Archive for the ‘Baltimore’ category

Baltimore Update

April 30, 2015

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?

”B” As In Baltimore

April 27, 2015

Over the weekend, the nation saw again the unfortunate deadly play out of an interaction between law enforcement and an African American. On this occasion, neither guns nor Tasers were not involved. A detail explanation has not been released but video has shown the victim, Freddie Grey, being hauled to a police van, apparently unable to walk, and placed inside. Police report that Grey was later transferred to an Ambulance when it was recognized he could not breath. Grey died in the hospital two days later of complication from a broken spinal column.

On Saturday, protest marchers turned violent and the Grey incident became national news.

In Baltimore, the mayor and police chief are African Americans.  Both are well aware of the history of race inspired conflict with law enforcement.

Baltimore, as with many other large cities, has “haves” and “have nots”. And you might correctly guess that the have nots are mostly African Americans. (It should not be assumed that most African Americans are have nots.  In Baltimore many African Americans have successfully entered the middle class or have become successful in the arts and professions.) I make this distinction because the world police see when they drive through their district depends on demographic who lives there. In Baltimore, the troubled areas are ones high with poverty and unfortunately, populated by African Americans.

Work with me for a moment.

I am not implying that being poor or being African American justifies Grey’s treatment any more than police shooting six or more times and killing unarmed African Americans in Ferguson or in Florida, Georgia, or South Carolina is to be acceptable. It seems in all these cases police use of force was excessive.

The question most are asking is why?

The African American community answers unhesitatingly police action stems from racist beliefs. End of story. Hmmm.

I suspect that treating these incidents purely as a result of racism misses the larger view. Diagnosing only racism will also inhibit  finding shorter term fixes. Prejudices are deeply held views and are established in our minds on an emotional not logical basis. While not ruling out racism, there are other reasons this string of “police on black man” altercations have taken place.  More importantly, these other reasons could lead to reducing violent out comes.

First we must begin with just who are police anyways? Normally they are not social workers nor psychologists. Most lack college education. Police are everyday people who have an aptitude to see things as black or white. The law says this, you did that, and I’m arresting you for this violation.

Second, police have been issued lethal weapons and receive training on how to use weapons. The nature of the training, however, leans heavily to how the weapon can be used to kill someone else (and save the police officer’s life). If you draw your gun, shoot to kill, otherwise the other person may kill you. Hmmm.

Third, the routine day for many police officers brings them in contact with the less glamorous elements of society. Mental illness, drug dealers, and homeless/illiterate people are common experiences in many officers’ daily rounds. Most police are people whose first instinct is not to feel empathy.   When they suspect there has been a violation of some law, the urge to do “police work” quickly outweighs the value of “understanding before acting”.

Fourth, the fatal combination normally arises after the officer’s verbal commands are ineffective. The officer most likely feels he must escalate his use of force in order to get the alleged law breakers attention. If the gun is used, six, seven, eight bullets can stream out of the muzzle before the suspect drops. These results are usually fatal. If the officer uses physical force, including Tasers, he/she is usually assisted with the help of other officers.

In these situations, frustration and disgust fill the police officers. Maybe the idea that the suspects both deserve and would benefit from a good knock-around should be the expected outcome. Hmmm.

Of course each occasion or situation is different. And of course each police officer approaches each suspect with different amounts of empathy and understanding. Extreme police treatment of suspects is not the rule, largely because most people obey the officer’s instructions. When it happens, however, the outcomes are to frequently not good.

Baltimore will soon release its findings of what happened to Freddie Grey. Most likely Mr Grey was or was mistaken as a legitimate suspect, and will have refused to cooperate with the police. From all that we know at this point, the arresting officers used excessive force and severely injured Mr. Grey. (We don’t know why.) The spinal injury probably began in the arrest process and was exacerbated during the “unseat belt buckled” police van transportation.

No one likely meant fatal harm to Mr Grey. It just happened.

Imagining how this incident could be avoided in the future certainly involves heavy doses of police training. Avoidance could also include new police hirings where officers with more empathetic skills were added to the force. And the public needs training too.

With respect to Baltimore citizens, all demographics, should be made aware of what a day in an officer’s life feels and looks like. Police body cameras, professional sound and video recordings, and well developed documentaries could make all citizens more aware of what behavior are likely to illicit professional police response and which ones are likely to lead to conflict.

In other words, we must remember that police are necessary to protect us all from “really bad people”. If ordinary people act like “bad” people, how can we expect the police to know the difference? With more video and sound reproductions of what actually happened, we can learn whose behavior, citizens or police, is at fault when things go astray.

At the same time, efforts are needed to broaden police training (like anger management) and how to shoot “not to kill”.