The Abdications that Led to Baltimore

The Abdications that Led to Baltimore

It is time to face the truth. The riots in Baltimore and elsewhere should have been anticipated and could have been avoided. They occurred because we – the American people – abdicated our leadership responsibilities for decades. It wasn’t necessarily conscious or malicious abdication. Benign neglect has the same result. Here are four areas where we have failed in the past and on which we must focus in the future if we want to prevent – or at least minimize – future violence like we saw in Baltimore.

Abdication of understanding, constructive dialog, and action about the real problem. The Moynihan Report, written in 1965, described a future African-American society characterized by high poverty rates, low educational achievement, and high rates of abuse. The root cause, according to the report, was the destruction of the traditional black family because of a lack of jobs, abandonment, divorce, and out-of-wedlock births. Understandably, the report was dismissed by many leaders in the Civil Rights movement as yet another example of whites patronizing the black community and blaming the victim.

Here’s the problem: everyone missed that the outcomes described in Moynihan Report were not exclusive to the African American community. Abandonment, a lack of jobs, divorce, and out-of-wedlock births contribute to high poverty and low educational attainment in every societal group. The conversation is uncomfortable, but without it, there will never be focused action to solve the real problem.

Abdication of public education. High poverty isn’t due to a lack of jobs. A report from Manpower Group stated that 39% of U.S. employers across all industries are experiencing difficulty filling jobs. The shortage of qualified applicants that stems directly from a public education system that is not preparing people to succeed in the current economic reality. Too many high school graduates are suited only for work that does not pay a livable wage. Too many college graduates remain unemployed or under-employed because they have a degree that is not in demand. The World Economic Forum rated the U.S. 52nd in the quality of math and science education and 5th overall in global competitiveness.

Not every school is broken, but too many of them are especially in economically disadvantaged areas. Schools are underfunded. Teachers are underpaid for their efforts and many are un-accountable for their performance. Administrators create bureaucracy rather than a learning environment, and too many parents have declared that teachers are the enemy.

Abdication of parental responsibility.  The Moynihan Report generalized that single-parent families would become a primary contributor to poverty. That is not necessarily true. There are many successful single-parent families, and there are two-parent families that fail. The key factors are what parents do not how many of them are in a household.

Research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice in the early 1990’s shows a correlation between parental behavior and juvenile delinquency. The findings include poor socialization practices; parents modeling anti-social behavior; lack of supervision; inconsistent or no moral training and discipline; excessive family conflict; and family chaos and stress.

Some of these behaviors are affected by other areas – such as economic situation. But, the impact of family dynamics and circumstances in the behavior of the young people engaging in rioting cannot be ignored.

Abdication of our leaders. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake blew it. A safe environment to peacefully protest is a right that every citizen should expect. But, there is no possible rationalization for allowing a “space to destroy.” She abdicated her responsibility to protect individuals and property as an elected leader.

But Mayor Rawlings-Blake is not alone in her culpability. The list also includes those who for decades abdicated educational excellence, sustainable job growth, and family support. It includes Republicans, Democrats, and independents. And, you can’t leave out the traditional Civil Rights movement voices who hung on to their personal world view rather than engaging others in legitimate dialog.

The list of abdications that led to the Baltimore riots are not isolated to that one city, and the likelihood that we will see another city engulfed in violence remains high until leaders everywhere accept responsibility for action and results.


Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy to help your company, visit or call 972-980-9857.

By | 2016-10-29T15:29:14+00:00 April 28th, 2015|Tags: , , , , |2 Comments

About the Author:

Randy Pennington

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit or call 972-980-9857.

  • Jerry Gitchel

    Randy, thanks for framing this issue it context. I moved to Baltimore in 1977 and worked in historic restoration for over a decade. We were able to rebuild many homes and stores. We were not able to rebuild the community. The challenge is to go beyond what you can see to get to address the root causes you outlined. While watching the street level reporting on the riot I couldn’t help but notice the backdrop of weathered plywood on all the buildings. We have all the resources we need, we simply lack the will to create lasting change.

    • Great comment and perspective, Jerry. Yanks for sharing it.