Unless you live the life of Theodore Kaczynski you may have noticed that we have some issues with race and police brutality here in America. A recent spate of state-sanctioned killings of unarmed black men has yet again divided the country along emotional and ideological lines.
While not immune from forming opinions, I’ve tried to be thoughtful in my attempt to understand what is happening without rushing to knee jerk judgments.
People are outraged that police officers can simply take a life without consequence. It’s tempting to jump to the conclusion that we have too many bad apples spoiling the barrel of America’s police departments.
It’s also tempting to take the position that if people weren’t breaking the law in the first place, they would not be in the position to encounter a situation that ups the odds of death by cop.
Unfortunately, these positions offer a simplistic understanding of what is happening. It allows us to compartmentalize, judge, and move on with our lives that for the most part have nothing to do with the events that dominate our news viewing.
We are where we are at this point in our history; unable to escape our past and uncertain where the future lies. America is facing a moment – no less meaningful than 50 years ago when civil rights marchers came to Washington.
This is, and is not, about blacks and whites coexisting in a Martin Luther King dream. It’s unfortunately, much worse.
A nation at war for over a decade, always on the lookout for the next terrorist attack, we’ve devolved in to the worst of ourselves. An insecure country always looking over our shoulder at what is creeping up behind us rather than looking forward; and on those rare occasions we do look to our future, we see diametrically opposing views of where we want to go.
It would be naïve to not understand that we’ve sacrificed too many freedoms to the “homeland” in the guise of “security.” In this 1984 version of America in which we currently live, threats to safety must be dealt with swiftly if not necessarily justly. Our police forces are militarized, ready to respond with lethal force when called upon. Threats to safety can range from a child with a toy gun to selling loose cigarettes.
We also have an economy that remains incredibly uneven throughout the country. Tens of millions of citizens are barely scraping by. Where poverty is at its worst, chances are some laws are being broken. Unfortunately, to our nation’s shame, African Americans continue to bear the brunt of the worst economic conditions.
Now, combine over-militarized police with those stuck in poverty, you have a situation that statistically places more African Americans at risk of encountering police than the average suburbanite and the occasions where someone is bound to have their life extinguished have been greatly enhanced.
There is also outrage that there is a lack of accounting for these actions. In two vastly different events in the last week, grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and New York failed to return indictments on police officers involved in killing unarmed black men. Enough has been written on both, but the bottom line is that the district attorneys seeking indictments rigged the presentation of evidence to gain the outcomes they sought.
This isn’t a bias against the police officers – this is simply an acknowledgment of facts. Watch any Law and Order episode:
“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”
Again, it’s naïve to expect that any district attorney would vigorously pursue the conviction (or indictment) of a police officer when they are partners in the criminal justice system. The only way to rectify the injustice of this incestuous relationship is to reform the way charges against police officers are handled. It requires an independent criminal investigation outside the local district attorney’s office – in fact, it should be completely removed from the state apparatchiks and handled at the national level under the Justice Department.
Some people don’t understand the outrage. They look at Ferguson and shake their heads wondering why people are burning buildings. It’s misdirected rage, but rage demands an outlet and buildings don’t shoot back. Compare and contrast two very different demonstrations:
White people with guns show up at a protest against law enforcement – no one gets shot. Black people without guns get shot (or choked). That’s not being simplistic – that’s rationally looking at reality. Guess the message should just be – suck it up. Sucks for you, too bad you were born with the wrong skin color.
This country yet again finds itself at a crossroad on a major social issue. We can ignore it at our peril or we can begin having a rational discussion about how best to fix it and move forward. Unfortunately, I don’t see the latter happening. In order to have that conversation we need to be frank and tread in to uncomfortable areas of political incorrectness. This is not about stupid white politicians saying things in an interview that the PC police will jump on as yet another example of insensitivity – that’s not a conversation – that’s a lecture.
Many people refuse to listen to the likes of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson – seeing them as self-aggrandizing on racial issues that infect the nation. This makes having that “conversation” all the more difficult. In fact, we don’t have conversations of national importance any longer – we have speeches and talk radio and talking heads – it’s a one way dialogue that we cannot escape from. Ultimately, we herd ourselves in to ideological camps of thoughts and surround ourselves with those that think as we do without entertaining the idea that the other camp may have valid grievances or constructive ideas. This is our generations’ crossroad and there is no good way forward. Like our Congress, we’ll probably do nothing while Rome burns.