Having read about the letter that a delegate to the Maryland State Assembly, Emmett Burns Jr. wrote to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, I felt the need to write:
“Dear Del. Burns:
I am writing this from the other side of the country, in Santa Monica, Calif., but your letter to the Baltimore Ravens’ owner demanding that Brendon Ayanbadejo ‘cease and desist’ his advocacy for marriage equality in Maryland moved me to write. I was a Ravens’ fan before you wrote what is one of the most egregious examples in the past decade of an elected official in the U.S. attempting to suppress free speech of which I am aware. Now, I’m even more of a Ravens’ fan.
I grew up in Baltimore, In fact I grew up around the block from where you live now — on Forest Garden Ave-nue. My parents moved to that street because they were Jewish. At that time, Lochearn was ‘restricted’ — it did not allow Jews or blacks. The houses on Forest Hills Drive and Forest Garden Avenue were built a decade after the homes in Lochearn, and they had no ‘restrictions,’ hence the Jews moved in. When my parents asked at the nearby swim club if Jews could join, they were told, ‘not the pushy kind.’ Years later, after such deed res-trictions were ruled unconstitutional and as African-Americans began purchasing homes in suburban Baltimore, I watched the squandering of the opportunity for my neighborhood to become more socially and racially diverse, as real estate agents utilized egregious block-busting techniques … to prevent that from happening.
I mention all this, because I see on your website that you grew up in Mississippi and judging from your bio probably didn’t move to Maryland until the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, so maybe you didn’t know these little tidbits about the neighborhood in which you now live. On the other hand, as someone who serves as vice chair of the Civil Rights Committee and is a member of the Commission to Coordinate the Study, Commemoration and Impact of Slavery’s History and Legacy in Maryland, whose work is closely aligned with the Maryland State Archives [and its] ‘Documents in the Classroom’ series [that] includes lessons on mid-century African-American migration in Baltimore, you probably know more about the about the history of Baltimore’s racial and ethnic geography and the legacies of discrimination bound up with that geography than I do.
But when I first heard about your letter, I didn’t know anything about you. Rather than someone steeped in the history of civil rights, I assumed that you must be a delegate from some rural part of the state who has no experience of having to speak out when he sees people being treated unfairly. When I learned you lived around the block from where I grew up, on a street that neither you nor my parents could move to in 1954, I was disappointed in the extreme views you hold, not because you hold them, (although I do believe that the freedom to marry who one chooses is a civil right, and my own faith tradition teaches that in every age we discover new forms of repression). I can respect that your religious heritage and beliefs make that untenable for you. However, I do not respect you writing a letter that practically demands that an employer tell his employee what he can and can’t say on his own. If the freedom of speech isn’t a civil right, what is? You, of all people, serving on the committees on which you serve, should understand that.
I suspect that your letter to the Ravens’ owner has had an effect exactly the opposite of what you intended. Folks out here in California and in other parts of the country who otherwise could hardly care less about a ballot measure in Maryland are now aware of it, and your attempts to suppress a well-known sports figure from advocacy will rally more folks to donate money and efforts to the cause.
Perhaps, Del. Burns, an apology is in order.”
Santa Monica, Calif.