Saturday, May 09, 2015

Canary in a Coal Mine

Police enforcing Baltimore curfew
Explanations, not Excuses

I started writing this almost two weeks ago, and things have moved swiftly since then.  What was first on my mind was trying to talk about the looting and violence that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray, the young man who died after having his spinal chord 80% severed, and enduring what was euphemistically called the "rough ride" inside a police van.

What followed was classic looting and burning.  The local CVS was looted and heavily damaged, which seemed to be the most common example we saw on TV.  For sure there were lots of young black men seen involved in the mayhem.  Immediately, both President Obama and the mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (a black woman) characterized the looters as "thugs."  I think at that moment, it was obvious they were trying to make a point, trying to separate the law breakers from all the other citizens of Baltimore.

Predictably, the situation deteriorated into a back and forth about the word "thug."  Before you could say 'Tupac,' one group was accusing anyone of using the word "thug" of racism.  Of course there were lots of examples of white college kids burning things down, white soccer 'hooligans' burning and rioting, and so on.  All true of course, but that doesn't excuse the behavior, of the kids in Baltimore, from the colleges, or the soccer games.

On one side of the discussion is a plea for 'personal responsibility.'  On the other side stands the stark reality of a hollowed out inner city full of lost promises, where nobody should be blamed for their behavior.

Nothing happens in a vacuum.  To keep it simple, what I think the looters are, since I can't call them thugs, is weak.  None of us are perfectly strong under any amount of stress; I know I'm not.  When we see rioting like that, we aren't seeing good citizens, but we are seeing signs of social/environmental stress.  No, you shouldn't trash a store.  But these things are not happening because the kids are inherently bad either.  The seeds of trouble in Baltimore have been growing and taking root for a long time.  Just like a canary in a coal mine, these troubles are a sign of something bigger, more serious.

You can't solve a problem if you won't see the cause.


Bob Mc said...

Unfortunately finding an answer the cause is the problem. It is much easier to target and blame pieces of the problem without having to address the cause. We have a societal parenting issue - we need to recognize that these inner city folk are indeed undernourished, undereducated, and underdisciplined. Like any acting out, discouraged child, someone has to begin addressing their needs AND holding them accountable for their behavior without shaming or dismissing them. Sadly, we as a nation are one big dysfunctional family at this point, and until we get leadership that can come togther and really address "the cause" from a perspctive of compassionately effective authority that holds everyone accountable, good luck with change. P.S. A thug is a thug - I grew up in a racially homogenoeus enviroment and never associated the term with anything but a high level bully. More smoke and mirrors away from the "cause". Bleah!!

Geoff Gould said...

I tend to agree that "a thug is a thug," but I'm not so sure someone who's looting a liquor store in a mob is a bully. But vocabulary aside, I don't think a lot of people are aware of how bad the problem of inner city lead poisoning has been. Freddie Gray himself is a victim, and was living off of a settlement. I have heard data suggesting a large drop in crime after the lead was taken out of paints in most countries.

Tim from 10@10 said...

Regrettably, showing pictures of the looting itself makes for compelling television, at least that's what we're told.

Geoff Gould said...

I heard the Mothers' "Trouble Comin' Every Day" recently. It really seems pretty timely.

Josh said...

Well said, Geoff. This is a lack of opportunity issue more than a moral failing issue, and I agree this viewpoint is not excuse-making. If individuals who committed crimes are caught, sure they have to be punished, but if our society wants to have fewer riots in general, we're going to have to make much, much bigger structural changes collectively.

Bob said...