As residents of some of Baltimore's most disenfranchised neighborhoods began uprising in response to the death of Freddie Gray, I was completing this video (and an audio documentary that will be accessible to the public in a few weeks) about the uprising that occurred in 1968 in the Parkland neighborhood of Louisville, Ky.
Similar to the uprisings in many cities (including Baltimore) between 1965 and 1968 and the present-day disorder, Louisville's uprising resulted from accusations of police brutality, inadequate disciplinary action against police, and decades of systemic racism that left too many African-Americans with too few opportunities for education or wealth.
The more I worked on the projects and discovered tools I could use to tell the neighborhood's history, the more questions I wanted to find the answers to. The most glaring questions have been about ownership and responsibility.
Census data, public records and oral histories from people who lived or worked in Parkland in 1968 or before reveal that it used to be Mayberry, a picture-perfect neighborhood with a vibrant business district and families who knew and took care of each other. The area's demographics changed as white flight swept the city and urban renewal relocated many African-Americans, but according to most of the oral history narrators -- that is, the people who grew up or worked in Parkland and recalled their experiences -- most of the business and commercial property owners were white, whether they lived in the neighborhood or not.
Knowing this made me ask: Whose community is it, anyway? Whose responsibility is or was it to revive Parkland after the uprising?
With the news of Baltimore, those questions have morphed into, "Who is my neighbor?" Most Christians will know this question as the prelude to the parable of the good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37.
A man seeking some specific answers about how to inherit eternal life knows he is to "love your neighbor as yourself," but he asks Jesus to clarify, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus tells him the story of a man beaten and left for dead, ignored by people of his own community and aided instead by someone of a different race. Someone who came from "across the tracks," if you will. From the enemy neighborhood. From that place where all those people -- those "thugs" -- that we respectable, hard-working people don't want anything to do with live.
You probably see where I'm going here, but someone from West Baltimore, Ferguson, or Parkland assisting someone in Hampden, Clayton or Middletown as other Hampden, Clayton or Middletown residents continue about their lives isn't the only way to imagine a modern-day good Samaritan parable.
It also looks like Congress instituting a federal livable minimum wage and ending drug enforcement policies that allow violence to flourish at home and in Latin America. It looks like giving a convicted felon a second, third, or other chance by not asking about a nonviolent criminal past and by not barring that person from voting or receiving public assistance. It looks like people turning out in droves to protest the deaths of unarmed black women killed by police. It looks like residents of Hampden, Clayton or Middletown being as angry about state-sponsored violence being waged disproportionately against poor people of color as the people experiencing the oppression, constant fear and too-frequent loss of their loved ones.
It looks like, as President Obama said, "everybody saying, 'This is important, this is significant.' And that we don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns. And we don't just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. That we're paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they're important and they shouldn't be living in poverty and violence." And when the unrest is over, it looks like cities having as much money to rebuild a community that has been headed toward destruction for years as they do to fund sports stadiums, new Wal-Mart stores, and entertainment districts.
People in communities across the U.S. are being beaten and left for dead by systems that fail them every day. Whose community is it? It's mine, and my neighbor's. Whose responsibility is it? It's mine, and my neighbor's. And who is my neighbor?
[Mariam Williams is a writer born and raised in Louisville, Ky., where she's received numerous arts awards. When not working in the field of social justice research and taking graduate courses in women and gender and Pan-African studies, she blogs at RedboneAfropuff.com. Follow her on Twitter: @missmariamw.]
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