American Infection

by Quinn Cooper

I have taken in the events happening in Baltimore these past several days. It’s hard to remain silent when chaos is happening. However, I avoided sharing my opinion, until now. Let me clarify I am no expert; I’m just hurt. I will do my best to articulate my personal viewpoints. I apologize in advance if my thoughts run together or become disjointed they are coming from a complicated person living in a complicated country.

Baltimore was Baltimore before Freddie Gray. The Baltimore Sun did an investigation into over one hundred police brutality cases in the last three years. The victims include a 15-yr old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-yr old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-yr old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 87-yr old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson. The full report can be found on the Baltimore Sun website. This is just a small excerpt to exemplify the bigger issue in places such as this. This situation is more Ferguson than South Carolina. A difference that is much less talked about is the immediate aftermath. Walter Scott was shot in the back. The officer was arrested and charged with murder. There was an outcry but not much protest. No riots. Compared to Freddie Gray and Michael Brown where neither officer(s) were immediately arrested. Obviously the situations are greatly different with varying amounts of circumstances and evidence. However not everyone is willing to be as discerning during a time when they feel an injustice has occurred. Baltimore like Ferguson has had a history of discriminatory policing that makes the situation more complicated than an isolated incident.

Freddie Gray was a criminal. I say that to acknowledge the fact that he had a criminal record. However was his crime worthy of the death penalty (if he was in injured by the police)? In America we are home to 25% of the world’s incarcerated humans (which is insane considering we are 4% of world population). The vast majority of these criminals will be released back into society. Yet our system treats them as life long members of the prison industrial complex, which makes reentry very easy. Gray could have very well been guilty of a crime or multiple crimes but didn’t deserve to lose his life. Officers are a part of the justice system. Officer kills are a version of the death penalty without due process.

“Riots are the language of the unheard” Martin Luther King, Jr. Riots are unproductive and destructive; everyone understands that. However when you are upset you don’t always act rational. That is what Dr. King was eluding to in his quote. When you have a lingering feeling of oppression, disenfranchisement and inequity emotions will erupt if you feel these feelings have been substantiated. Law enforcement is not recused from irrational behavior either. They are placed in a highly volatile situation that they may have little to no training for. Officers are on edge and quite frankly scared. Police will react just as uncharacteristically as rioters and only exasperate the situation. If I had an optimum solution for stopping or policing riots I would be a Nobel Peace price laureate.

The media is the media. The media doesn't arrest people, they don’t shoot people, the media doesn’t loot, they don’t riot. The media is not at fault for somehow antagonizing the situation. A popular media sentiment is “if it bleeds it leads” referring to the primitive desire for violence. There are peaceful protests in Baltimore. No one wants to see peace. It doesn’t sell. Media is a for profit business. They have to cater to the ratings. Non profit journalism sites and publications simply don’t do well because most lack the sensationalism of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. If you are truly upset with the way you receive your news then change the way you receive your news.

“Thugs” is a not so subtle slur. Lets just be clear here. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not labeled a thug for his actions in Boston. Adam Lanza was not characterized as a thug for his actions. Rioters in Baltimore in 2012 after the Ravens championship weren’t labeled as thugs either. Thugs have a very distinct demographic. It is an inflammatory and completely unnecessary characterization. I know that Obama used it. He is wrong also.

How can we heal? I phrase this question in this manner because I believe that racism is a sickness. It is an infection usually thrust subtly and unknowingly among us. Children don’t have bias, racism, or prejudice. It is learned behavior. Events such as SAE fraternity illuminate the always present racial undertone in America even if it isn’t overt. However racism has been pushed into America’s closet and considered social taboo. Bring up racism at a social event and watch the mood of the room react as if you just launched an invisible WMD. However it is socially acceptable to talk about Miley Cyrus’ suggestive dances or Bruce Jenner’s gender identification. Until we are able to address and understand racism as a culture it will continue to ferment in the social underbelly of our country.

We also have to improve police-minority relations. I think by now most honest people will say that minorities are policed at a much higher rate. Statistics and studies also have backed this assertion. I have a list of 10 things that I think would help ease this inequity.

  1. Repeal mandatory minimum sentences. Rand Paul and Michelle Alexander both cover this much more eloquently than I can
  2. Legalize Marijuana. This is coming rapidly. There is no scientific evidence that proves that weed is more harmful than alcohol nor tobacco. But weed can easily be used to over sentence non violent offenders
  3. Invest in social programs for officers. Some can be mandatory while others elective. Give officers the tools to improve their skill set in handling an ever evolving society.
  4. More extensive police program. Some police programs have been shown to be more leant in their processes. This isn’t fixable on a federal level but more emphasis should be placed on better training and selection.
  5. Body Cameras. It is safer for everyone involved. Officers now have proof when tragedies happen.
  6. Community Involvement. This is a personal anecdote (which are always dangerous). But the first name I think of here is North Little Rock, AR police officer Tommy Norman. He is a visual officer in the community. Officer Norman feels more like a friend and neighbor than law enforcement. Even if you are on the wrong side of the law; being familiar with the officer makes you calmer and feel safer. Officers policing outside of the counties they live in is nonsensical when most counties ban officials, such as coroner employees, from living outside the county they serve.
  7. Civilian empowerment. There is a need for community leaders in impoverished communities. Having a vocal and well respected voice(s) is vital to keeping calm when/if tragedy does occur. With no voice to turn to in a time of need anything can happen. We have to rebuild the social fabric of our communities. Open our doors and our hearts to our neighbors once again.
  8. Ban Quota’s. Policing for profit puts law enforcement in a position to use their authority to generate a profit instead of serving the people they are incentivized to criminalize them.
  9. Regular independent reviews. There should be some accountability audit done on police forces. If there is no fear of retribution it is easy for people to get lazy and careless on their jobs. Or on the more severe end to abuse their authority.
  10. De-militarization of police. Unless you live in Syria or Iraq there is no real need for our police forces to have advanced military weaponry. When officers are armed like soldiers it is hard not to feel like you are at war. Wars need an enemy. The War on drugs made our officers as much soldiers as civil servants. Take away the military thinking and return our officers to their natural duties.

Rather right or wrong these are my thoughts. Thank you for taking your time out to read them.

God Bless America

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