If you lived in or near Baltimore during the spring and early summer of 2015 then you were affected, one way or another, by the waves of urban violence that shook the city.
This tragedy was impossible to ignore. It was more than images on the evening news. You could stand in your yard and see the smoke over the neighborhoods east and west of downtown. One night, the fires were so large that I could see the reddish-gold glow in the sky — fires that included a community center and senior-housing unit that was being built by Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore.
What happened to Baltimore in those months, and the stunning violence that has gripped the city ever since, is a massive, complex story. It’s a police story. It’s a story about drugs, young men on the loose and shattered families. It’s an education story. It’s a political story. It’s a tragic story about government officials trying to find someone to blame.
But if you followed the local news during those months (and some of the national television coverage) you also knew that what happened in Baltimore was a religion story.
This is no surprise, since black churches — old and new, past and present — have always played a major role in urban life when people try to cope with danger and tragedy. No one worked harder than Baltimore pastors when it came time to respond to the violence and the bitter realities that provided fuel for the fires.
That’s why I was disappointed when I read a massive story on this subject that ran the other day, co-produced by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine. Here’s the dramatic double-decker headline:
The Tragedy of Baltimore
Since Freddie Gray’s death in 2015, violent crime has spiked to levels unseen for a quarter century. How order collapsed in an American city.
Let me be clear. This is a must-read story for anyone who cares about urban life and issues facing the poor. I am also not arguing that it was wrong for the story to devote so much ink to police and government issues.
I am simply saying that this story needed to include some content from pastors and other church leaders — if one of the goals was to show how Baltimore people responded to the riots, or uprisings, of 2015. The story needed the voices of religious believers, if the goal was to listen to Baltimore.