Reaction 3, Sequoi Phipps, Section 2
A brief examination of recent events in the United States will reveal that some of the most talked about events involve policing, riots, and systematic racism. There is a long list of the names of citizens killed by police officers, and in many of these cases, the events that followed these deaths included rioting, policing, curfews, destruction of property, and filtered media coverage. As an example, let’s take a look at Baltimore; what happened, what were the reactions to policing, what has happened since the riots, and how do “we” react now? (We – in this short reflection, “we” are students, scholars, citizens, humans. But remember that though I am attempting to speak generally, you will ultimately be reading the view of a student who thinks that this is how “we” should react to this problem in comparison with the ways in which the public and the media are reacting.)
In two sentences, here is a brief overview of what happened in Baltimore. On April 19, 2015, Freddie Gray died after suffering injuries while in police custody. At the news of his death, the city of Baltimore experienced riots that were met by police officers, the National Guard and a declared state of emergency. There has been discussion since these events about the ways in which all members of the city reacted. In these next few paragraphs I am going to talk about what happened after.
“Police brutality in Ferguson or Baltimore or Oakland represents the failure to bring real economic reforms that might have a chance of ameliorating the suffering of the poor and unemployed” (Palermo). During the riots, mirroring the events of any other recent riot in the United States, there was aggression displayed towards to police. The trigger of the riots stemmed from an instance of police brutality, during the riots there was visible animosity against the police, and ideas of who the police were and how they used their power were impacted after the riots (both on a local level in Baltimore and on a national level).
Another ripple of riots like the one in Baltimore is how the community and economy are impacted. Often, the cost of damages is immense, local shop owners often suffer the blow after their stores are vandalized and looted, the stigma surrounding a city can quickly alter how often visitors come to the city, and the dynamic of neighborhoods and housing can also be impacted. Nathan Connolly suggests that events like the Baltimore riots could bring up other important questions about jobs and unemployment. But in so many cases after events like this one, tax payers money is going to increased policing and more resources are being dumped into ways to make law enforcement and politicians look like they are making an effort to be better (Gwen Ifill, PBS). But what if the question was not only “how do we make law enforcement better” but how we begin to approach the real issue of systematic racism? Law enforcement’s relationship with minorities is absolutely a part of that, but so is job inequality, housing segregation, and the ongoing stigma attached to territory and “who belongs where” in the eyes of law enforcement.
My question, though, is what is being done as a result of these riots across the United States? Often, it appears that all of these outcomes – tension between law enforcement and minorities, economic changes, skewed media coverage, and nation-wide debates – result in band aids and cough drops rather than real treatments. In Las Vegas, bias training classes were being taught to law enforcement in order to educate and condition law enforcement officers to make critical decisions based upon the situation rather than making judgements based upon the person they are encountering (This American Life). Are bias training classes bad? Absolutely not. The inherent intention behind these courses is to educate and prepare in ways that best serves a community. But we can reference again to Palermo, “The simple fact is that millions of Americans are living under a distorted form of laissez faire capitalism that will continue to breed civil unrest.” That is the wound that needs to be addressed. The ripples that can happen after a riot can spur on good change, yes good, if the right questions are being asked and the actual wounds are being healed.