I just returned from three days in Baltimore. I was there for a conference of the Coalition for Agriculture Mediation Programs. We were holed up in a downtown hotel – advised not to venture outside while watching horrifying video of ongoing mayhem on the local news. Police, fire and military vehicles could be frequently seen and heard speeding by on downtown streets.
The irony was not lost on us that we had traveled from around the country to share our skills and experiences in conflict management while violent conflict raged around us. And yet we dared not venture outside.
Hotel staff spoke of lifetimes of experiences with the Baltimore police ranging from disrespectful to appalling.
When the conference ended on Wednesday, I ventured down to the Inner Harbor. Many Baltimoreans complain about the amount of development dollars that have been plowed into this slick, touristy area, while blight and decay overtake most other neighborhoods in the city. An Orioles game at nearby Camden Yards was played in the stadium’s empty, cavernous expanse. The game was closed to the public for safety reasons. Interesting business model.
There, amidst the pristine streets, glitzy Anne Taylors and Cheesecake Factorys, were hundreds of National Guard soldiers armed with automatic weapons. Humvees were ostentatiously parked everywhere. People cheerfully approached these soldiers to snap selfies. A bonus tourist attraction.
Though I have lots of strong opinions on the state of race and the criminal justice system in our country – I will demur for now. What I’d like to share is how bizarre and disconcerting these images were. How quickly curfews and militarization can become the new normal. And how chilling that prospect is.
I mused for a bit on the toxic level of injustice and inequality that is underscored by the contrast among the gorgeous Inner Harbor, the presence of military personnel and equipment, and the poverty, blight and hopelessness that exists mere blocks away. I cogitated on the role we as dispute resolution professionals could play in righting these wrongs.
Then I went to the Aquarium.