Last night I was confused, I thought CNN was running reruns. I thought my social media accounts weren’t updating. Haven’t I seen Andrew Cuomo standing on a street while buildings burned in the distance? Haven’t I read these simplistic and rash judgments on my twitter feed before?
I was wrong, like Ferguson before it, Baltimore is now the new ground zero of racial angst, economic disparity, and police brutality. It’s the new ground zero for all that’s wrong with black America and all that’s wrong with white America. The 24 hour news media will descend upon Baltimore, David Simon will be interviewed 100 times, Twitter accounts will debate in 140 characters, including spaces.
What happened last night in Baltimore is complicated. It can’t be limited to words like thugs, rioters, uprising, justice, and activism. It’s bigger and more layered than those words. This is what happens when trust in our institutions are broken. When people no longer believe that the system is working for them, when people start to believe the system is actively fighting against them. Agree or disagree with how it was handled, that is what motivated it. This is a result of events that have happened before it, and will be a catalyst for events yet to come.
And, that’s the thought that depresses me the most, the yet-to-come part. You would think that with all the attention given to Ferguson, and given to Eric Garner, we would have made some progress by now. You would think that with all the different debates going on we would have come to some kind of understanding of what the root cause of this issue is. But we haven’t.
Last night scrolling through social media, I was shocked at how people could view the same situation in such different ways. I’m a firm believer in data to help guide my opinions. Numbers can often help you find the truth. However, numbers can also be manipulated, twisted to prove a person’s bias.
A popular stat pointed out last night was that cops actually kill more whites than blacks, and when looking at the pure numbers that is true. But that stat ignores a large part of the story. Due to the difference in population size black males are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white counterparts. When broken down by age, black males aged 15 to 19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, compared to white males of the same age who were killed at a rate of 1.47 per million.
So problem solved, cops are racist, right? Maybe not. The counter argument to that glaring disparity is that police are more likely to use force in areas with higher crime rates making the connection between race and police brutality more complicated. A 2010 paper, published in the Southwestern Journal of Criminal Justice, found many discrepancies between a decade of different studies analyzing the connection between minority status and police use of force. A 2003 paper, “Neighborhood Context and Police Use of Force” makes the argument that neighborhood context and not race plays a bigger role in decisions of police to use force. So does that mean that it’s the residents of the neighborhood’s fault Freddie Gray was killed? Instead of focusing on police, we should focus on so called black on black crime?
Another popular figure mentioned by both sides of the argument was Dr. King. There were two popular quotes being circulated by Dr. King last night, both with very different intentions.
“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
“Violence as a way of achieving racial injustice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys a community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”
Dr. King understood the conditions that created that anger. He also understood that we need to be better than the people who caused those conditions in order to create real change. He preached non violence not due to a higher moral calling, but because he understood the practicality of it. He knew that images of blacks being beaten by police, hosed down in the streets, were ways to spark change. He also knew that one image of black unrest could undo 100 images of white brutality.
I guess my point is that there are a lot of valid opinions on both sides but we’ve become so focused on winning an argument, that we’ve lost sight of trying to actually solve the problem. Instead of looking for stats, or quotes, that prove our point, while ignoring others that contradict it, we need to turn our attention to addressing the problem. How can we really prevent these deaths? What needs to be done so another Freddie Gray doesn’t have to be buried? Another CVS doesn’t have to be burned down?
If we really focus on that, everything should be on the table. It shouldn’t matter who says what, or why they say it. It should only matter if it contributes to progress towards a solution. I urge everyone to take some time and really think about all the different angles of this situation and not rush to the first judgment you have. Really take the time to listen to an opinion different than yours. I also urge us all to stop and think before we speak. Ask yourself, am I bringing up this statistic to win an argument or help solve this problem?
This shift in thought may not change anything that you say. You may still find yourself advocating for police body cameras. You may still find yourself arguing that the lack of male role models in black communities leads to increased police presence, therefore more chances for unfortunate incidents. But a solution oriented mind set will allow us to all come to the table together and try to solve this very pressing issue.
Yesterday in Baltimore, amongst that pain and anguish, glimmers of hope could be found. Glimmers of hope could be found in this video of gang members coming together to stop the violence. Hope could be found in this video of a protestor and cop finding common ground. These are all examples of people taking the time to listen to each other no matter how different their opinions may be. Trying to find some understanding, some path to a solution.
Solutions to these problems are out there, I don’t know what they are, but I do believe that they exist.