by Larysa Salamacha, ICJS Justice Leaders Fellow

Baltimore City is my home. I choose to live and work in Baltimore. And I choose to work in the public sector serving Baltimore. These choices are the foundation of my professional advocacy work in economic development where I have the opportunity to partner with many different constituencies to grow our city’s economy. The economic development ecosystem in Baltimore City is wide and diverse including business owners and their employees, government agencies, elected officials, community groups, nonprofit organizations, and business advocacy groups. My decision to serve as a public servant comes more from my ethnic background rather than a religious tradition — learning about oppression from my immigrant family’s experiences shaped my outlook on life, compelling me to work to improve someone’s quality of life — whether it be a person, business, or group.

The unfiltered, raw feelings and actions of Anger/ Distrust/ Intimidation/ Contempt/ Oppression/ Hate witnessed during the Baltimore unrest was heartbreaking. Years later, looking at Baltimore through the lens of the U.S. Department of Justice’s report was heartbreak relived, mixed with disbelief. I thought the goal of public safety was to protect and defend, not to repeatedly herd and intimidate as documented in the statistics of arrests. Trying to understand the how and why as described in the 2016 Department of Justice report leads me to believe that fear is the driver — management of fear, infliction of fear and use of fear was the tool to safeguard public safety which in turn elicited a corresponding use of fear to check its currency and adjust the power dynamic.

Does fear perpetuate our habitual way of being, seeing and acting preventing us from coming together? Does fear perpetuate our bias? Does fear numb our being, seeing and acting?

And if the use of fear is viewed as just by all parties, then actions stemming from this fear belief system are viewed as just. And isn’t fear also a tool used by our religious tradition to discipline, control and effect change ‘for the greater good’? When, as Imagining Justice in Baltimore fellows, we discussed different interpretations of justice in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith traditions, there were several times I didn’t understand how the nuances of these traditions can be applied towards remedies for our harsh realities.

Imagining Justice in Baltimore implies justice does not exist in Baltimore. Does this mean no justice exists in Baltimore? Or a certain kind of justice exists in Baltimore? And who is defining justice? Is the definition coming from religious silos or the collective religious silo? Where are the law enforcement voices discussing how they imagine justice or injustice within the context of their daily jobs and their personal religious traditions? What is the broader perspective? Are we perpetuating ‘the other’ and reinforcing the bias? Can we tolerate the “tension of conflict” and still listen and engage together towards solutions? Can we suffer together and heal as a community? (phrases borrowed from Huston Smith’s “A Seat at the Table”)

“At some point, you no longer want comfort or inspiration. You just want the truth.” (a phrase borrowed from Anderson & Hopkins’ The Feminine Face of God) Can we face the truths described in the U.S. Department of Justice report? Can our religious traditions show us how to get to Justice/Fairness/Equality/Respect/Honor/Compassion/Love from the polar Anger/Distrust/Intimidation/Contempt/Oppression/Hate?

I wanted to join this cohort of community leaders to understand why — the why on so many levels. I’ve come away with more questions and more whys.

Larysa Salamacha is Managing Director of Business Development at the Baltimore Development Corporation, and a  member of the 2018 ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship.

Baltimore is part of a national conversation around questions of justice, race, and community. Members of the ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship consider how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teachings and practice can contribute to the public conversation about (in)justice. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely the author’s. ICJS welcomes a diversity of opinions and perspectives. We do not seek a single definition of justice between or within traditions.