As protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray turned violent, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan imposed a curfew and city officials called for order. Ta-Nehisi Coates described that as “The aggressor calling for time out.” (More)
“He could not talk and he could not breathe”
On April 12, Freddie Gray ran “after making eye contact” with Baltimore police officers. The officers nevertheless chased and arrested him. Then they drove him around in a police van for 45 minutes before arriving at the police station:
When Gray was taken out of the van, [Deputy Commissioner Jerry] Rodriguez said, “he could not talk and he could not breathe.”
Beyond damage to his spinal cord, Gray had a crushed voice box.
At 9:24 a.m., officers called a medic to the Western District station, reporting that Gray was in “serious medical distress.” The Baltimore Fire Department said the call arrived at 9:26 a.m.
Paramedics responded, spent 21 minutes treating Gray at the station, and arrived at Maryland Shock Trauma Center – where Gray would fall into a coma and die a week later – at 10 a.m.
Gray had a criminal record, mostly for minor drug charges, but he was committing no crime when the officers spotted him. Friends in his neighborhood said that didn’t matter:
“I’m not saying Fred was an angel; whatever he did is now in the past. But the police already have made up their minds about who we are,” said Rudolph Jackson, 51. “They figure every black person with their pants hanging down is a suspect, and they stop them without probable cause.”
“A staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans”
Gray’s story is chillingly familiar. A comprehensive 2013 ACLU report on marijuana arrests laid out the data. Surveys show whites and blacks are equally likely to use marijuana, but blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested. Marijuana accounts for over half of all drug charges, which in turn account for over half of our prison population, so marijuana arrests provide a weighty estimate of racial bias in our criminal justice system. And as the ACLU researchers wrote:
This report concludes that the War on Marijuana, like the larger War on Drugs of which it is a part, is a failure. It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost. The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status.
This is especially true for black men, the New York Times editorial board wrote Saturday:
The sociologist Devah Pager, a Harvard professor who has meticulously researched the effect of race on hiring policies, has also shown that stereotypes have a powerful effect on job possibilities. In one widely cited study, she sent carefully selected test applicants with equivalent résumés to apply for low-level jobs with hundreds of employers. Ms. Pager found that criminal convictions for black men seeking employment were virtually impossible to overcome in many contexts, partly because convictions reinforced powerful, longstanding stereotypes.
The stigma of a criminal record was less damaging for white testers. In fact, those who said that they were just out of prison were as likely to be called back for a second interview as black men who had no criminal history at all. “Being black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job,” she wrote in her book, Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration.
“The price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds”
The ACLU report continues:
Further, the War on Marijuana has been a fiscal fiasco. The taxpayers’ dollars that law enforcement agencies waste enforcing marijuana possession laws could be better spent on addressing and solving serious crimes and working collaboratively with communities to build trust and increase public health and safety. Despite the fact that aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has been an increasing priority of police departments across the country, and that states have spent billions of dollars on such enforcement, it has failed to diminish marijuana’s use or availability.
Those costs don’t include money spent on police brutality claims, and the Baltimore Sun recently published the results of a six-month study on such claims:
Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget – the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police.
Including legal fees, that’s two state-of-the-art rec centers or renovations at more than 60 playgrounds that Baltimore could not afford, plus the direct human cost to victims of abuse, and the now-toxic distrust in communities of color for police officers who took oaths to protect and serve.
In Baltimore: 19,000 “missing” black men
Our refusal to confront racial bias in law enforcement, poverty, and disease carries another cost. While black mothers have baby boys and baby girls in almost equal numbers, Baltimore has 19,000 more black women ages 25-54 than black men of the same age, part of a nationwide pattern reported in the New York Times last week:
They are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars. Remarkably, black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million [nationwide], according to an Upshot analysis. For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99, nearly parity.
