Normative Narratives


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Aftermath of The Baltimore Riots: Justice is Blind, Economics is Not

RIP Freddy Gray. Just 25 years old, a young man’s life was tragically cut short. We cannot let the ensuing chaos detract from this ultimate injustice.

I have seen people on social media try to justify what happened to Mr. Gray by bringing up his criminal history. Not only is his rap-sheet immaterial to his death, but it is despicable that people would drag a dead man’s name through the mud to make their politically / racially charged points. This man is dead, he cannot defend himself.

Furthermore, Mr. Gray’s criminal history of non-violent drug use / distribution is a common product of his environment. Not to make excuses for his past crimes, but his environment does offer some insight and context into his questionable choices.

Another meritless claim is that Mr. Gray’s spinal surgery led to his death. Mr. Gray did not die on the operating table, and without some outside trauma to his spine he would still be alive today.

Equally disgraceful to these meritless justifications of alleged officer misconduct are opportunists using Mr. Gray’s death to loot and riot. Mr. Gray’s family, for their part, has condemned the riots. Nothing fuels a counter-narrative like unlawful behavior; as the saying goes, with friends like these who needs enemies.

A Department of Justice investigation is ongoing, and I fully expect that after a transparent investigation those responsible for Mr. Gray’s death will be held accountable.

Yes America’s criminal justice system is flawed, particularly with respect to African American communities, but to assume that it is never capable of delivering justice belittles its many unsung successes. As of this posting, the 6 officers involved in Mr. Gray’s death have been charged with various crimes, including second degree murder and manslaughter, by Baltimore’s Chief Prosecutor.

I can understand rioting after an unfair ruling, but not before a ruling even takes place. Some will argue that as a white man it is not my place to understand, and while I like to think I am generally pretty good considering things objectively, they may have a point. I do however know this; when comparing the track records of violent and non-violent protests in achieving meaningful reform in America, the more effective approach has unquestionably been non-violent.

Those sympathetic to the rioters may argue that every successful non-violent protest was buoyed by a parallel violent movement. While it is impossible to completely decouple the effects of parallel violent and non-violent movements, I find this argument flawed. What positive role could violent protest possibly play in political decision-making when violent protests detract from public sympathy, and the state always has the overwhelming advantage in shows of force?

To the contrary, in my opinion meaningful change results from strong leaders utilizing their rights to publicly frame issues in ways that even those who may, in their private thoughts, be ideologically opposed cannot as publicly elected officials reasonably challenge.     

Regardless of my understanding, the riots have, in the words of Baltimore’s African-American Police Comissioner Anthony Batts, embarrassed Baltimore as a city. Fortunately the negative actions of a few misguided Baltimoreans should have no impact on either the Baltimore Country or DoJ investigations.

But ultimately it is not the short-term embarrassment or immediate economic consequences that should most worry those who wish to see Baltimore thrive. It is the long-term impact on investment that is most troubling, as the riots will likely exacerbate the very socioeconomic conditions which indirectly led to Mr. Gray’s death and the ensuing riots in the first place.

While properly served justice is “blind”, economic decision making considers every iota of information available:

The looting and burning of a CVS pharmacy and general store, which has been shown on just about every newscast in the past 24 hours, as well as the destruction of other shops, will tend to deter retailers from making new investments, economists warned.

“One of the things that’s been growing in the area has been the tourism aspect and nothing puts off tourists more than riots and curfews,” said Daraius Irani, chief economist at the Regional Economic and Studies Institute of Towson University in Baltimore.

“One of Baltimore’s credit strengths is it has a sizeable and diverse tax base,” said Moody’s analyst Jennifer Diercksen, noting the city’s universities, which provide thousands of very safe jobs – creating a stable base for Baltimore.

Still, the city lags the rest of the nation on a per capita income basis. Its per capita income was $24,155 for 2012, representing only 86.1 percent of the national median, according to Moody’s.

Its unemployment rate is higher than the U.S. average – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Baltimore city’s unemployment rate in February was 8.4 percent versus the U.S. rate of 5.8 percent in that month.

Still, economists said one of Baltimore’s problems is the sharp demographic split between the successful elite and an underprivileged population.

