Lasha Morningstar

WE ARE ONE

May 18, 2015

Television news cameras put us right in the thick of the recent riots in Baltimore's underbelly. Looting. Police pelted by rocks. A local pharmacy's shelves are picked clean and the building burnt. Demonstrators are wacked with batons.

President Barack Obama calls the looters criminals, but he also said there have been "too many instances" where police appear to interact with people – mostly black, mostly poor – "in ways that raise troubling questions."

Media are helicoptered in to cover the sensational story. Most focus on the roaring flames and violence. But the demonstrators are having none of that and tell people like Fox's Geraldo Rivera, "Go home."

A Baltimore firefighter prepares to attack a fire at a convenience store and residence early April 28 during clashes in response to the killing of Freddie Gray, a 25 year-old black man in police custody in the city.

CNS PHOTO | ERIC THAYER, REUTERS

A Baltimore firefighter prepares to attack a fire at a convenience store and residence early April 28 during clashes in response to the killing of Freddie Gray, a 25 year-old black man in police custody in the city.

However, one ABC cameraman caught the essence of the people's struggle as he followed a furious black woman dashing into the crowd of youths and beating on one, trying to yank off his hood, pulling at the mask he was wearing.

She whopped him a good one, railed at him for all the world to see and hear, and chased him home.

CBS caught up with her and found out she was Toya Graham, a single mother of six and the assistant director of an addiction recovery centre. Michael – the object of her rage – is her only son. She dragged her teenager away from the demonstration to protect him.

"There's some days that I'll shield him in the house just so he won't go outside, and I know that I can't do that for the rest of my life," Toya told CBS News.

She went on to say she did not want Michael to end up like Freddie Gray – a youth who died of a broken spine after being arrested by city police.

SIX OFFICERS CHARGED

Gray's death has now been ruled a homicide by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Six police officers have been charged. The charges range from second-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.

His death triggered the riot, say media observers.

That's the easy answer. Dig deeper and you find abject poverty, broken families, blatant racism.

You probably think I missed pointing the finger of blame at gangs. Not this time. It was the gangs' leaders who went centre stage, appealed to the rampaging youths to stop the violence and said rioting was no way to respond to Gray's death.

True. But reality says the violence hit the headlines and social media and tore the scab off authorities' racist attitudes.

But that's down there, you are probably thinking to yourself.

Nope. Racism is alive and well here in Canada. Look at the multi-coloured hues in our national, provincial, neighbourhood tapestries.

Still, Toronto's new police chief Mark Saunders said he isn't considering getting rid of the controversial practice known as carding.

UNFAIR TARGETTING

Carding, briefly put, allows police officers to collect information even if the person stopped has not committed any offence. The city's black community complains it is unfairly targeted by police officers, with blacks being stopped for no reason and asked for information they are not obliged to give.

In Canada, aboriginal leaders are calling for a national inquiry into the 1,211 missing or murdered aboriginal women.

As in Baltimore, poverty is one of the main roots of the aboriginal people's problems. The United Nations' watchdog for the world's aboriginal peoples, James Anya, cited Canada for its strained relations between the First Nations people and government, and expressed concerns about housing on the reserves.

LIFE IN POVERTY

Most recent stats show 30 per cent of aboriginal children live in poverty as do 21.2 per cent of visible minority children.

We must demand our governments create an equal playing field for all, no matter what our race or creed. Personally, my name can, at times, bring a vile response. Once, when I answered the phone and gave my name, the woman said, "So, are you a Jew or an Indian?"

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)