The hair salon is such a wonderful place for women to share ideas and debate over conditioner, flatirons, haircuts, and current events. This week was no different. I was in the chair getting my regular, from my very talented and always outspoken stylist. I have been happy to sit in her northeast DC chair off and on for years. She doesn’t pull punches and is never afraid to express herself while cutting, coloring, and sewing in hair. Also amongst the cast of the day’s panel, was a young woman in graduate school being curled in another stylist’s chair. She happened to be from Ferguson, Missouri—the hometown of Michael Brown, who was killed by officer Darren Wilson last summer.
The hottest discussion topic right now is Baltimore, Maryland. The predominantly black, blue-collar town was ground zero for rioting, looting, and violence just days ago on the same day that Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old resident of Charm City, was laid to rest. Freddie Gray was yet another black life lost too soon, and the circumstances surrounding his death are suspected (and are likely) to be the result of foul play on behalf of the Baltimore police department.
Freddie Gray was only the latest African American man to have a fatal interaction with the police. The people of Baltimore had enough on Monday according to the feisty graduate student, and they had no choice but to take their anger to the streets. ‘It was their right to do so!’ ‘Baltimore wanted the nation to feel the pain, hurt, frustration and aggravation that our black brothers and sisters were feeling.’
While cutting a piece of blonde hair to be sewn in to the younger woman’s already golden mohawk, the other stylist shook her head. She proceeded to point out that the people of Baltimore as well as the people of the nation need answers regarding what happened to the young Mr. Gray. She drew a verbal line in the sand stating that, ‘there is no way anyone can tell me that those police officers did not injure that boy to the point of death. Those people have every right to be angry.’
While heating up the flatiron, my stylist chimed in that the whole ordeal achieved nothing. The rioting and looting that destroyed buildings and personal property was a series of childish fits that did not achieve any stated goals. There was no leadership for the protestors and no joining of forces so that the media and local government could be met with a list of demands—if creating awareness of injustice was the goal. There was no reason to cause madness and mayhem in a city already crippled by unemployment, a housing crisis, and low morale. My stylist went on to point out that at the time, there was no concrete proof that the policemen who arrested Gray had harmed him.
She acknowledged that there is blame to be placed, but ‘there is still is no way for us to know exactly what happened.’ She also said that the mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, should be criticized for not anticipating bedlam on the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral and burial. Simply put (between the clicking of the hot metal ends of the flatiron) the National Guard’s presence in the city along with arbitrary curfews will cause the city to revert to practices that frustrated parents employ for rowdy children.
She then asked and answered a question while continuing to work through my curls. ‘Do you know what this all means?! Black people will be profiled and treated far worse than they ever were. So, no, I don’t believe this helped their cause at all.’ Her point of view continued to center around the fact that the residents were simply looking for a reason to behave badly, and now the consequences will be even more severe. A city ravaged and burned is justifying the treatment that others want to say was the initial reason for the protest at all—which is frightening.
Then the discussion comes around to me, almost ready to view my fresh new ’do, and start my day. All I kept thinking about is how sad I am for Baltimore. ‘I am sad for Trayvon, Eric, Oscar and Walter, and what their deaths represent, because (to quote the movement) black lives matter.’ All of the men were dehumanized as they were shot, beaten or strangled to death like animals–in acts of rage, violence, or both on the part of police. The people out in streets of Baltimore had the attention of the nation. But, instead of presenting the state and local government with their list of demands, instead of using this as a platform to bring justice, understanding, and accountability—they made it into a shopping spree. There were some activists taking a stand, but there were just as many people carrying rolls of paper towels and boxes of new tennis shoes that they did not pay for. Then, I commented flatly that ‘this was not action for social change. It was chaos. It was confusion. Burning down a store is not only dangerous, but it makes no sense when your city is being crippled by economic strife, joblessness, and hopelessness.’ Folks in Charm City may complain about not having resources or grocery stores, but then, in a rash of anger, destroy institutions that have the potential to build up the city.
There is no looting that can lead to love. There is no rioting that can lead to better race relations. There is no fire that can lead to freedom, and no violence that can lead to victory over injustice. The video that has gone viral of the mother in the yellow blazer literally beating some sense into her young son is the portrait of a hero in my eyes. She made up in her mind long before the cameras were on, that she would not be standing over the casket of her son while a minister tells her that her boy is in a better place. She clearly understood that the riots only serve to put him in even more danger than what he can encounter presently.
As my stylist turned me around so that I could look into the mirror at my hair, I couldn’t help but think of all of the folks who also had to look into their own mirrors. They must think about what they allowed themselves to become—not folks who carry the torch for justice, but pillagers who carried away stolen items in the name of Freddie Gray.
*As of the afternoon of Friday, May 1, 2015, all six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray had been charged in connection with his death.Image Credits: Bill Hughes