I’ve spent the week reading and re-reading an article written by Baltimore resident Alec MacGillis titled “The Tragedy of Baltimore.” MacGillis has skin in the game. He’s lived in the city for 11 of the last 18 years. He and his wife are raising their children here, sending them to public schools. They are members of a church, volunteer at several organizations, coach little league. So his frank description of what doesn’t work—the “unvarnished truth” as a member of our Bible study called it—gathers legitimacy in its telling. His article, which will appear in the NY Times magazine this Sunday, is more a diagnosis than a criticism, although he’s clearly critical of the mismanagement which has characterized Baltimore policing for years.
His goal is not to cast blame, however, nor is he looking for a quick fix or a magic potion. His work is a sobering, honest inventory of our problems with public safety, from a person who admits the solution will only come from those who are invested in the struggle. Deep in the article he writes, “Whatever path there was to be found out of the city’s chaos, its residents were going to have to find it themselves.”
MacGillis concludes in this way: “The meeting (with new police commissioner Michael Harrison) was standing room only. ‘We just want to feel safe, period,’ Monique Washington, president of the Edmondson Village Community Association, told Harrison. ‘Our people are in fear, and we’re tired.’
An hour into the forum, a neighborhood resident named Renee McCray stepped up to the microphone. She described how bewildering it had been to accompany a friend downtown, near the tourist-friendly Inner Harbor, one night a few months earlier. ‘The lighting was so bright. People had scooters. They had bikes. They had babies in strollers. And I said: ‘What city is this? This is not Baltimore City.’ Because if you go up to Martin Luther King Boulevard’ — the demarcation between downtown and the west side — ‘we’re all bolted in our homes, we’re locked down.’ She paused for a moment to deliver her point. ‘All any of us want is equal protection,’ she said.
It was a striking echo of the language in the Department of Justice report and the activists’ condemnations of the police following (Freddie) Gray’s death. Back then, the claims were of overly aggressive policing; now residents were pleading for police officers to get out of their cars, to earn their pay — to protect them.
You could look at this evolution as demonstrating an irreconcilable conflict, a tension between (residents and authorities) never to be resolved. But the residents streaming into these sessions with Harrison weren’t suggesting that. They were not describing a trade-off between justice and order. They saw them as two parts of a whole and were daring to ask for both.”
I commend “The Tragedy of Baltimore” to you, because we have skin in the game, too.
Most of us are committed individually to “healing the human family” in Baltimore, in the words of our website. We drink at the nourishing well of Redeemer—we’re fed by liturgy and music, classes and small groups, prayer and silence and fellowship—and we go out from this place to feed others within the circles of our influence of family and work or service. But the wrenching context of Baltimore, the timing of MacGillis’s article, the growth of Redeemer over the past four years, and our transition now of saying good-bye to Caroline and soon welcoming two new clergy associates, calls us to consider a further step. How can Redeemer as a whole, with our extraordinary resources of growing membership and all the ways we are invested in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, along with the leverage of the Covenant Fund (currently valued at $1.8 million), address one or more of the root causes of our “tragedy” and make a measurable difference?
I will ask the vestry to begin this process at our meeting next week. We’ll use our retreat in the early Fall to deepen our discernment as we bring our new clergy on board. And we’ll gather the parish in small groups between now and then to include the widest possible number of voices. Out of these discussions will come Redeemer’s mission for the next decade: a renewed commitment to the compassion and justice of Jesus that is fit for our time and context. If we listen well and respond to the Spirit with courage, we and the city we love will be transformed.