Tuesday Talk*: The Outrage That Must Not Be Named

There is a real and significant difference between the harm done by criminals and the harm done by police. The former are called “criminals” because they commit crimes, engage in wrongful conduct and do harm. The latter are theoretically our protectors, authorized by law, armed by our choice, to prevent criminals from doing harm. Our expectations, our demands, are different and they should be. There is no comparison.

But that doesn’t meant that the harm done by criminals is neither harm nor devastating.

This grandmother poses a question that has largely been ignored, or perhaps better characterized as rejected, because it detracts from the outrage directed at police.

“I’m just trying to figure out why this community is not angry,” said the grandmother of 10-year-old Ladavionne Garret, Jr., who is currently hospitalized at North Memorial Hospital after being shot in a vehicle with his parents.

The problem is that “black on black” crime has been used to minimize the wrongfulness of police violence and racism. In classic “tu quoque” form, the numbers and severity of violent crime committed by criminals offsets the complaint that police wrongdoing is either less wrong or insignificant, rather than see these are two separate issues, both of which are wrong and destructive.

Ladavionne’s grandmother, who identified herself as Sharrie Jennings, of north Minneapolis, asked, “Why is this community not angry?”

“We only march when it’s against the police, huh?” she asked. “We don’t march when it’s two kids, though.”

When a cop kills a black person, there will be a march, or worse. Sometimes, there should be. Sometimes, there was no wrongdoing involved. Distinguishing between the two seems to elude the unduly passionate, for whom every death, tragic though it may be, isn’t necessarily a bad shoot.

Does it detract from the focus on police misconduct to also acknowledge that violence, murders, by people who aren’t cops can also be devastating?

In her speech, which took place near the end of a news conference where city officials announced a new community policing initiative, the grandmother called out local leaders who were in attendance.

“I hope the Mayor, the Chief and anyone else that may be involved, we hope ya’ll step up, because if not, it’s going to be a deadly summer,” she said.

Is a child any less dead when killed by a criminal rather than a cop? Does their life not matter?

One concern is that addressing violence within the community feeds into the belief that black people are inherently more prone to crime, more prone to violence, which feeds into the wrongful assumptions that lead cops to shoot, to kill, too quickly. Even when lesser force is used, or no force at all, it feeds into the disrespectful and offensive treatment too often shown black people by police. This is hardly an insignificant concern. Police behavior toward people in general, and black people in particular, is regularly outrageously discourteous, disrespectful and needlessly forceful.

But ignoring violence within a community doesn’t serve to make it go away or make murdered children any less dead. Is there’s a middle ground? Can there be? Is it a zero sum game, that outrage is either saved for police or the cops get a free ride on violence and misconduct?

Are people capable of making the distinction that they can be outraged by all violence and take action against it, while violence by police is a separate and distinct wrong the is materially different from the violence perpetrated by criminals? Or is outrage saved only for the cops while people in black communities are staring at a deadly summer of black on black violence that cannot be named?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.

32 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: The Outrage That Must Not Be Named

  1. B. McLeod

    It’s like one of those bar examiner questions about which multiple choice answer is “most wrong.” It really depends on the criteria for decision. From a purely legal perspective, unlawful police conduct is most wrong, because it is 180 degrees contrary to their duty and to the very reason for their existence. From the perspective of focusing on the greater factor in black mortality, murders of black people by criminals (who are statistically likely to be black criminals) is most wrong. For anyone whose real guiding premise is that “black lives matter,” the greater mortality threat logically has to have priority. The fact that it obviously and undeniably does not shows that the slogans are not aligned with the real values of the people who are crying them.

    1. SHG Post author

      But are they the same problem or two distinct problems that produce similar or the same outcomes? If they’re not the same, then can’t both be condemned for what they are or does one detract from the other?

