Knowing what to do: My prayer for Baltimore

In August 1967 my family took a car trip from our home at the Jersey Shore to the Midwest, where my mother was born. Along the way we visited several cities — including Detroit, where I remember seeing the zoo and the Ford museum in Dearborn.

Somewhere along the way we stopped at White Castle for an early supper. All of a sudden a man began yelling at the top of his voice. I think it had something to do with the cashier short-changing him. Nothing special, right? Except it had been just a few weeks since the Detroit riot that killed 43 people and left 2,000 buildings destroyed.

What I remember was the tension. Everyone in the place, it seemed, felt frozen with fear. But not just any fear. A sense that no one was in control, no one knew what was about to happen, and no one had any idea what to do.

Lone protester in Baltimore

This man stood alone between a line of police officers and a crowd of protesters, telling the protesters over and over “Do not give them a reason.” (Source:

I recalled that tension this week as I watched images from Baltimore. I have more than a passing familiarity with Baltimore, although I have to admit I’ve never been to the part of the city where Freddie Gray lived.

My heart breaks for Baltimore because I know something of the city’s character. It’s a flawed city, to be sure. But its people are strong, determined, and very much bound to their community. (On Twitter, my friend Ugur Akinci called Baltimore “a grand & troubled city,” which I think is apt.)

My heart breaks for Baltimore. And I can imagine the tension the whole city must be feeling. Who’s in control? What’s going to happen? What should we do?

On that day in Detroit, thankfully, the store manager knew what to do. He calmed the man down and resolved the problem. When the man walked out the door, it was like all the air rushed back into the place.

My prayer for Baltimore is that its people, proud and strong and hopefully united in a common cause to fix the injustice that’s been going on for decades, will know what to do. And that they’ll waste no time getting it done.

Postscript: Here’s a New York Times video that gives me hope.

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