“There is the vibrant, beautiful, urban community that is characterized by ongoing renaissance, and the poor, less educated, less visited, which faces more challenges,” said Basu. “Both Baltimores have been making progress in recent years.

“Despite the fact the destruction was in the other Baltimore, not the one visited by tourists, the damage economically in the near and mid term will affect both.”

When private investment lags, jobs and tax revenue for social programs and public goods take a hit. Regardless of your political affiliation or personal beliefs, one or more of these things are needed to promote social mobility and social justice.   

Baltimore’s leaders must now prove their mettle by utilizing the city’s strong fiscal position to attract investors. The city’s leaders must leverage both public money and the public relations boost private companies would realize by helping “rebuilding Baltimore” towards securing public-private partnerships that benefit Baltimore’s poorest areas.

The only silver-lining of these riots is that America is paying attention to Baltimore. While I think peaceful protests would have achieved this same outcome without the negative media coverage and economic backlash, the riots are now (hopefully) a matter of history. Moving forward, the attention Baltimore is currently receiving must be utilized as a positive.  

Another potential avenue for recovery runs through Federal government, which being within a stones-throw of Baltimore may be compelled to invest significantly in revitalizing the city. Of course these two sources of public funding–municipal and federal–should be carefully coordinated to ensure that maximum social benefits are realized.

It is exactly trying times like these when strong leadership is most needed. Let us hope elected officials in Baltimore and Washington D.C. are up to the challenge. Community and religious leaders also have an role to play, both immediately in catalyzing anger into a sustainable political movement, and in the long run by promoting the roles of strong social values, resilience, and personal and social accountability in poverty reduction.

I am confident that criminal justice will be served in the Freddy Gray case, and that this case will help spur more widespread criminal justice reform across America.

Unfortunately, I fear the riots may have exacerbated the very problems that need to be addressed for more comprehensive progress on the social justice front.

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Monday Morning QB: March Madness Starts Early This Year

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:9036126 (link to a video of the brawl between Mexico and Canada in the WBC)

The World Baseball Classic has been about as exciting as anyone could ask for up until this point. The Italian team has been the surprise story of the tournament, emerging from a tough division along with Team USA to make it to the single elimination games. The remaining 8 teams are:

USA, Italy, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Cuba, and Japan.

This list includes some surprises and some obvious names. It was nice to see team USA advance past group play for the first time. The Netherlands may come as a surprise, but players from Curacao (a small island state near Venezuela) help bolster the team’s roster. The Dominican Republic boasts a powerhouse lineup and are many peoples’ favorite to win the whole tournament. Two-time defending champion Japan, whose roster includes a whopping ZERO MLB players, have no intention of letting that happen. There is lots of talent in this WBC, and it has been fun to see some of the non-MLB players getting a chance to shine on a global stage.

It has not been so much fun for everyone; some teams suffered frustrating eliminations. Team Venezuela was expected to go far in this tournament, but could not make it out of a difficult division featuring the D.R. and P.R. Teams Canada and Mexico showed their frustration in the form of a bench clearing brawl (although Canada was not yet eliminated at that point). The Canadian team, up 9-3 in the 9th inning, bunted to get a runner on base (aggregate score is a tie-breaker for group play in the WBC). This prompted Mexican 3B Luis Cruz to tell his pitcher to intentionally hit the next Canadian batter. After several failed attempts, the batter (Rene Tosoni) was hit, and a bench clearing brawl ensued.

It is unfortunate that tempers had to boil over, as the WBC is supposed to be about different countries coming together under the umbrella of Baseball, but it just goes to show you how seriously players take this tournament. The action will only get more intense, as games are now single elimination (although I wouldn’t expect anymore brawls; you want that, go watch any Hockey game).

Congrats to Tiger Woods, whose dominant performance at Doral earned him his 17th World Golf Championship Title. Tiger has paid enough for his transgressions; it is good for him and the game of golf to see him return to championship form.

Congrats to Bernard Hopkins, who over the weekend broke his own record to become the oldest Boxing title holder at 48 years old. “On Saturday, Hopkins beat 30-year-old Tavoris Cloud for the IBF light heavyweight championship.”

