My brother was fond of ending debates by saying “Opinions are like a**holes: everybody’s got one.” I always hated that line, but now I see his point.
For a long time, our domestic affairs, or at least the portion of them most explicitly tied to race, have resembled a nightmare doomed to be repeated until the underlying conflict is resolved. President Obama addressed that recurrence in a press conference at the White House last Tuesday, when he spoke about the death of Freddie Gray and what has euphemistically been called the “unrest” in Baltimore:
Since Ferguson, and the task force that we put together, we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals—primarily African American, often poor—in ways that have raised troubling questions. And it comes up, it seems like, once a week now, or once every couple of weeks. . . . What I’d say is this has been a slow-rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.
Who’s pretending it’s new? He’s been president for more than six years, and issues of race have never been worse. So much for “task forces”. (Maybe he should have tried a “discussion group” he’s so fond of at those “summits” he keeps holding.)
And I wouldn’t cite Ferguson as an example of police brutality if I were you, sir.
But his is not the a-hole/opinion I find most repellant:
Police departments point to the high rates of crime and violence that prevailed in previous years, and argue that aggressive police tactics to reduce them are therefore a hallmark of civic concern, not signs of callous disregard. The former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who is a potential Presidential contender, echoed that sentiment after last Monday night’s riot in Baltimore. As the city’s mayor from 1999 to 2007, he had introduced zero-tolerance policing, and he told CNN that it was likely responsible for a thousand Baltimoreans being alive, rather than dead, as victims of homicide. Violent-crime and homicide rates in the city did decline, but the numbers today reveal a profane truth. Last year in Baltimore, there were two hundred and eleven homicides; a hundred and eighty-nine of the victims were black males. Those numbers are categorical: Baltimore doesn’t have a homicide problem; it has a black-male-death problem.
Black males in Baltimore are not dying of mesothelioma or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I just did the math (since the author couldn’t or wouldn’t): 89.5% of all homicide victims were black men. And I would wager that those homicides were committed by a similarly high percentage of black men.
That’s not a “slow-rolling crisis”; that’s a Himalayan avalanche of a crisis. Am I just being silly, or do black lives matter (to coin a phrase)?
It must be time to change the subject:
Talk to people in Baltimore—or Ferguson or Staten Island—and invariably you hear criticism of the police not as the police but as a symbol of an entire web of failed social policies, on education, employment, health, and housing. The real question is not one of police tactics: whether the use of body cameras can reduce civilian complaints or whether police-brutality cases should be handled by independent prosecutors. The real question is what life in an American city should be. The issues extend far beyond the parameters of race, but race is the narrative most easily seized upon. (It’s worth noting our tendency to think of declining, mostly white Rust Belt cities elegiacally, and of largely black ones moralistically.)
This would be when I toss the New Yorker across my dentist’s waiting room (followed by an apology to the old lady whose eye I nearly took out). Who goes around talking “elegiacally” about declining Rust Belt cities—or “moralistically” about declining black cities? Aren’t they largely one and the same? Detroit is 80% black, Cleveland 53% black. Pittsburgh? Milwaukee? Stop me before I wax elegiac about the decline of Buffalo.
Where I would agree with the author is on the manifest, provable, incontrovertible “failed social policies, on education, employment, health, and housing”. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Fifty years of the stuff and look where we are.
Again, however, it’s the citation of Ferguson and Staten Island I find troubling. Bull-rushing a cop (after trying to steal his weapon) and resisting arrest (however trivial the crime) are not “symbols” of anything but self-destructive behavior. So, I suppose, is burning down the very neighborhood you live in. But I don’t think that’s what the author meant.
To come to any understanding of what happened in Baltimore, from Freddie Gray’s arrest to the last arson ember dying out, we need to gather and consider all the facts. From the mayor’s overt encouragement to “destroy”, to the match-lighting of outside agitators, to the genuine grievances of the community, to the future of a city whose failure is now known to all. Not least to the actions or inactions of the six cops.
If he wants to go on about “failed social policies”, please include me out. It’s important, but irrelevant to this case. And, as I wrote earlier, not particularly useful to his argument.