President Obama was asked about the Baltimore riots in a press conference yesterday. Here’s part of what he said.
If you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty; they’ve got parents — often because of substance-abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves — can’t do right by their kids; if it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead, than they go to college.
In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men; communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing has been stripped away; and drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks — in those environments, if we think that we’re just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not going to solve this problem.
And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets, and everybody will feign concern until it goes away, and then we go about our business as usual.
If we are serious about solving this problem, then we’re going to not only have to help the police, we’re going to have to think about what can we do — the rest of us — to make sure that we’re providing early education to these kids; to make sure that we’re reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons; so that we’re not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a nonviolent drug offense; that we’re making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs. That’s hard.
If the only time that the powers-that-be pay attention to poor black people is when they riot, then it makes pragmatic sense to riot.
My home city of Rochester, N.Y., had a big riot in 1964, one of the first in a series of riots that continued all through the 1960s. Mobs went on a rampage for several days in black neighborhoods and destroyed small white-0wned shops and businesses in their neighborhoods.
But a result, the white leaders of the community started to pay attention to the problems of black people. Eastman Kodak started hiring black employees, which it had not done before. This didn’t result in the ending of poverty or racial discrimination, but it did end the pretense that they do not exist.
I’m of two minds about this. It is wrong for elected officials and law enforcement to back down in the face of violence. But the response of Rochester’s political, economic and religious establishment to the riots was what should have been done when things were peaceful.
Sadly I think there is little likelihood of the kind of positive action of which President Obama spoke.
Back in the 1960s, the problem was that, although the majority of Americans were progressing economically, some of us, especially African-Americans, lagged behind. Now the problem is that the majority of Americans are falling back economically, some of us, especially African-Americans, worse than the rest.
This is why politics is seen as a zero-sum game, and why working people and the middle class see everything done to help poor people as something taken from them.
Riots Still Haunt Rochester by Mark Hare for City newspaper.
It’s Society’s Fault. It Always Is. by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative. [Added 4/30/2015]
More Freddie Thoughts by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative. [Added 4/30/2015]