It’s The System, Stupid

Freddie Gray being arrested in Baltimore for no known reason

Freddie Gray being arrested in Baltimore for no known reason

Reading time – 71 seconds

It’s been wall-to-wall coverage of the riots in Baltimore and the conversation has largely been focused on who is to blame. It’s the thugs. It’s the mayor. It’s the police. And everybody wants to figure out what the police should do to tamp down the violence. Once again we’re looking the wrong way and solving the wrong problem.

Our hard liners look at the rioting and are appalled, calling the people in the streets lazy and shiftless (“Why don’t they get a job instead of looting the CVS?”), ignorant and useless (“Why don’t those kids stay in school?”). They say that those people should have respect for the police.

Really? What happened in West Baltimore was predictable with a certainty matched only by gravity.

The people who were able to get out left long ago, taking their money with them to the suburbs and allowing the city schools to rot, so the kids left behind now receive a lousy education. The factories were rewarded for sending their jobs first to the south, then to other countries, leaving those still in the city without jobs. The businesses that stayed have been rewarded for their short term thinking that only enriches stockholders and the bosses. There was no money left for innovation or for worker training. The police aren’t policed and the bad cops take out their meanness and anger on helpless citizens, like Freddie Gray.

It doesn’t work the way proscribed by the hardliners when there is no education to be had. It doesn’t work that way when there are no jobs to be found so that the unemployment rate in West Baltimore is 21%. And it doesn’t work that way when the police beat the stuffing out of people, even if they aren’t suspected of a crime.  Wake up: The entire system is broken.

People don’t riot because they are ignorant, shiftless or lazy or inherently bad. People riot because they are angry and frustrated and feel trapped. They riot because the people who are supposed to protect them instead beat them and kill them. They riot because they have been abused all their lives and it’s gone on for generations and it’s nearly impossible to see even a tiny ray of hope.

If we don’t want people to riot, we have to fix the reasons that people riot. Just being reactive to the violence won’t get the job done. In fact, all it will do is to ensure that there will be yet another round of rioting in the future.

None of this excuses the rioting, the looting, the arson or the brick throwing. But answer these questions for yourself: If you lived in utter hopelessness, as had all your forebears, how long would you tolerate it? If the kid next door was beaten so badly by the cops that he died, how would you react? If you were constantly the last one hired and the first one fired and your children were hungry, what would you do?

This isn’t a game. It is the lives of millions of Americans in our cities and especially those in areas like West Baltimore. We can change this if we have the will to stop thinking short term and solely for the benefit of just a few and instead focus relentlessly on what really needs to be done. We can change this if we are willing to do something other than just clamp down harder. Or we can go on pretending that more police will cure the problem.

But how’s that working for us?

One last question: Who benefits from a system that works like this? Hint: Follow the money.


Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

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One Response to It’s The System, Stupid
  1. Jim Altschuler Reply

    It’s always “follow the money” for the long run. But for a shorter view, call it the medium view, the various police organizations at every level absolutely MUST develop an interior group to monitor the attitudes and actions of their officers. Not just the internal investigation units as they now exist; they’re more a reactionary and disciplinary than proactive. They need to be spies to report on potential problems BEFORE they break out into destructive actions (the last year or so is brimming with examples that we all know about) and, hope-fully, before the bad attitudes and wrong-thinking of a few effect others on each police force.

    I don’t have high hopes because people in power don’t tend to think to the future and improvement. They’re almost always reactionary instead of proactive.