The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Hard Problems

Let's begin with a thought on which virtually all decent Americans can agree—the murder—and yes, it was a murder—of an unarmed, non-violent black man, George Floyd, accused of check kiting, by one rogue cop as other cops looked on choosing not to intercede—is a heinous act. Let's continue with the thought that African Americans are completely justified in their anger and their contention that there is a small but still meaningful number of cops who are racist and have not been culled out of the police ranks. Let's add a third thought—violent rioting in which buildings (some owned by African American business people) are torched, destruction of personal property (mostly owned by African Americans) is rampant, and widespread looting using the first two thoughts as an excuse is common, accomplishes nothing of value and much that is destructive both literally and figuratively.

Now let's be certain that we hold all three thoughts in our heads at once. It's possible to condemn the actions of rogue police in Minneapolis, understand the anger that ensues, and at the same time condemn the rioting in many cities across the United States.

Dylan Scott, writing in left-leaning VOX, discusses these thoughts:
The protests over George Floyd’s killing by a white police officer have spread from Minneapolis across the country, revealing the pent-up anger over institutional racism nationwide.

In a way, this is not anything new. For all of America’s history, black people have been subjected to violence at the hands of the state, or agents of the state, or members of the white majority. Mass demonstrations against state violence have also been a fixture of US politics, from the civil rights movement to Ferguson, Missouri, to today. The scenes from Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Brooklyn are the latest chapter in that story.

And yet, already, the protesters’ legitimate grievances are being subsumed by political leaders and others questioning whether they are registering their anger appropriately. This is also a pattern in these moments: the demonstrations, so visible and visceral in the news coverage, become the story. The structural problems being protested start to fade into the background.
Scott is correct, but how, exactly, would he recommend that these "structural problems" be remedied? What specific steps should be implemented to address these "structural problems" by the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis (the last GOP mayor in Minneapolis served in 1974), or the Democrat mayors of the major cities (e.g., NYC, Atlanta, LA, Miami) that are now experiencing violent protests. How exactly, should policing be accomplished to protect honest, decent and hardworking residents of inner cities so that instances like the one in Minneapolis are eliminated? 

Politicians and activists gravitate toward broad generalities—words and the more words when confronted with the death of a black man by a white police officer. Their anger is real (and justified), but they have been in charge of major cities and their police forces for decades. It it not incumbent on a city administration to implement actions (not words) that would directly address the "structural problems" that Dylan Scott references? What have those actions been and why have they failed? And for that matter, specifically what are the "structural problems" that Scott references? Until they are clearly identified in a targeted manner, developing solutions cannot and will not occur.

Dylan Scott continues:
Many, maybe even most, of these protests remain nonviolent, it should be noted. They operate on a philosophy pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi and adopted by Martin Luther King Jr. in the US: peacefully and publicly register one’s discontent with injustices and allow the response of the state, usually militant and sometimes violent, to speak for itself.

It can be difficult to maintain nonviolence across large groups, however, and it is not necessarily a surprise that huge demonstrations have resulted in some bad actors getting the attention. But before politicians seize on those incidents as representative of the entire movement against police violence, it should be noted that the full story is yet unknown. Minnesota officials stressed Saturday that they believe many of the violent protesters caught on news cameras, leading to comments like those made by the president, are not actually local residents.

That alone should be a warning against letting the protests overshadow the problem they are protesting. Sooner or later, these demonstrations will end. But the problem of America’s racist past and present will still be here.
Two points are worth noting here:

Scott correctly states that it is "not necessarily a surprise that huge demonstrations have resulted in some bad actors ..." Similarly. although there is no justification for police violence, it is not necessarily a surprise that some police officers are bad actors—violent and racist. In both instances, the "bad actors" must be removed—but how?

It's also true that a corrupt and dishonest media is drawn to the violent protest like moths to a flame. By emphasizing the violence, they are the primary drivers in allowing "the protests [to] overshadow the problem they are protesting." 

For decades, the African American community has demanded action. What they've gotten from their political allies is words and more words, finger pointing, and token attempts at change. What they face is the inexorable pull of human nature, deeply engrained prejudices, and yeah, "bad actors." Those are hard problems to solve.