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.