Baltimore Update

In a NPR interview aired this morning, a reporter shared outcomes of local businesses which were damaged by “protesters”. The reporter said that if “protesters” broke a store’s window and the store was black owned, a group of black citizens would suddenly come and stand in front of the store denying entry to any “protesters” who might be inclined to become a “looter” too. Hmmm.

My first reaction was positive. Local residents were willing to stand up and protect local businesses. Then, the reporter went on.
If the store was not black owned, no one came forward and protected the store. In this Baltimore area, the reporter said the stores were predominantly Asian American owned. “Protesters” seemed to have no problem becoming “looters” with these stores.

In other reports, Baltimore’s progress in recovering from the 1968 riots was reviewed.  A lot of money has been invested around the waterfront and surrounding areas.  Today the center of Baltimore is a tourist attraction.  Not so for the areas further out, particularly on the West Side.  Hmmm.

With respect to Freddie Grey, there is plenty of documentation that the Baltimore Police Department has for many years treated local African American residents with apparent disregard. News reports have revealed a large number of civil complaints settled with six figure payments to African American residents. Offending officers were both black and white. This suggests a legal system and police administration which has tilted against African Americans.

Those who are looking for a “silver bullet” solution (like fix the police or dump money into the poorer sections of Baltimore) are likely to once again misdiagnose the causes of Baltimore and other similar city’s recent incidents. Freddie Grey and the resulting looting are not simply a problem of police insensitivity or misapplication. Improving the situation must involve other factors including significant changes in the attitudes and behavior of African Americans too.

Why are the deepest pockets of poverty predominently African American? Why are these poor city sections filled with young people who lack drive, education, or motivation? Why would poor African Americans turn on poor Asian store owners? Or even more to the point, why would African American protesters loot and destroy stores and shops in their own communities?

Clearly there needs to be changes in police tactics. Investment which would provide jobs in these poorer sections undoubtable would also be valuable, if the local African Americans possessed the skills necessary for these potential jobs.  But will that be enough?

I wonder whether the Asian American communities offer an example. Asian Americans do not look or speak like white Americans, yet they seem very successful in whatever they pursue.  These groups possess a strong family ethic where the father is present. Hard work, education, and patience (sacrificing now so that the children are better off) are valued personal characteristics. Mexicans display these characteristics and are already making significant progress assimilating into American society.  Hmmm.

Summing this up, there are for sure major changes needed in policing, the overall legal system, and community investment, but the African American community has enormous opportunities to improve its own lot.  The larger community (which includes whites and middle class and well to do African Americans) must see that policing and investing changes take place.  The question is will these changes return trust and motivate poor African Americans to seize the opportunity to improve themselves?

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