There is the death of Freddie Gray, and those protesting it as the culmination of the treatment by police of the black community. There are looters and rioters, using the death and protest as cover to lay waste to their community for their own purposes, mostly gain and destruction. And there is the death of Freddie Gray again, the use of force by police, the deterioration of trust and respect between law enforcement and the black community.
These fires are all burning at once, and there will be argument over who lit the fires, who is responsible, who is the worst offender. It’s going to accomplish nothing, as the desire to deflect blame and responsibility will be stronger than the desire to put out any of these fires.
For a brief, shining moment, the death of yet another young black man at the hand of the police was sinking in to the subconscious of those people who don’t see the problem affecting their lives. But images of rioting and looting will destroy that gain. They won’t see separate problems, but just one big fire. And of all the causes they find unpalatable, looting will be the least acceptable. The need to believe that the police aren’t entirely wrong is strong and deeply embedded. It’s the most difficult to overcome.
Yet, dismissing the gravamen of the protests, of the anger and frustration within a community for years, decades, of being pushed, beaten, treated like dirt, because there are some within the community that make the cops look better, is a terrible mistake. Condemn the riots, the looting, but not the cause.
And what is the cause? The police. The police are the cause. There is simply no way around this fact. The public cannot be blamed for being the public, and like it or not nice law-abiding white folks, black citizens are entitled to live their lives free of police beatings, violations of their right to enjoy a walk down the street without getting tossed against a wall, and not fear that they will die for no particularly good reason at the hands of a cop who need only proclaim he feared for his life.
Some cops concede the fact that there is no “officer safety” exception to the Constitution, thus obviating the First Rule of Policing. It’s as if the people come first, and if that were so, there would be neither protests nor rioting or looting. Cause and effect matters when it comes to fires like those burning in Baltimore.
At Crime & Federalism, Mike Cernovich makes an important point, that since the police cannot exercise self-control, they require an incentive system to compel them to not kill people for the hell of it. That doesn’t exist because of police unions and qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity provides police who break the law get a free pass. This NY civil rights lawyer explain the doctrine well:
I often write about qualified immunity. This a legal doctrine that allows public defendants in civil rights cases to win the case if their objectionable actions did not violate clearly established law even if, in hindsight, the court finds that their actions were in fact illegal.
In other words, ignorance of the law is an excuse if you’re a cop. Conduct covered by qualified immunity has included using a tazer to torture a man, sodomizing a man with a police baton, and sexually assaulting a woman.
How can police get a pass for obviously immoral conduct? Simple. Power protects power. Judges view themselves as being on the same team as police and prosecutors.
While there is certainly truth to Mike’s assertion, I think he misses one critical point: judges, et al., can do so because we — the nice law abiding white folks whose lives aren’t sufficiently touched by all of this because police don’t toss our kids against a wall and who would rather see a cop at our door than an unknown black face, even though we might prefer neither — acquiesce in this state of affairs. Judges don’t do this alone. No one does.
This guy gets it. No matter how many people are killed, how many rights are violated, the first provocation will become the image on the TV screen and make all those nice law-abiding people shake their heads about the bad people who got what they deserved. They looted. They rioted. They didn’t behave themselves the way we think they should have.
The fires burning in Baltimore are symptoms of a disease that’s become pervasive in all parts of our society, from the nice law-abiding people who grasp at any excuse to support the police to those whose anger and frustration have manifested in the outrage. Eventually, with sufficient suppression, the fires will be put out, but they will not cure the disease. And the disease will continue to rage, the symptoms will be back, until we deal with the cause of the disease.
But that will require a national admission that we’ve enabled the police to get out of control. And that requires the nice law-abiding people who allow the disease to fester to recognize that our narrow self-interest comes at the expense of our national health.
We all have the right to live our lives without fear of being harmed, killed, hassled by the cops. Even in Ferguson. Even in Baltimore. Even in every minority neighborhood in America. Not just in the nice law-abiding white neighborhoods.
And lest we forget, even in the nice law-abiding white neighborhoods, we’re still the enemy. It just hasn’t happened enough yet to make us give a damn.