According to the December 4, 2014 article in the St. Louis Business Journal, Buildings destroyed in Ferguson riots worth millions, “The value of buildings in the Ferguson area that were destroyed in last week’s riots amounts to nearly $4.6 million.”
St. Louis’ Channel 4 KMOV reported total costs – damages as well as response costs – neared $26 million.
The Baltimore riots calling for “Justice for Freddie [Gray]” were estimated at $20 million. The Charlotte Observer reported costs resulting from Keith Lamont Scott protests cost around $4.6 million.
While governors in each incidents declared a state of emergency, FEMA assistance was denied, which means the local businesses and tax payers encumbers all the costs. While this is of concern, there is a deeper issue at hand than the costs of these incidents.
And like disasters, there are lessons to be learned and steps the community can do to intervene.
Norfolk is a story of resilience. Its story is one of rebounding from wars, pandemics and natural hazards. In more modern times, there are numerous hazards for which the community plans. In fact, a quick glance at its hazard mitigation plan will show at least twenty hazards from hurricanes to flooding to winter storms, tornadoes and tsunamis. The National Planning Scenarios mention acts of terror from CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) as well as cyber-attacks and pandemic influenza. Team Norfolk has a strong network of partnerships and plans in place to address whatever comes our way; however, there is one disaster which has been in existence for quite a while and is nowhere mentioned in the Emergency Operations Plan: race relations.
To be clear, one threat which is included in the Emergency Operations Plans is civil disturbances, such as those seen in recent history. Unlike so many other hazards for which we plan, however, there is no true hazard identification / risk assessment. There is no effort to explain why this threat exists. Because nobody is focusing on what can be done to mitigate it, plans are reactionary rather than preventative. Nothing is done to change the status quo.
When promoting the importance of preparedness and resilience to disasters, we fail to consider the pyramid model in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We ask folks to take steps to address self-fulfillment needs when their basic or psychological needs are not yet met. When someone experiences generations of racial discrimination, frustration and anger due to bigotry, there are more pressing issues at stake than discussing something relatively inconsequential as planning for an infrequent incident. We need to be cognizant about the immediate and real issues facing our community and meet people where they are.
We need to rethink how we define a disaster.
Mitigation at the Individual Level
Just as individuals all have their own opinions on the state of race relations, they are framed by an equal number of different world views, philosophies and experiences. I am a white male, and a product of the 70’s and 80’s. I grew up in the Midwest, in a more suburban area of Dayton, Ohio. I was fortunate to be raised in an intact family under Christian principals where I was taught to see people as they were and never hate or look at anyone (or myself) as inferior. Throughout my life I’ve had (and still enjoy) many friendships with men and women whose skin happens to be of a darker complexion. With the benefit of hindsight, however, it is easy to imagine how very likely I was to have been exposed throughout life to more subtle and indirect messages of hate and bigotry through the environment: television, movies, cartoons, books, etc. Charles B. Dew wrote a thought-provoking book about the topic I recommend, entitled The Making of a Racist.
Through study and self-refection I’ve come to realize one does not need to be inherently racist to contribute to the problem. While I never looked at anyone as superior or inferior based on skin pigment, I had never truly tried to empathize with African Americans, their experiences or those of their lineage. Put differently, my world view and experiences have influenced my judgments and opinions on race-related issues. During the 2016 International Association of Emergency Managers’ conference, Leonard Marcus, Ph.D. of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint program of Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, explained a popular theory referred to as ‘the cube and the cone’. This theory involves a cone inside a cube which can be seen through two separate holes; one hole from the side and one from the top. Both holes show the same object but from differing perspectives.
My judgments were always based on just one hole of observation. It was not until I began conducting research on a different project altogether (the Borough of Gettysburg at the time of the Civil War battle – 153 years ago) that I became more aware of my ignorance and naivety toward race. The more I read on the topic – check the bottom of this post for a reading list — the more I attempted to feel. The more I felt the more uncomfortable I became. Thus, I merely began to understand the pain felt by so many for so long and further realized just how errant and unqualified I am to make such snap judgments.
A veteran and member of the public safety community, I respect the flag and do not condone civil unrest, violence or the destruction of property. I believe law enforcement exists to protect and otherwise keep civil order. I also believe there is a fair and just legal system to determine innocence or guilt, and there are appropriate means by which to effectively and peacefully express one’s First Amendment rights. The problem is, this has not always been the case. There has not always been equality in police action and the legal system hasn’t always distributed justice so blindly. And some will argue it still does not.
Without arguing the innocence or guilt of Michael Brown (Ferguson), Freddy Gray (Baltimore) or Keith Lamont Scott (Charlotte), and whether police action was warranted and justified, as a white male, I offer this view through the cone of my point of view:
- My family has always been considered ‘citizens’ in the eyes of the Constitution with all the inherent and God-given rights (such as right to a lawyer, a jury trial of my peers, and/or the right to speak on by own behalf in self-defense) associated, and not ‘property’, ‘contraband’ or “so far inferior…that [I] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” as concluded in the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dread Scott decision.
- My ancestors made the voyage across the Atlantic voluntarily, and with minor variances, my last name has remained the same. I did not assume the name of an owner, or change it to avoid slave catchers.
- I not only knew my parents and siblings, we were never separated against our will (and sold) or bequeathed in someone’s last will and testament.
- My ancestors never wore shackles. Were never whipped. Were never tortured – emotionally, physically, sexually or psychologically.
- The nation’s economy, both South and North, did not rely on my brutal and unpaid labor.
- The Federal government was not complicit in enforcing my slavery, as in the Supreme Court’s ruling that an 1826 Pennsylvania’s law, which was designed to actually interfere with slave catchers, was unconstitutional. (Prigg v. Pennsylvania 1842)
- I was never threatened, beaten or transported back to slave owners by law enforcement or by military vessels.
