OPINION COLUMNS

Focusing only on the chaos misses the full story

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, May 2, 2015
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I was checking the daily sheriff’s office patrol reports – the information used to put together our weekly Crime Report – Wednesday afternoon when I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.

“A subject tried to lure a child into a vehicle.”

My mind immediately jumped to a shady character bent on preying on unsuspecting children.

“A possible child abduction attempt?” I thought.

I contacted Sheriff David Walker as I often do when I see something strange come through the report. His response was they were trying to get more information on the vehicle.

I didn’t hear anything Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

There must be more to the story, I thought.

Sure enough, when I visited with the sheriff Thursday afternoon, he explained that after further investigation, it was determined that children were getting off the school bus while it was raining and a woman driving by stopped to see if the kids needed a lift home.

That image was quite different from the one I initially formed, based on the limited information I had at first.

Walker said investigators would continue looking into the case, hoping to identify the car so that the complete story could be revealed. But since no other instances of an adult trying to lure a child into a car have happened since then, it now appears it was simply the act of a well-meaning, Good Samaritan.

I thought about that as I watched reports coming out of Baltimore this week about the riots stemming from the death of an unarmed black man, Freddie Gray, who had been arrested by Baltimore police.

Lots of people are offering opinions about what is going on and drawing their own conclusions based more on their own limited point of view rather than looking at the whole picture.

Many viewed the images of looting and stores set on fire and immediately labeled those doing the acts as “thugs.” Our own President even did so.

While I’m not condoning by any means the actions that a few outraged black Baltimoreans have done over the past week – and indeed, they should be prosecuted for any damage they have done – by labeling them as “thugs,” it also makes it easier to ignore their voice and the reasons for their anger.

It’s important that we seek answers to the root causes of such chaotic scenes in the streets of Baltimore and other towns around the country recently where officers have killed unarmed black men. But shouting your viewpoint on cable news or sending out a strongly worded Tweet does nothing to actually help solve the problem.

The situation is extremely complicated, and there is almost always more to the story than most of us are willing to hear.

And therein lies the issue.

It’s hard to listen to someone when you’ve got your finger pointed in their direction.

From what I’ve been able to gather, the relationship between the black community and law enforcement in Baltimore has a “complicated” history, to put it nicely.

I found an outstanding piece of investigative journalism the Baltimore Sun published last September that explores how much the Baltimore Police Department has had to pay in lawsuits brought by residents who claimed to have been beat up by officers. The study points out that while the monetary costs are high – $5.7 million paid since 2011 – perhaps even more costly is the erosion of trust between the public and their police department.

I encourage you to read it for yourself at data.baltimoresun.com/news/police-settlements. After reading the piece, you might better understand the background of the situation and understand why black Baltimore residents would feel so angered by recent events.

We have to invest a little time to understand others and be willing to admit some of our preconceived notions about people might not be 100 percent accurate.

One example of jumping to conclusions is when word began circulating that the Bloods and the Crips, the notorious rival gangs, were teaming up to take on the police during the riots. From what we know of the violent gangs, it just seemed to make sense.

Several media outlets ran with that story.

As it turned out, the two gangs forged an alliance not to take out the police but rather to try to protect their city from being destroyed by the rioters.

And while some news organizations were focused on the images of burning cars and an almost “blow by blow” commentary of every water bottle thrown at a row of cops, fewer seemed to show Baltimoreans coming together to clean up their city during the daytime hours or standing with arms locked between officers and rioters.

Just as I jumped to a conclusion that someone offering a child a ride was clearly a child predator, I fear we jump to similar conclusions about what is going on in Baltimore based on our own viewpoints.

It’s usually better to listen to those at the heart of the matter, even if they feel they must burn cars and stores to get us to hear their voice.

We need to hear the full story.

Brian Knox is special projects manager for the Messenger.

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