By Candace Lloh
For the past few days, I have been studying lead poisoning. Like many others out there in the interweb world, my knowledge on a lot of things only stretches as far as my social media feeds, the books I have chosen to read, and what I hear through friends who have experienced or witnessed a thing. So when I learned of the protests and riots that broke out following the unlawful arrest and murder of 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray, my memory and thoughts surrounding all of this chaos only went back to my life as a resident of Washington, DC. I lived 45 minutes away from Baltimore. I had spent a little time in the city but all I really knew back then was rooted in brief encounters and hearsay. I didn’t know much else. Nor was there any pressure for me to dig deeper.
So when the news of street fires, broken windows, and all-out riot in a city that I knew only by one degree of separation began to flood my timeline, unlike other instances, I decided to do my research. I researched the life of Freddie Gray. I researched his brutal and deadly arrest. I researched the magnitude of the riots. I researched the protests that began before the riots. I researched Baltimore city. In particular, I researched The Avenue. In this short period of time and with my limited research skills, I came across information on lead poisoning and learned that in 1978 paint containing lead was ruled hazardous to those who live in homes where it is found. I learned also that lead poisoning can lead to brain damage. I learned that brain damage easily affects one’s ability to focus, to remember, to hold on to information – to remain alive. And then I found a connection.
For four years of his childhood Freddie Gray lived in one of those homes that was deemed a hazard due to its walls being covered in what? Lead paint. These old houses built before 1978 were housing the poor and black for quite some time after it was determined that these spaces were unsafe to live. To avoid investing the money to make these homes safer for those who lived there, the landlords would switch titles of ownership over the properties so that when they were questioned about it they could technically deny all responsibility for the offenses. So the children who lived there were poisoned simply by living and breathing in their own homes.
Fast forward to now. The children who previously lived amid the toxic fumes of lead-based paint in their childhood homes are now sick adults who have suffered insurmountable brain damage preventing them from being able to perform the simple functions that are required to do things like focus in school, retain memory, process information and ultimately, hold on to jobs. Naturally if you are a human being unable to obtain your basic necessities through one route, you are going to create other routes to take care of yourself. Some people may call these activities illegal but, for you, it is survival.