Yesterday I heard the news about the New York grand jury that found police not guilty enough for prosecution and I can’t imagine it, but then I couldn’t imagine it before in Ferguson or Florida or anywhere else.
It occurred to me that this excruciating process of news report after news report is reminiscent of abuse cases and DCF (Child Protective Services’ name in Massachusetts) or requirements for an insurance company to accept a diagnosis. In both of these cases, people know what’s going on, enough that information has a predictive value. In other words, if this diagnosis is correct, I’d expect this to happen. When whatever it is happens, I or the family or the child involved can say, “See — this is the problem or there’s something that needs to be looked at or taken seriously.
As far back as Rodney King’s beating, people said there was a problem, but it could be called a one-time incident. Trayvon Martin was killed, and …well, he was violent and looked criminal with his hoodie. Now Michael Brown is dead, there’s misdirection of the system, the man who shot him goes free and there are riots. Now it’s New York — a man is dead, the police killed him, there’s film and everything, the coroner calls it a homicide, different Grand Jury, same results. My diagnosis is racism and/or abuse of power or bad training of police or … I don’t know. In any case, there is now a predictive value to the pattern. 1) Black man apparently commits — or is perceived to have committed — a minor crime 2) Young black man is killed or beaten, 3) The person who apparently did the killing or beating isn’t tried. 4) The person is tried after the community protests and are told not to complain, 5) The person is found innocent, 6) All hell breaks loose.
Now, it seems clear to me that the diagnosis is racism in all these cases, but whether I have it right or not doesn’t matter. This pattern has predictive value. Something is wrong with the system. 4 or 5 men have died or been beaten for driving drunk, walking, and stealing cigarettes or cigars. Bernie Madoff’s career as a criminal cost society a lot more than that and he’s not dead. There seems to be little or no correlation between crime and punishment. There seems to be a lot more death than needed to happen. Yet, we maintain that “equal protection under the law” is the law of the land and what makes this country free. If that last statement is true, then the first two can’t be, but they are. Therefore, equal protection under the law is the ideal, but it is not the reality. It is the right thing to have happen — the thing we believe in — and yet it doesn’t happen. It’s not good for the African-American men obviously, but it’s also not good for the whole African-American community as they try to make their way through life. It’s also — and here’s the kicker — not good for the police. When a large section of the population can’t or won’t talk to the police or are afraid of the police, it strips them of their authority. It makes it harder to do their job — if not impossible. Surely, of course, there are good White police — we know this to be true. They can’t do their job either, because of all of this. It’s not good for America because it ruins our reputation as “The land of the free”, and it makes it harder to sell the idea that we’re the good guys.
People have said there’s a problem. Now there’s a paper trail. Authorities must do something differently. Whether the problem lies the police, or the lawyers, or the judges, or people who teach hate, I don’t know. Where ever it is, there is a abuse happening, and now we have a paper trail. Let’s stop the abuse, figure out what’s wrong, and fix it.