Let’s stay on the Baltimore situation for a moment. After all, the new attorney general of the U.S. has announced that the Department of Justice will be opening an investigation into that city’s police.
Baltimore is a perfect example—a microcosm of the bigger national picture that’s been coming to a head since Ferguson, Mo., last summer. The biggest and most obscene problems in this country have to do with law enforcement.
At least that’s what it seems like.
News and Perception
I’m a news and politics junkie. I have ten different news apps on my phone, from Fox (conservative) to the Huffington Post (liberal). I do this because I want to hear the opinions of all sides, not because I’m a well-balanced sort. It’s more that I want to see what people with opposing views think. I want to know if there’s any logic in their thought processes. Most of the time there isn’t.
The Freddie Gray incident was the match that lit the powder keg. He died while in the custody of the police and that will be sorted out in court. But although his death was taken as the premise, all indications are that something was long simmering beneath the surface of Baltimore’s west side. So: What was the underlying problem in that community (and in other communities around the country) that caused the rioting, looting and burning?
As it started to unfold I saw some real conversations taking place. I referenced in another article last week President Obama. I wrote that while I didn’t agree with everything he said, he did talk about all sides taking responsibility for the plight of that community and other underserved communities around the country. He talked about lack of education, dropout issues, poverty and the lack of fathers in the home. Good for him.
John Blake wrote an exceptional piece on CNN.com called “Lord of the Flies comes to Baltimore.” Read it.
Blake is from the Baltimore neighborhood that has experienced most of the rioting. In his piece he talks about the lack of older black men in the neighborhood; the mentors, the monitors the ones that kept the young men in line. He laments their absence and speaks of how older men now fear the gangs of young men roaming the streets.
Juan Williams on FOX News Sunday said: “There is a standing grievance in the black communities, especially by poor black people about treatment by the police. I mean let’s cut to the chase here: the reality is that you have concentrated areas of poverty in this country, extreme poverty [he then referenced 21% unemployment in Gray’s neighborhood, four times higher violent crime rate than the national average and education failures] and then we ask police to go in there and deal with the chaos and disorder and the extreme violence that’s part of those communities and it’s very difficult to put police in that position. But, once you do, the question is: Is it fair for police to be, well, be abusive, be brutal in treating those people …”
Williams went on to say that the politicians use the police as their “blue line” between that chaos spreading into downtown business districts and middle class neighborhoods.
He concluded with this. “The reality is that when you go back to the Moynihan Report (1965), Daniel Patrick Moynihan had it right. The breakdown of the family, high single-parent families, that’s who those kids were who were rioting in the streets who set that city on fire.”
And this isn’t just an issue for black America, it’s an issue with America. No one knows the exact number but John Hopkins estimates that over 70% of mothers have had at least one child out of wedlock.
But over the weekend I started to see counterarguments that again placed even that blame on the police. Several commentators and pundits blamed the war on drugs as the sole reason fathers aren’t home mentoring their children.
William H. Murphy Jr., one of the lawyers for the Freddie Gray family, said the following: “The problem is a very deep problem … these are children who don’t have parents mainly because of the war on drugs is a war on black people who are suspected of having drugs …”
He continued, “We have to end this terrible war on drugs, which has never been successful and does nothing except create over-incarceration of black men who could be fathers, and it destroys black families in so many ways.”
So, it’s the enforcement of existing laws that’s the culprit?
My argument has always been it’s not a ‘war on drugs.’ It’s trying to keep the lid on an overindulgent, spoiled and self-medicated society—mostly white, in my experience—of getting even more high and even less productive. Addiction is a problem that leads to even more problems—domestic violence, car crashes, murder and so on.
But here’s the rub: The vast majority of people in prison are not there for holding narcotics. They are there because they were selling narcotics. Are we really looking to drug dealers to positively nurture our children?
How lost are we?
Everyone, including the police, have to take responsibility for the ills of our society. Let’s start with ourselves.
Cops don’t train correctly or enough. We send them to politically motivated seminars so that the cops can check a box and prove their “attendance.” We don’t mentor our future leaders and we aren’t proactive when it comes to preparation for force and understanding the realities of human-to-human interaction. Police are too often reactive. When the proverbial feces hits the oscillating device then, and only then, do we decide to train.
As police supervisors we are too often lazy and fail to see bad patterns emerging among our personnel or we micromanage them to the point that they are afraid to make decisions.
Society is in trouble mostly because we are so fractured but particularly because no one seems to want to take any responsibility. So who wants to start?