Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, August 11, 2016


The Department of Justice report on Baltimore is disturbing, precisely because it's so unsurprising.  As Wesley Lowery tweeted, "why does it take costly federal probe for us to believe what black people tell us about how they're policed?"  The answer, of course, is that term du jour: white privilege.  White people typically, though not always, have encounters with police that follow some sort of model of police behavior.  What we see in Baltimore is that black people don't.

The argument - put forth by someone close to me - that Baltimore couldn't have racist policing because it's a majority black city with (barely) a majority minority police department, ignores the fact that we have created police forces that are countries unto themselves.  As crime rates sink to historic lows, any crime becomes a problem.  So rather than respect the constitutional rights of black citizens, they treat all blacks as potential criminals.

The police officers who killed Freddie Grey were acquitted because the system worked the way it was supposed to: they had a presumption of innocence.  Absent any video evidence of what happened in the back of that van, you could not prove beyond a doubt that those police officers engaged in negligent or malicious behavior.

When police forces target black and minority populations, that targeting can prove lethal.  When they arrest people for telling a cop to go fuck himself, that's a violation of the First Amendment.  And yet that person is likely beaten in the course of his arrest and then jailed for resisting arrest - arrest for a crime that's not a crime.  That goes doubly true for the arrests for loitering, jaywalking and "trespass" that have their roots in Jim Crow police tactics.

And when it turns lethal, there is no appeals process.  The officers that killed Freddie Grey had the benefit of a legal process where their constitutional rights were respected.  Grey never had that opportunity.  Neither do any of the other African Americans (and whites) who are killed by police when they are not actively threatening them.

When you invest a group with the power over life and death, that power HAS to be checked and regulated.  In places like Baltimore and Baton Rouge and Ferguson, that power has been unchecked and the result is a powder keg.

The Bill of Rights is designed to prevent a police state; it's designed to prevent tyranny.  Yet that is exactly what exists in many parts of America.  The police are becoming a country unto themselves, and that is incredibly dangerous to everyone.  We need good policing as much as we need good educations, good roads or good health care.  It is a vital component of a free and open society.

Whether we can get there or not is one of the great challenges of our time.

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