The chaotic protests and looting in Ferguson last year and Baltimore in the last week have created understandable concern about the rule of law in these cities and elsewhere.
This mother’s actions seem to show that 1)the people protesting are misguided thugs and 2)all that is needed is a bit of discipline to get things under control.
Such a reaction is understandable but unfortunately ignores the realities of the lives of people in Ferguson and Baltimore and their interactions with the government. Once you begin to dig down into how police and local government have, for years, oppressed the people in Baltimore and Ferguson, you cannot help but feel some sympathy for residents there.
Let me put it to you this way: if you lived in the poorer parts of Ferguson or inner-city Baltimore, chances are you would feel helpless and angry at the police and the government too. Would you riot? Perhaps not, but you would at least understand why other people are protesting.
Before going on, let’s remember how the United States was founded. It was a violent revolution against an oppressive government. History shows clearly that the British government was considerably less oppressive to the majority of people in the colonies than the police and local governments of Ferguson and Baltimore today. It is simply a fact that the vast majority of colonists never had to deal with a British government official. If you were a landowner in Connecticut or New York or Virginia, you might go your entire life without ever seeing a British “oppressor.”
So, why did the colonists rebel? Because of taxes (which were ridiculously low compared to today) and because the British government was denying basic rights to people in the Americas that were granted, for the most part, to people in England. It is true that colonists read about and heard about oppression of other people, but the vast majority of white colonists never suffered any oppression from government themselves. (It is worth remembering that the situation was obviously different for the slaves).
Yet, in an environment of relatively light tyranny, the colonists nevertheless wrote founding documents expressly intended to limit and control police power. The colonists recognized that they had unusual liberty, and they wanted to protect and enlarge liberty for future generations.
Do the people of Ferguson and Baltimore have liberty today? No, they do not.
If you are going to comment on this article, I would request that before you do you please read two articles:
Let me summarize: the government in Ferguson acted like Mafia dons. Government officials, mostly white, saw it as their job to extract as much revenue from the people, mostly black, as possible. They did not see it as their job to “serve” the people. They saw it as their job to mug the people.
Think I am exaggerating?
Ferguson officials repeatedly behaved as if their priority is not improving public safety or protecting the rights of residents, but maximizing the revenue that flows into city coffers, sometimes going so far as to anticipate decreasing sales tax revenues and urging the police force to make up for the shortfall by ticketing more people. Often, those tickets for minor offenses then turned into arrest warrants.
Police officers were judged not only on the number of stops they made, but on the number of citations they issued. “Officers routinely conduct stops that have little relation to public safety and a questionable basis in law,” the report states. “Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.” Some officers compete to see who can issue the most citations in a single stop.
In one email, the police chief, who also oversees the municipal court, brags to the city manager about how much revenue it is generating. Ignoring that conflict of interest is a recipe for a justice system that bleeds the powerless of their meager resources.
Consider the case of this poor woman:
We spoke… with an African-American woman who has a still-pending case stemming from 2007, when, on a single occasion, she parked her car illegally. She received two citations and a $151 fine, plus fees. The woman, who experienced financial difficulties and periods of homelessness over several years, was charged with seven Failure to Appear offenses for missing court dates or fine payments on her parking tickets between 2007 and 2010. For each Failure to Appear, the court issued an arrest warrant and imposed new fines and fees.
From 2007 to 2014, the woman was arrested twice, spent six days in jail, and paid $550 to the court for the events stemming from this single instance of illegal parking. Court records show that she twice attempted to make partial payments of $25 and $50, but the court returned those payments, refusing to accept anything less than payment in full. One of those payments was later accepted, but only after the court’s letter rejecting payment by money order was returned as undeliverable. This woman is now making regular payments on the fine. As of December 2014, over seven years later, despite initially owing a $151 fine and having already paid $550, she still owed $541.
How would you respond if you lived in a city that routinely behaved this way towards its citizens, and nothing could be done because the same people keep on getting elected no matter how they treat the people?
How about Baltimore?
$5.7 million is the amount the city paid to victims of brutality between 2011 and 2014. And as huge as that figure is, the more staggering number in the article is this one: “Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil-rights violations.” What tiny percentage of the unjustly beaten win formal legal judgments?
If you’re imagining that they were all men in their twenties, think again:
Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson. Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.
Consider the case of this poor 87-year-old grandmother:
The 87-year-old grandmother was named Venus Green. A former teacher with two college degrees, she spent her retirement years as a foster parent for needy children. She was on her porch one day when her grandson ran up crying for an ambulance.
He’d been shot.
The article goes on to tell her story from a legal document in her successful lawsuit:
Paramedics and police responded to the emergency call, but the white officer became hostile. “What happened? Who shot you?” Green recalled the officer saying to her grandson, according to an 11-page letter in which she detailed the incident for her lawyer. Excerpts from the letter were included in her lawsuit. “You’re lying. You know you were shot inside that house. We ain’t going to help you because you are lying.”
“Mister, he isn’t lying,” replied Green, who had no criminal record. “He came from down that way running, calling me to call the ambulance.”
The officer, who is not identified in the lawsuit, wanted to go into the basement, but Green demanded a warrant. Her grandson kept two dogs downstairs and she feared they would attack. The officer unhooked the lock, but Green latched it. He shoved Green against the wall.
She hit the wooden floor. “Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up,” Green recalled the officer saying as he stood over her. “He pulled me up, pushed me in the dining room over the couch, put his knees in my back, twisted my arms and wrist and put handcuffs on my hands and threw me face down on the couch.”
After pulling Green to her feet, the officer told her she was under arrest. Green complained of pain. “My neck and shoulder are hurting,” Green told him. “Please take these handcuffs off.” An African-American officer then walked in the house, saw her sobbing and asked that the handcuffs be removed since Green wasn’t violent. The cuffs came off, and Green didn’t face any charges. But a broken shoulder tormented her for months.
The Baltimore Sun wrote a very well-done article in 2014 detailing extensive police brutality in the city. You can read it here.
I will say it again: if you lived in inner-city Baltimore or the poorer parts of Ferguson and had to deal with government officials like these on a daily basis, you would feel helpless and upset. You would sympathize with people protesting against this system, hopeful for change.
This of course does not excuse looting and violent acts against people and property, which did happen in both cities. But the first step toward making things better is sympathy and understanding of the feelings of the people who are rioting. You cannot resolve a problem without trying to see things from the perspective of other people, whose feelings must be considered.