving. A few hours later, small pockets of the city started burning — and suddenly we were saying goodbye to something else: to the silent acquiescence of young people without jobs, without good schools, without what they need to build a life that takes them beyond suffering. Why are they doing that? Let’s find out — not when the fires are raging, but when calm has returned, when it is most likely, as President Obama said yesterday, that we will “feign concern until it goes away and then we go about our business as usual.” Let’s hope this time it is different, and we are, too.

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