      1. B. McLeod

        Two distinct problems, and what is detracting is the mislabeling. The police misconduct problem (even in the case of Chauvin) is more one of Barney Fifery than disrespect for “black lives.” The hyperbolic mislabeling makes the protesters look fundamentally dishonest, as they persistently ignore the relatively huge disrespect for black lives within the black community itself.

      2. Onlymom

        It may be the same crime but it is different. Last time I looked law enforcement takes an oath to uphold the law. Therefore they must know it. That oath also requires them to UPhold the law.

        The average citizen has NOT.

        Sorry but I think that should bring a 1 or 2 step enhancement at charging and at end when sentence is passed out

  2. Ken Hagler

    Most people believe that our government is democratically elected to represent us, and that government employees such as cops are indirectly our employees working on our behalf and therefore ultimately accountable to the people. A misbehaving employee can be told to shape up or be fired, but nobody expects to do that with criminals. People protest where they believe that protesting is supposed to accomplish something.

    1. SHG Post author

      When cops are the focus, people protest cops. When rising homicides perpetrated by people within one’s community are the focus, do people not care?

      1. Ken Hagler

        Sure, they care, but nobody thinks that protesting criminals is supposed to make them stop being criminals (well, almost nobody–I did hear about a protest against gang violence once years ago). People naturally focus on things they think they can change.

    2. B. McLeod

      I don’t think that’s correct. Gandhi didn’t think the British army was working for the people. There is no reason social protest techniques could not be used against criminal organizations. Also, we can read the news on any day to see that a host of protest organizations direct their activities at other protest organizations, rather than at any governmental actors.

      1. Ken Hagler

        I’m saying that people who believe that the world works a certain way will act like the world works that way. I don’t make any claim that they’re correct in their belief.

  3. Charles

    It’s been almost a month since anyone has reported on the Ma’Khia Bryant case, with the exception of an article in the Times entitled “Ma’Khia Bryant’s Journey Through Foster Care Ended With an Officer’s Bullet.”

    After dozens of paragraphs, the Times finally gets around to recounting the details of that fateful day. From the time of the 911 call, it was 12 minutes before the officers arrived.

    Had it been 13 minutes, would the Times have printed an article entitled: “Tionna Bonner’s Journey Through Foster Care Ended With a Teenager’s Knife”?


    1. SHG Post author

      How many stories of random people being killed by other random people do you see in the Times? Of course, it Tionna Bonner’s death could be blamed on lack of police diligence in showing up in time to prevent it, that might be a story.

  4. Jimmy

    People are a lot more forgiving about their own family/friends being criminals. It stings less when a sibling steals your money than a stranger. Police are considered outsiders; they may not even live in area.

  5. Mark Schirmer

    Why can’t we have better, respectful policing, and work harder, in every way to stop the murder of children in our cities. Is it because the people in power are willing to write a certain number of children off because they are black and ignore the killers because that just how “those people” are? I’ll tell you what’s racist: the unwillingness to worker harder to stop the slaughter of the innocents and improve inner city conditions and education. THAT’S RACIST.

  6. Rengit

    They are qualitatively different, in that one is state violence, the other is criminal violence. How these two forms of violence are regarded is going to depend on society’s priors, and also the priors of various communities within that society: the broader society may regard most forms of state/police violence as inherently legitimate, or at least the unjustifiable cases as the unfortunate costs of the greater benefit of keeping society safe from criminal violence, which is always unjustifiable.

    Other communities within the society may not see it this way, viewing excessive criminal violence as the unfortunate cost of autonomy from state/police violence, which is viewed much more frequently than the broader society as illegitimate, and also as intrusive into the community’s own dispute resolution mechanisms (which may involve criminal violence). And even then there may be elements within such communities, like little old church ladies, who regard the views of the community as excessively insular and whose priors may be closer to those of the much broader society outside their own community.