- I have never been counted as 3/5ths of a person for the sake of “representation” or “scientifically” found to be inferior as written in a 700-page document entitled Types of Mankind.
- I didn’t learn in school the that fact while many in the North were unfavorable toward slavery, it did not mean they were for equality… that the preference was colonization to Liberia (where Norfolk native Joseph Jenkins Roberts become its first President).
- My family never felt the anticipation and jubilation of full citizenship in 1868 and the right to vote in 1870, only to be followed by the 1870 Jim Crow laws of segregation and the “separate but equal” doctrine approved by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
- Only through research did I realize laws codify morality and economics ignore both.
- I was never told I couldn’t drink from a particular fountain, enter through a separate entrance (if not denied access altogether), or sit at a particular counter.
- My home, church or place of business was never bombed or burned.
- I always enjoyed the opportunity to learn. I was encouraged to read and write. Learning did not have to be done in secret, under threat of punishment for student or teacher.
- I never experienced segregated schools. I didn’t experience the joy of Brown v. Board of Education or the Massive Resistance, and then terrorized when entering “white schools.”
- The few times I’ve been stopped by law enforcement, there was cause.
If any of these experiences, which do not come near to touching the surface of the pain, abuse and degradation of so many happened to me our my ancestors, I would perhaps be closer to viewing Dr. Marcus’ proverbial cube from the other perspective. And the use of the term ‘ancestor’, which is defined as a person beyond a grandparent, is inaccurate. To paraphrase comedian Louis CK, 153 years ago can be the equivalent of two 80-year-olds living back to back… and if you meet a person today with gray hair, they remember a time when they couldn’t use a certain toilet. Like hatred and bigotry, the pain is real and passed down through generations.
I will never be able to truly empathize with the pain experienced by so many in our history, that which is passed down from generation to generation, and the wounds which exist now. What I can do as one person, however, is 1.) Understand the past, the pain and the emotions. It may not be seen in our immediate social circles, but because it’s not always apparent does not mean it doesn’t exist. And 2.) Make the effort to empathize. This means go beyond what you may have learned in high school. Research, listen and learn – “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”
To quote a nun by the name of Mary Lou Kownacki: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.”
Mitigation at the Community Level
In January 2014, the City of Norfolk was selected to participate in the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities initiative. By October 2015 a Resilience Strategy was developed and then adopted by City Council. The three goals identified in the strategy, which are further emphasized in Norfolk’s Vision 2100 and plaNorfolk2030, are to 1.) Design the coastal community of the future; 2.) Create economic opportunity by advancing efforts to grow existing and new industry sectors; and 3.) Advance initiatives to connect communities, de-concentrate poverty, and strengthen neighborhoods.
This third goal includes addressing social challenges and stresses related to economic issues such as low income and poverty as well as workforce opportunities. While one strategy under this goal involves connecting to the community through conversation, nothing is said specifically about the foundational issue of race relations. In a locality with a Caucasian population of 48% and African American of 42%, and the history all too common with Southern cities south of the Mason-Dixon Line, it should. Norfolk’s commitment toward addressing recurrent flooding involves studying the past; it is equally imperative we take steps to admit and respect the same regarding race. Acknowledge it. Own it. Move forward. Together.
To be clear, through Norfolk’s and the nation’s painful past there were many stories of perseverance and resilience against all odds which should be celebrated. We should shine a light on the oft-hidden history of slavery and community’s status as a major site of the Underground Railroad in the Metropolitan Corridor. Norfolk should promote Visit Norfolk’s self-guided “Waterways to Freedom” tour highlighted in Lia Russell’s June 26, 2010 article in The Virginian-Pilot entitled “Follow the trail of the underground railroad.”
More than places of history are the people – names like Sam Nixon, Henry Lewey (aka Blue Beard), Alfred Fountain, James Morris, Phillis Gault, Rebecca Jones, Isaiah Robinson and Winnie Patsy. Others include Joseph T. Wilson, Annetta M. Lane, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Dr. Thomas Bayne, Aline E. Black, P.B. Young, Joseph A. Jordan, William P. Robinson, John C. Thomas, Samuel DeWitt Proctor, Evelyn T. Butts, Walter H. Green, Sr. and Carl Brashear. More still are those who fought against the bigoted “Massive Resistance” intended to prevent the integration of public schools in Norfolk – and those brave school-aged children – the Norfolk 17 – who attended those newly integrated schools. These and many more who refused to give in to a time and a system which was completely and utterly against them. This is resilience.
Mitigation actions designed to minimize or eliminate a threat are often difficult to achieve due to costs. To effectively address this issue of race is different. In fact, there is no cost. Moreover, it does not require an additional study, it does not matter to what level of education any of us achieve or even to what faith we subscribe. What is does take, however, is courage. Courage to reach out and meet someone different than us. Courage to consider how an action may affect someone else. Courage to ask questions, and more importantly, courage to listen.
If we can take a moment for self-reflection and approach this uneasy topic together, building a foundation of understanding and respect, we will have accomplished something special. Together we can unchain an ugly cycle of affliction and begin a renewal of community. And with this renewal, we just might be more successful dealing with chronic community problems in education, poverty and housing. And as we work on these issues together, we simultaneously build more trust and meaningful relationships (i.e. some of our basic needs).
And maybe then we might discover, and the world can see, Norfolk really can lead the way toward being a true resilient community.
The author’s Gettysburg reading list: The Colors of Courage (Creighton, 2005), Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery (Farrow, Lang & Frank, 2006), Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War (Horwitz, 2011), Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (Foner, 2015), It Happened on the Underground Railroad: Remarkable Events That Shaped History (Wagner, 2015) and Urban Alchemy (Fullilove, 2013)