An Answer to Baltimore:
I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about Baltimore today. I’m sure many of you have as well. The conversations tend to start with a debate about the rioters, whether they’re right or wrong, and how they are definitely drawing attention away from the problems at hand. When it comes time to talk about the problems at hand though, the conversations tend to dry up. No one knows how to address or even correct the issues we’re facing as a people today. A few people are even unclear as to what the issues are. Let me start by defining the issues at hand, as I see them.
The issue we face as a people today, not as a black people but as a people period, is a lack of accountability for the police. The police have been entrusted with our protection, their primary motto is to serve and protect, but that motto seems to go out the window whenever they decide today is the day they’re going to take a life. This doesn’t apply to all police, it doesn’t apply to most people, but the issue applies to everyone. When a cop kills someone that cop is given the benefit of the doubt, their testimony is accepted without contest and unless someone has exceptionally compelling evidence to the contrary the case is closed there. Sometimes people do have compelling evidence to the contrary, even video evidence, and yet still, no one in the justice department seems to care. I say seems to because it’s possible that they do care, but I don’t see that. I see blood in the streets, and the blood belongs to people the police are supposed to defend. That’s the issue we face.
There will be conversations about rioters, about how blacks in general conduct themselves, about the need to remain peaceful and calm even in the face of gross injustice, but these conversations are irrelevant. The problem we are facing today is the murder of people by police who don’t have to face accountability for those murders. Now that seems like a problem we can solve. The main solution people have proposed is body cameras, which seem like a good idea, until you look at Eric Garner. You have looked at Eric Garner, haven’t you? You can, his murder was filmed, uploaded and televised. His murderer, caught on camera choking him to death, was briefly considered as a man who ought to face justice, but a shoulder shrug later he was back on the street. Body cameras are not the solution. They are a part of the solution, and for any legislation that opposes them, such as the legislation in the state of Connecticut, there ought to be a swift and powerful retribution, but they are only a part of the solution. If you’re willing to stay with me I’d like to propose a few more steps.
First of all we have to start treating murderers like they are murderers. Police are given the benefit of the doubt when they hand out speeding tickets, arrest people for assault or arson or whatever and that’s fine. That is fine because the accused has the ability to face their accuser, to argue their side of the story during their day in court. Murder needs to be a different story. If I shoot someone dead outside my home right now and then tell the judge that the man deserved it for whatever reason, that would not be the end of the conversation. I am not a cop, I am a nobody, and there is no reason I should be held to a higher standard than the standard expected for the people we give guns and authority to. In fact, treating murderers like murderers is the second step, treating cops like they are an example to aspire to is the first. We can’t have policemen who are also klansmen, we can’t have policemen with domestic violence cases, we can’t have policemen with blemishes at all. If you are an officer of the law and you are hit with an assault case, you need to stop being a cop. If a Gamestop employee would get fired for catching an assault case, how do we have precincts like the ones in Baltimore? How do we have officers accused of crimes, settling out of court, and retaining their badges? If you are a cop and you are accused of murdering someone, congratulations, you are no longer a cop. This shouldn’t be an extreme step, it should be the standard already set in place. We need cops we can trust, which means, at the slightest hint of misconduct you are relieved of your right to stand as an authority in the eyes of the American people. Had Baltimore paid more attention to its police it wouldn’t be in the state it’s in today.
The second step is treating murderers like murderers. Once you stand accused of a crime like murder you are no longer given the benefit of the doubt. You are required to prove your innocence in a court of law like everyone else is, and any and all evidence compiled against you is to be viewed and taken seriously. No one who is videotaped choking a man to death ought to be viewed fit to do anything other than rot in a cell. Even officers who shoot and kill unarmed suspects have the good sense not to choke a man to death, death by choking is inexcusable and highly preventable. The same can be said for beating a man to death, or severing a man’s spine. Officers accused of these crimes need to be treated like the criminals they are accused of being, same as everyone else. Wearing a badge cannot place you above the law, in fact it places you as a slave to it. Whereas anyone else could break the law and perhaps receive some degree of justification, cops can’t. They are to be slaves to the letter of the law, because they volunteered to uphold it. Police officers aren’t drafted, they volunteer to uphold the law, the least we can do is expect them to. We cannot have people accused of murder by the public but not the justice system, not anymore. America is a nation where people get indicted, it always has been. Police officers who are accused of murder need to be tried, and if they are in fact innocent then they need to rely on the justice system they uphold to prove that. If hearing that sentiment makes you rethink being a cop then you have no business strapping on a badge and telling the rest of us how to live. We cannot have a system we believe in if we continue to give them free passes when someone winds up dead, and death by negligence needs to be every bit as prosecutable as outright murder.
The third step is admittedly a bit more radical. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, many communities felt the people hired to protect them were not interested in their protection. To them the only choice they had was to protect themselves. Out of these communities came the Brown Berets, the Black Panthers and many other such groups, all with a similar idea: if they won’t protect us, we’ll protect us. Shortly thereafter the FBI infiltrated these groups and tore them apart. Now that’s not a conspiracy theory, the FBI has declassified these files, admitting to actions that range from projects like COINTELPRO to the illegal wiretapping and surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King. We need groups like the Black Panthers again. We need people, from the communities that are at risk to band together and protect one another from a system that has proven time and time again its unwillingness to protect us. We need people who will stand arm in arm and, if necessary, take up arms to protect their homes from everyone who threatens them. These actions are not illegal. These steps are not illegal. If a militia can form to protect ranches in the Midwest that are breaking the law then surely groups can form to protect communities from the armed men that are breaking our children, brothers, fathers and friends. If the gangs in Baltimore can come together, declare a truce, and recognize that no gang in this nation as is large or as protected as the boys in blue then we all need to come together in light of this truth.
These are just three steps, with little to no legislation, but a very real chance at ending some of the death and bloodshed we’ve seen far too many times. I’ve spoken to people who feel that women are at risk, that our cultures need to change, that the world we live in is hellbent on proving that it doesn’t care about us, and they’re all right. We live in a nation where our system has proven that it does not care about us, so we have to care about us. Right now. We have to care about us, we have to come together as a single voice in support of ourselves, and then we can make them care. People were willing to burn Baltimore to the ground to make them care, we have to show that same conviction. Please don’t let there be another Freddie Gray, who is the new Eric Garner, who was the next Michael Brown, who was the new Trayvon Martin, and so on. The people in charge don’t care about us, so let’s band together, let’s take charge of our people, and let’s care about ourselves. If we rally, in an organized fashion, with a single voice, others will take not, we will see cops wearing body cameras, we will see a decline in people getting murdered without consequence, we will see change. First we have to make them see us. I vote we open with step three.