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Reclaiming Baltimore in the Midst of Riots: As Told by a Black Native

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Allison Torsani
Written by Allison Torsani

Maryland is a small, Mid-Altantic coastal state that envelops our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. If you’re not from the east coast, you might not have any concept of where this state lies on the map. I happen to come from the middle of the state, from a great town called Bowie—no, not like the musician. More like “Boo-ie.”

That means that, for me and others from the area, frequenting Baltimore, Annapolis, and D.C. was not unusual. We tend to feel a sort of ownership over all these familiar towns.

Down here in Miami, I am proud to tell people about where I’m from. I am a proud Marylander. But here’s the thing: I usually tell Miamians that I’m from the D.C. area, because most people down here don’t know what or where Maryland is. (Nope, not the Midwest. Try again!).

Rioting Sets Us Up for Failure

But after today, people are going to know who we are and where we’re from—and not in a good way. Today’s protests, in “honor” of the deceased Freddie Gray have put us on the map, just like Ferguson. I get it. These riots were formed in an attempt to bring justice to his name and out race, as black Americans.

But, guys, we’ve got it all wrong. I don’t want to begin to discuss how riots have the opposite effect of what rioters’ initial intentions might have been. I will note, however, that rather than bringing justice to the view of our race, these “racial justice” riots create a polarizing effect, setting race against race. And, unfortunately, the race that keeps losing is our own. Don’t you see?

In “Honor” of Freddie Gray?

Is this about Freddie Gray or about race? And if it’s about race, why are we out there doing things to make people hate us more, furthering the divide and setting ourselves up for more hate crimes? Meanwhile, we are attacking innocent bystanders. Sounds familiar.

I can only hope that the investigation brings justice for Freddie Gray and peace to his family. I can only pray that all of the truth comes to the light.

Freddie Gray was a Baltimorean. A Marylander. A black man. In so many ways, one of my own. I want to see justice. I want to know why the police made the decisions they chose to. We all do.

But, inciting violence only perpetuates the divide. Citing violence as a means to express one’s distaste for the outcome of what happened to a black person in police custody only causes more policemen to feel the need to protect themselves when approaching a black suspect. We are digging the hole deeper, and it’s a slippery slope.

Now, when I tell people I am from Maryland, I will do so with just a tinge of embarrassment on the tip of my tongue—well aware that the next comment will be about the nature of our citizens in the face of adversity. I probably won’t have to explain where it is anymore, though. Everyone will know. Now they have seen it, stained by the bitter taste of revenge.

Watching videos from today’s protests, all I can wonder is, “Is this my state?” I don’t recognize it. I see Camden Yards in shambles. I see black citizens throwing full, metal trashcans at white bystanders at Pickles Pub. I hear about the Orioles game being put on lockdown. This is not the Maryland I know and love.

I know we have all had a good laugh about the Baltimore benches touting, “Greatest City in America,” but why? Why is it so funny to value where we are from?

Now that I am living in Florida, I am able to see more clearly what makes home so beautiful: access to the Appalachian Mountains, the city, and the sea. The flavors of our cuisine (I see you, Old Bay). The cherry blossoms that emerge, returning in spring after a long, icy, frozen winter.

Why set ourselves up for debates about whether or not the riots are a just cause? Why, from the comfort of our couches, should we bring attention to something that does not warrant any positivity of our state and the human race, as a whole?

Making a Difference: Reclaiming Maryland

What can we Marylanders do for our state? Let’s shed some positive light on Baltimore and Maryland. Let’s show everyone what our home looks like—in its familiar, recognizable form. Let’s share what we love about our perfectly beautiful, colorful, ethnically diverse region. Maryland has now been put on the map across the nation. How we represent our state reflects how the nation will view it. Now is our turn. We can’t stop the riots, but we can have our say about our Maryland. Let’s reclaim Baltimore and #putmarylandonthemap #forgood.

Please, share what you love about Maryland in the comments, and share your photos on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag!

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