    Call me a pessimist or a cynic, but when it comes to very deep priors on views about the legitimacy of state/police violence, and what degree of excessive violence from either criminals or from the police is a necessary cost of maintaining autonomy/security, it may very well be a zero sum game, and we can’t just reason everyone into some murky middle ground.

    1. PseudonymousKid

      I have no idea what to call you. Did you mean “priorities” when you said “priors” repeatedly? Nothing you said makes any sense.

      1. Rengit

        Shorthand for “prior beliefs”; sorry, the term is ubiquitous in some places, so I got ahead of myself. Hopefully that clarifies. Except that last paragraph, I mostly regurgitated Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s arguments, from a now nearly thirty year old article, about the appropriate bounds of criminality a society or community should or is willing tolerate.

  7. PseudonymousKid

    These are two distinct problems and one detracts from the other. The more criminal behavior the more violent the police must be in response. There aren’t any ties, if anyone is going “win” a violent game of life and death it’s gotta be the coppers. I would hazard that most want it that way, the alternative would spread a lot of suffering around to those who don’t want to have to respond with force. So, in all, the more crime, the more expected violence from the police. To protest crime from your own community is to legitimize police presence and response which may bring with it extra death albeit unintentionally. Oops.

    Team no violence may like to see both resolved instantly, but that might not be doable. As the “good guys” its up to the cops to get their shit straight and stop doing horrific things to the people they “protect and serve”. The rest of us didn’t sign up for any of that, and some of us end up killing, hurting, or trying to hurt other people. Sorry that life isn’t so peachy for everyone. Shit happens.

    No, cops, you aren’t the only thing keeping us all from anarchy. I don’t want to hear any thin blue line nonsense where you all please yourselves by thinking you are warriors holding back the great unwashed tides of scum from the good, decent folk. You picked a job that might have you make a split second life or death decision, or maybe multiple decisions. I’ll be here in the crowd to bitch mightily every time something doesn’t look quite right while you’re in the arena duking it out round by round. Be violent only when you need to be, nonviolent otherwise. Good luck.

    What to do about crime rates and violent crime is way, way more complicated and an entirely separate discussion. A corn dole and mass quantities of soma might help. Maybe.

    1. Jake

      “The more criminal behavior the more violent the police must be in response.”

      And this has been the case increasingly in the US because, as a society, we refuse to consider that there are ways to reduce crime besides waiting for it to happen and then reacting.

        1. Jake

          Or an argument for coming together as a society to understand the underlying causes of criminal behavior and then working together to alleviate them.

          1. SHG Post author

            Man, are you going to feel silly when you realize that there always will be bad dudes committing crimes no matter how many times you click your heels and say “systemic.”

            1. Jake

              If we get to the point where the US is not experiencing 2-3x the crime rate of other modernized countries around the world because we’ve accepted and executed strategies to mitigate many of the causes of crime so we can focus our resources on the real bad dudes, silly is not the feeling I will experience.

            2. LY

              Give a few minutes to consider the ramifications of the facts that the US is larger than all but a few other countries in the world, and is more culturally more diverse than any other, even within a regional demographic much less across the regions. Top that off with we are a much more individualistic society than pretty much any other.

  8. Bryan Burroughs

    Others have hit on the difference between state actors and private actors which is a major difference. Another obvious difference is the response to the violence. Cops at least pretend to investigate when private citizens kill each other, and they don’t tend to drag the victim through the mud. The 10 year old mentioned here is almost being lionized. But had he been killed by a cop, (up until a few years ago) there would have been nothing but obfuscation and misdirection from the police. They would have dragged out his damn kindergarten teacher to justify why that rat bastard deserved to bleed out on the street.

    1. SHG Post author

      The problem is whether one can let go of the focus on cops and see anything else that’s relevant to dead bodies. The cop part is well known and discussed ad nauseam, particularly here. Why is there no room for outrage about anything else?

      1. Onlymom

        Here’s a thought. Maybe all that other is legally a crime when done between two citizens. Past time it was illegal between cop and citizen.

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