What You and I Can Do About Baltimore

I was 10 when Detroit burned with rage and rebellion. Since then I have done little things, and little things matter, but have I done nearly enough? And, more importantly, what more can I do? If you believe in “everyday leadership,” or “kill (the idea of) THE leader,” then this question must be yours as well as mine. It’s not just the challenge of the mayors and police chiefs of American cities. If you claim the USA as yours, as I do, then you own it all! How great is that? That is democracy. And especially in a democracy, OUR leadership necessitates vigilant inclusion.

May I share the contrast I felt this week? Kristi, one of my most influential and positive students addresses me and refers to me as “Professor Dan.” I respect her respect. I assume that expression of respect comes from her family upbringing, and I suspect it also derives from her (Asian) cultural roots, where “face” matters, and where hierarchies, e.g., of age and position, earn expressions of respect. And I appreciate as well her familiarity, Professor Dan, she calls me, not Professor Mulhern. It’s empowering (and humbling) to be called Professor, and it’s just sweet to be Professor Dan.

Now consider the Grand Canyon Chasm between Kristi’s treatment of me and the treatment of black men in Baltimore (Ferguson…). What if the police had thought of him not as “Freddie Gray,” but as “Mr. Gray?” Or, parallel to Kristi’s expression, as “Mr. Freddie.” From all appearances, they did not grant him the status of Mr., a man, an adult, a citizen, a peer. And they surely did not treat him as a unique and particular, familiar person. They neither accorded him “face,” nor did they see his particular, human face, nor hear his tortured human cries.

Faces of Mr Gray and Mr Mulhern
Faces of Mr Gray and Mr Mulhern

As individuals we are presented countless instances every day where we have a choice: Will we see a black face, a brown face, a yellow face – or will we see a chance to protect the “face” of the other, their entitlement to our full respect as exalted citizens, respected people? And will we want to see the human, particular, familiar, face, that is represented by a name — Dan or Kristi or Freddie?  Like all leadership: It’s PERSONAL.

We also have to “fight the power.” Here, I must confess. I confess that when I first heard the story, I thought: maybe the cops had good reason; let’s not rush to judgment. I am rightly shameFACED about this. Of course, the police deserve fair trials; that’s not my point. But I KNOW – from sociological-group knowledge and from hearing th e experiences of so many black friends — that the system is broken and so often slanted, and my first instinct should be to protect the innocent (starting within my own mind and heart). Power and order are necessary. They were necessary to quell the unrest. But power and order continue to be abused.

You may not have the rather shameful instinctive knee-jerk tendency to defend the system, or my white privileged experience that the system works (as it does for me and mine). Good for you. But we all share a social-democratic leadership obligation to listen to those who are crippled by some of our systems, as Mr. Gray was crippled by those cops, who hardened their hearts, who diminished his rights, and took his life.

We can do so much better to see human beings as unique human beings, and to bend our systems — educational, hiring, policing, imprisoning — to listen, to respect, to empower, and to include, to truly and justly and humbly

Lead with our best selves,

  • Thanks for tackling this issue Professor Dan. Honest, challenging, and made me think about how I treat others.

  • Thank you for sharing your insight and compassion for mankind. I believe until we as amaericans start recognizing the diversity that we have and celebrating its diversity we will continue to be divided. When a white person sees me I want them to see me as a black man but as a black man with differences that should be appreciated and valued.

    Also in most american urban cities the poor which are the majority black continues to be deprived of qualitity education, jobs and community and economic development that give balck people hope and inpireration. Most urban city downtowns are propering well and the poor neighborhoods are suffering.

    The Power Structure of White America has created systems that enot only forget to treat each other with diginty and respect but has cast away and forgotten generations and generations of its citizens and created slums that resembles third world countires for its citizens. Part of the systematic problem is believing that welfare is a solution instead of equal opportunity of eductaion and jobs and less prisons and laws to fill up the prisons.

  • Professor Dan,

    I agree that respect is an important piece of solving this problem, but it is not just the police and the “system” that needs to change. The black community needs to have respect as well.

    We need to look at why all the efforts and money we have spent to fight poverty have failed so badly. What do we have to change in our governance of these cities to see real progress? Doubling down on failed policies does not seem like the answer.

  • I was 17 and washing the windows facing Grand River Avenue of my family’s Detroit restaurant that Sunday morning & saw first hand the rage and rebellion you likewise mentioned.

    I have always considered myself a fortunate white man, lucky enough to have been enlightened and educated by superior teachers almost all of whom were black men and women. They all cared about me, taught me to respect myself and the dignity of everybody else. The Detroit public schools I attended were predominately black; my junior high school had several thousand students, maybe a dozen whites. I was never treated poorly but appreciated, listened to and pushed to excel, above all else my take away was that skin color was not worth the precious time spent dividing us from the common goal of treating others the way we wish to be treated.

    Since then I have done little things too, but always remembering respect is a two-way street.
    Unfortunately, too many of our fellow citizens were not as lucky as me, so here is what I recommend. Urge every classroom, boardroom, military training & police ready-room and all political legislative gathering-rooms together with judges & courtrooms to think about, discuss and consider the “Golden Rule.” It is simple, easy to understand and as it turns out the fundamental human asset, we have given ourselves to default chaos and destruction into calm and improving standards of living. Interestingly every known culture, religion, and legal system has recorded this principle as its core value.

    Professor Dan, here is a thought for classroom extra credit, and discussion, write upon the blackboard “ab alio expectes alteri quod feceris” (“expect from others what you did to them”) and “non est quod credas quemquam fieri aliena infelicitate felicem” (“it is not so, as you might believe, that one is made happy through the unhappiness of others”). Here is the trick, hide the English, for the moment but once the Latin from Seneca & Publilius Syrus is translated quickly ask why are those phrases important?

  • Thank you for your concern Professor Dan, and your caring insight on this matter. To many are willing to rush to judgment in my opinion about who’s right or wrong. Hence, the rioting, National Guard and the curfew in the beloved city of Baltimore. Everyone has the right to be treated humanly including the police. The police have a job to do and most police do their job well. But sometimes they go to far as in the Baltimore case. However, the rule of law should be applied…not mob violence. In contemporary American society rioting has not solved one problem, but, has created new and lasting problems. I too, as a young boy, witness the riot of 1967 here In Detroit and 48 years later we’re still trying to recover. In the city of Baltimore let us hope and pray that justice will prevail and the relationship between the state and its citizens will become stronger. Thank you for your Leadership!

  • Dear Prof. Dan,

    You are spot on. I have personally been involved in Civil Rights demonstrations since 1966 and feel so frustrated that so little has changed in the understanding of how infrastructure affects race and culture in our society. Clarence Pitts is one of my favorite journalists and he has been addressing the “what we can do” in his current editorials. Keep writing and talking about race, and we non-blacks need to step up and start talking more.

  • Thanks, Dan. Between your column and the testimonials of love and respect for Dave Goldberg, I am reminded of another concept that has been dropped in my path several times over the past two weeks. I just made a silent pledge to focus more on my eulogy and less on my resume.

  • Professor Dan:

    Two comments —

    (1) You could not be more right about the proper proportion of power and respect. Sometimes I suspect that it is a shame that so few Americans now have the experience of serving in the military. Last week I visited the National Guard Armory in Wyoming, Michigan (suburb of Grand Rapids). Immediately, I knew that I was in the presence of young men and women who respect each other and themselves.

    (2) i am so grateful that you are now using punctuation correctly in your blog postings.



  • >