Ignorance and the Baltimore Riots

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week was a bit crazy for me. It was finals week, and I had to write multiple long assignments while packing and moving out of my dormitory. Everything went smoothly, but I had a brief moment of frustration when my roommate’s family came by to help her move out.

In the middle of the conversation my roommate was having with her family about buying some things she needed, her mother said, “Well, I need toilet paper. We should just go riot. Everybody’s doing it.” She was being sarcastic of course, but that comment got my blood boiling.

I managed to sit down and try to focus on my homework, and I’m proud of myself for staying out of the conversation. My roommate’s family has said many ignorant things in the past in my presence, and one has to pick one’s battles for the sake of getting along with a roommate.

Considering the widespread media coverage of the situation in Baltimore, I knew that was what she was referring to, and her comment showed zero understanding of the nuances of the situation. Yes, people have rioted. Yes, violence is a bad thing. Yes, stealing, vandalism, and other typical riot crimes are all wrong. But cops killing people for reasons other than self-defense? That’s really bad. The frequent racial profiling by police that’s only now coming to light, is absolutely wrong and harmful, and I’m glad the media’s finally catching on. It erodes the trust citizens have in their government, and believe me, my trust in the government had already worn dangerously low. Thanks to police brutality, not only do we currently distrust the policy makers, we’re now also afraid of the enforcers. The people we’re supposed to call in an emergency have shown themselves to be untrustworthy.

Luckily, the police involved in Baltimore did not escape being charged. Whether they will be convicted or not remains to be seen, but at least now we know they will have to face charges for what they have done. We can’t continue to have police offers operating with complete immunity from punishment. It’s tragic that it seems to have taken multiple murders for this issue to be picked up by the media.

But then people like my roommate’s mother come around, and try to turn a complicated situation into cops and robbers. A friend of mine shared this picture below on social media, attempting to do the same thing:

Found on facebook

Found on Facebook

If the situation were as simple as this meme suggests, there’d be no reason to protest. This meme and others like it assumes that the entire situation can be boiled down to the notion that “People broke the law and want to get away with it.” That simply is not the case. Yes, some of the people who’ve been on the receiving end of police brutality have committed crimes. However, the police response to those crimes is what’s in question. Frankly, the police response has often not been appropriate. Time and again, the police, not the criminals as the meme suggests, have been the ones to escalate the situation to the point where a death occurred.

The death of Eric Garner is a perfect example. I’m sure you probably know about him but just in case I’ll sum it up briefly. He was stopped for a minor crime: selling cigarettes illegally. The police involved choked him to death in an attempt to arrest him. The (disturbing) video of his death can be easily found online through a google search, and while he seems extremely upset, he clearly makes no violent movements towards the officers except in self-defense. The officer who was clearly shown choking him ON VIDEO was not indicted.

In addition to police brutality, we’re seeing that the American criminal justice system overall, the system whose job it is to hold people accountable for what they’ve done, seems to be more interested in punishing civilians, particularly black civilians, than anyone else. The system is broken. The people who hold power within it are more concerned about protecting each other than they are about protecting the general public. To simplify the events in Baltimore, in Ferguson, in New York, and beyond, to a clear-cut case of crime and punishment is to completely ignore the facts of the situation.

Regardless of whether this racism and brutality is widespread or “just a couple of bad apples,” as many Republicans are saying, the officers involved need to be held accountable. Otherwise, we’re looking at a country where for a specific group of people the law does not apply, and for another group, the law is enforced violently. That’s not freedom. That’s not what America is supposed to stand for. I hated sitting quietly and typing a paper about William Wordsworth instead of turning around and telling my roommate’s mother that black lives matter. But ignorant people dislike being informed of their ignorance, and unfortunately in that situation, it was the right thing to do.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

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