Like any Marylander, I was sad and angry to see what was happening in Baltimore. And at 7:17 a.m. that Tuesday, when my commander confirmed that the 158th Cavalry would ride again, I was also eager to join my fellow cavalry troopers to restore peace and order to Baltimore.
My eagerness was tempered quickly by the surreal feeling of loading ammunition into magazines in Lot C of Ravens Stadium in downtown Baltimore. At 3 a.m. Wednesday, our unit took over security for Baltimore City Hall — a mission I never anticipated when I joined the Army. My desire was to fight in the war on terrorism. This was something else — my duty, yes, but foreign to the combat training I had prepared for.
What I saw was more nuanced than what a TV camera could pick up. Standing on the security line around Baltimore City Hall, I was greeted by friends from architecture school, Baltimore police officers, Baltimore City Council members and former Salisburians, each asking what they could do for our soldiers.
We were overwhelmed by the amount of food, water and kindness brought to us by Baltimore workers and citizens, thanking us for our presence.
The interactions I had were not what I expected. My soldiers and I were often faced at the lines with a group of young people holding up signs, chanting at us. An older black gentleman confronted these various groups several times one day, challenging their chants and engaging them in critical conversation. One of the most inspiring sights I observed was the teenage protesters slowly lowering and rolling up their signs, biting into slices of pizza we shared, talking with this older man about how some of their perceptions were wrong, how some were right and how their anger was, perhaps, misplaced.
What the Baltimore riots mean to Salisbury
These weren’t lessons soldiers, police officers or politicians could impart – but one man who stood face to face with them as a voice of history put things in context.
His lesson was simple: Painting with broad brush strokes does us no good. He said, “Most police officers are honorable people that seek to serve and protect. The soldiers aren’t here to hurt you and they aren’t calling you thugs. Most inner-city kids are living difficult lives admirably and are reaching for their dreams.”
When we look more closely at the individual and see the humanity in an interaction between a group of frustrated teenagers and the wisdom of a man who has seen turmoil throughout decades in his city, we can see there is a finer grain to the generalized picture we are often fed.
We are blessed that Salisbury’s trajectory — as evidenced by how we have dealt with recent police/community issues, decreasing crime rates and a peaceful demonstration, not to mention our ongoing revitalization — is very different from Baltimore’s recent trajectory.
However, this is no time to rest on our laurels. If Baltimore’s recent experience proves anything, it is this: It isn’t hard to tear down a bad thing. What’s hard is building something good in its place.
Let us continue to build good things, seek peace for our fellow Marylanders, seek justice for all and safety for those who serve and protect us day in and out.