Friday, May 1, 2015


This past Wednesday Camden Yards in Baltimore was nearly silent. As the baseball game between the Orioles and the White Sox played out amid empty stands, eerie sounds and images replaced the usual cheers. For the first time in the history of Major League Baseball, two teams competed in an official game without the backdrop of any fans.

Last Saturday in the same stadium, thousands of people found themselves trapped by violent riots in the streets outside. Mobs hurled insults and objects, damaging property and setting police vehicles ablaze. The death of a man in police custody triggered a rampage that has blown open Baltimore’s social powder keg.

A group of businessmen from Nebraska visited me this week in Washington. One asked the question: “Is Washington responsible for Baltimore?” Frankly, it would have been easier to avoid this topic altogether, but I think it needs to be addressed. Freddie Gray of Baltimore was arrested. It is unclear why he was detained. But what is clear is that he is now dead. He suffered a severe spinal injury that went untreated as he was detained. The unfolding of the sad reality has sparked the chaos that Baltimore is now experiencing.

Two principles are at work here: first, no one should ever experience brutality from our nation’s police, and the justice system must work in the right way. Second, as citizens we must respect the rule of law and the officers who properly enforce it. The vast majority of police officers risk their lives every day to keep us safe. They serve and protect.

Many of Baltimore’s inner city neighborhoods are experiencing deep resentment, cynicism, and hopelessness, all contributing to anger and therefore irrational behavior. Persons who live in distressed urban areas face many other challenges: failing schools, entrenched poverty, drugs, crime, and broken families. But vandals are not victims. A Facebook post circulated widely among high school students helped spark the riots, calling for a “purge” of the city and a destructive gathering at a shopping mall. Members of the Baltimore community had every right to raise a proper outcry. But what good does looting do?

Although Washington is not directly responsible for solving Baltimore’s unrest, leaders in our nation’s government must articulate the real source of America’s strength. We must convey first principles: that society draws stability and vibrancy from the institutions of family life, faith life, and community life. These are the environments where interdependency of mutual commitment reinforces responsibility, trust, and that which is good. Public policy can help alleviate the harshness of poverty and crime, but ultimately smart choices must be made.

The people of Baltimore are now responsible for coming together to surmount the vacuum of discord and to rebuild a social infrastructure that is in disrepair. The human heart longs for order. Without order, there is no freedom. It is a true poverty that young people are worsening their situation by committing irrational acts of crime.

The wellbeing of America depends on a society that gives rise, particularly in children, to proper outlook and good formation. When social institutions are lost, you cannot pass enough laws and spend money fast enough to fill the vacuum. The result is a baseball game played in silence—and a city in flames.

About the Author:

JEFF FORTENBERRY has served as the U.S. Representative for Nebraska's 1st congressional district since 2005. He is the Chairperson for the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and has a seat on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a member of the following Caucus groups: Civil War Battlefield Caucus - Congressional Biofuels Caucus - Congressional Farmer Cooperative Caucus - House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus - International Conservation Caucus - Sportsmen's Caucus. Congressman Fortenberry has become the most knowledgeable representative on Capitol Hill for nuclear security issues.

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