Source: KTLA | CNN Wire
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore is black. Anthony W. Botts, Baltimore’s police commissioner is black. Three of the six police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray are black, including Caesar Goodson, the driver of the van in which Gray suffered his fatal injuries.
How, then, is it possible to say that Freddie Gray’s death was a result of racism?
I think the issue is not whether we white people have more malice in our hearts than black people. I think the issue is that whenever there is a group of people that it is safe to abuse, that group of people is going to be abused—by somebody.
Recall the Stanford prison experiment. Experimental psychologists assigned a group of randomly-selected students to role-play prison guards and prison inmates. Within a few days, the prison guard role-players had become so abusive that the experiment had to be shut down. It is a dramatic example of the results of power without accountability.
Until the recent protests, this has been the situation in regard to police and poor black people who live in slum neighborhoods. Police (of whatever race) could get away with doing things to such people that you might not get away with doing to people who were middle class or white or both.
Another factor is that many local governments have started to use fines for petty crimes as a source of revenue. I don’t say this is the case in Baltimore, but it most certainly is true in many places, including poor communities in St. Louis County such as Ferguson.
This is an example of what is called institutional racism. The motivation is the desire for more revenue, not racial hatred. The blind working of the system, assuming that it really is blind, will fall hardest on poor black people in slum neighborhoods because they are less able to defend themselves that people who are middle class or white or both.
I’d also guess that some black police officers want to gain acceptance of the white police officers, and to show that they have no sympathy for roughnecks in the black ghetto.
And, finally, there is the nature of police work itself. Whether you are white or black, the people you come in contact with are not going to be the best representatives of their group, and you are not going to see them at their best.
Police work is hard. By its very nature, it doesn’t bring out the best in people. Law enforcement is necessary for a civilized and orderly society, and conscientious police officers deserve our respect and support. But this is not an excuse for needlessly taking a human life.
Update 5/9/2015. I give Mayor Rawlings credit for asking for an independent Department of Justice investigation of the Baltimore Police Department and the killings. This is more than Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago or Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City have done.
Black Cops, Black Mayor Didn’t Save Baltimore From Police Abuse by Stacia Brown for The New Republic.
African Americans in Baltimore aim anger at the top by Paul Schwartzman for the Washington Post.