I fear that some type of war may be brewing. Not another Afghanistan or Iraq, but something right in our own backyard. Something more visceral. Turn to any television channel or search on youtube and you can find numerous incidents of the use of excessive and sometimes deadly force by the police. Over the past several months there has been an onslaught of events captured on cell phones that has illuminated a problem that has always existed.
Use of excessive force is not a new phenomenon that has all of sudden descended upon the poor and people of color. For some odd reason, many people are shocked and appalled about what the poor and people of color always knew-police brutality is real. What is new is the technology that has been used to capture it. Nearly everyone has a cell phone with video recording capability. There are very few things that can be done nowadays without it being captured on video. But this isn't a bad thing. Video has assisted law enforcement in capturing criminals and bringing them to justice. It has also been used to exonerate people who have been wrongly accused of a crime.
Nonetheless, it has lately been used to capture events that would have otherwise never been brought to light. The images that have been captured has pulled back the little blue veil to reveal a not too perfect law enforcement system that the poor and people of color have always known existed. Footage of excessive force by the police has led to national protests. Across the country people are protesting out of anger. Campaigns such as #blacklivesmatter, have been launched. Some protests have led to property being destroyed and officers being injured. But that shadows what is really going on across the country.
Recently, Baltimore was on fire. Literally. We can all sit by and condemn acts of vandalism and violence and call people names like thugs and hoodlums. However, let's look at the real culprit: high unemployment. High unemployment leads to crime. Young men turn to gangs, drugs and guns. This in turn leads to aggressive policing in a neighborhood where people are just trying to make ends meet and hope for the best for their family. There are good people in those neighborhoods who are caught in a world where work is few and crime is high.
But how do we get to aggressive policing and use of excessive force? Well, the police that patrol neighborhoods similar to Baltimore City, or North Charleston where the Walter Scott shooting took place, have no clue about the people they are policing. The officers travel to work from the suburbs and other counties. They have no contact with the community that they patrol until they go to work. Their lives are completely separate and remote from anyone or anything that is even remotely related to where they actually work. Their interaction with the poor and people of color are the powerful keeping watch on the powerless. As a result, the police become paranoid.
Basically, they patrol neighborhoods with fear. Fear leads to more aggressive action. A simple traffic stop becomes a homicide and someone simply running away alarms the police to give chase leading to unexplainable spinal injuries and ultimately death. It is a cycle that needs to be stopped. But, it doesn't rest at the footsteps of the police. No, that would be unfair. There are good officers out there too. A few bad apples shouldn't spoil the bunch. It is larger than the police. They are just the ones being caught on video and remember...video killed the radio star.
Thus, to stop this requires more than lip service from politicians and pastors every time an incident occurs. It requires action from the government to supply jobs to people where unemployment is high. It requires bringing industry back into the cities and not sending jobs overseas for cheap labor and where oversight is unheard of. This is a national problem that is not just sociological. It is both sociological and economical. There is a socioeconomic aspect that underlies every aspect of police brutality. The police view the poor and people of color as a bomb waiting to explode. So they approach with heightened caution, ready to react at even the slightest hint of a counter reaction no matter how innocuous (remember Amadou Diallo shot 19 times in a 41 shot hail of bullets).
Until poverty is addressed, there will be another video of the use of excessive force. There will be more protests and outrage. There will be pundits from both sides mustering up statements to quell both the left and the right. The question is simply when and where.
Originally published April 2015 on LinkedIn.