African-American men have long been more likely to be locked up and more likely to die young, but the scale of the combined toll is nonetheless jarring. It is a measure of the deep disparities that continue to afflict black men – disparities being debated after a recent spate of killings by the police – and the gender gap is itself a further cause of social ills, leaving many communities without enough men to be fathers and husbands.
Using census data, we estimated that about 625,000 prime-age black men were imprisoned, compared with 45,000 black women. This gap – of 580,000 – accounts for more than one-third of the overall gap.
The remaining roughly 900,000 missing men are the result of several factors, the largest of which is likely to be differing mortality rates, demographers say. Our analysis did not attempt to estimate precisely how much of the gap stems from mortality; doing so would involve collecting mortality data over each of the last 54 years. But different homicide rates alone appear to account for at least 200,000 missing black men. And many other causes of death – accidents, heart disease and respiratory disease, for example – are also more common among black boys and men than black girls and women or white girls and women.
Yet another article found the male-female gap among black Americans correlated to the percentage of blacks in a community:
In the course of the analysis, we also looked at another potential correlation: Are the places in which the black population is heavily female also places in which the nonblack population is also heavily female? To put it another way, is gender driving these patterns as much as race?
All of which suggests that race is the driving factor. In the parts of the country with large African-American populations, thousands upon thousands of men are missing, with many of them deceased or in prison.
The “missing men” account for most of the racial difference in single-parenthood. While conservatives claim the welfare state destroyed the black family, the truth is the War on Drugs did that. As my criminal law professor used to say, “Yelling about crime is a way of whispering about race.”
“A group of lawless individuals with no regard for the safety of the people who live in that community”
All of the above provide essential context for last night’s riots, especially for whites who remain blissfully, sometimes stubbornly ignorant of the harsh realities of life in communities of color. Yes, the mostly-peaceful protests in Baltimore turned violent last night. And the governor quickly declared a state of emergency and ordered a police crackdown:
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard on Monday night, “to address the growing violence and unrest in Baltimore City.” Later Monday night, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced that a week-long curfew would be imposed on the city. Maryland State Police said they would request an additional 5,000 officers from the mid-Atlantic region to restore order.
“We will find the people that are responsible and we will put them in jail,” Baltimore Police captain Eric Kowalczyk told a press conference Monday afternoon. “Right now, it’s a group of lawless individuals with no regard for the safety of the people who live in that community.”
Many of Baltimore’s black citizens agree, but for them that “group of lawless individuals with no regard for the safety of people who live in that community” are the police themselves, as Ta-Nehisi Coates explains:
Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore – an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.
The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today’s riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure.
Coates cites the Baltimore Sun report I described above, and concludes:
The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.”)
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
“It takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way”
The plain fact is that police who kill civilians are almost never charged with crimes:
In an overwhelming majority of the cases where an officer was charged, the person killed was unarmed. But it usually took more than that.
When prosecutors pressed charges, The Post analysis found, there were typically other factors that made the case exceptional, including: a victim shot in the back, a video recording of the incident, incriminating testimony from other officers or allegations of a coverup.
Forty-three cases involved at least one of these four factors. Nineteen cases involved at least two.
“To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green who studies arrests of police. “It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”
Despite that, the Washington Post study found, over half of the officers charged with killing civilians were acquitted. For the few who were convicted, the average sentence was just four years. Some served only a few weeks.
All of that is yet more essential context for statements like this:
— N.O.T.O.R.I.O.U.S.™ (@MrMilitantNegro) April 28, 2015
Black citizens in Baltimore are demanding justice. Justice for Freddie Gray and the other victims of the Baltimore police. Justice for the state of the art recreation centers that couldn’t be built because the city paid for police brutality claims and lawyers to defend the police. Justice for 1.5 million “missing” black men, including 19,000 in Baltimore alone. Justice for jobs denied because employers are as likely to hire a white man with a criminal conviction as a black man with no record. Justice for families torn apart or unable to form.
And in response to blacks’ demand for justice … whites demand order, “the aggressor calling for a time out.”