Joe Flacco backed Anquan Boldin’s assertion that he will not take a pay cut to stay on the Ravens next year. Joe should really use some of that money he got to hire himself a math tutor, or at least have someone explain how the salary cap works. There was arguably no other player who was more important to Joe Flacco’s playoff success than Boldin, who “in the playoffs, caught 22 passes for 380 yards receiving (95 yards per game) and four touchdowns.” Flacco should put his money where his mouth is, and agree to shave a few million dollars of his record-setting contract in order to bring back the guy who most helped him win the Super Bowl and secure said contract. Boldin has been the Raven’s leading receiver since he came to the team from Arizona three years ago.

Flacco owes much of his success to Boldin, and a small restructure would allow Boldin to stay on the team (Boldin has stated he does not want a pay raise, but he will not take a pay cut either):

“Boldin told USA Today on Saturday he’s unwilling to slash his salary in order to stay with the team, citing “principles.”

“At no point, no matter how well I played, would I come back to the table and say, ‘I need more money.’ The contract that I signed was the contract that I intended to play out,” he told USA Today.”

I believe Boldin is right here, but Flacco “backing him” is a bit of a joke unless he is willing to structure his deal in a way that will allow the Ravens to keep Boldin. In a salary cap league, one man’s record contract is (potentially) coming out of his teammate’s pocket. A great WR can make a QB better, and Boldin’s ability to go up and get the ball has undoubtedly made Flacco better.

Two weeks ago I said that Flacco’s legacy may be determined by how flexible he is with his contract. Signing such a large deal puts a considerable amount of responsibility on Flacco to allow the Ravens the salary cap flexibility needed to ensure they can continue to surround him with championship caliber talent. I never would’ve thought such an opportunity would present itself so soon, but this is an opportunity for Flacco to prove to the city of Baltimore that money is not everything, and that winning is what is most important to Flacco (just to be clear, this would be a very small portion of Flacco’s 6 year 120.9 million dollar contract, as Boldin was only set to make $6 million next year before he was asked to restructure his deal).  

Talk is cheap Flacco. While it is nice to back your WR, it’s time to put your money (which we all know you now have more of than you could ever need) where your mouth is.

Update: It appears that Boldin has been traded to the 49ers for a 6th round pick (once he passes a physical). It’s amazing to me that the team couldn’t figure out a way to keep it’s most consistent weapon following it’s Super Bowl victory and record-setting contract for Joe Flacco, but there you have it. As former teammate and now undisputed No. 1 Ravens WR Torrey Smith put it upon learning of the trade, “This business is BS at times,”Enhanced by Zemanta.

The Ravens lost a big piece in Boldin. Boldin was not the most physically gifted WR at this point in his career, but he was a strong No. 2 WR with exceptional hands who always played bigger than he actually was. The Ravens have a True No. 1 WR in Torrey Smith, but nothing certain after that. Will they draft someone or sign a free agent? Do they believe the explosive Jacoby Jones is ready to make the next step as an every-down WR?

This could end up being a big mistake by the Ravens (I think it is), time will tell.


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Monday Morning: QB The Harbaugh Bowl

https://i0.wp.com/a.espncdn.com/photo/2012/0105/espn_g_harbaugh1x_576.jpg

MLB lost two historic figures this weekend, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver. Musial was one of the greatest hitters of all time, a fan favorite in St. Louis during and after his playing career, and by all accounts a gentleman who played the game the right way. Weaver was a greatly successful manager for the Baltimore Orioles. He won close to 1500 games, 4 pennants, and 1 WS title in his 17 years managing the Orioles. Both men will be greatly missed in the MLB community.

The NHL season kicked off this weekend. The New York Rangers looked rusty, losing their first 2 games. Their rivals, the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins, both looked very good; it will be a difficult road to the Stanley Cup this year.

On to the NFL; the playoffs have eliminated all but two teams, who will now face off in two weeks in the Super Bowl. Those teams are the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. I was 7/10 in predicting playoff winners, not too shabby! Considering the Broncos gave their game away, and the Seahawks probably should’ve beaten the Falcons, I feel I only really got one game “wrong”—49ers vs. Packers. Even still, 70% is pretty good.

This Super Bowl matchup should be very interesting. We have two brothers, Jim and John Harbaugh, who will be head coaching against each other; without checking I can safely say this is the first time brothers have head coached against each other in the Super Bowl. Both teams boast shutdown defenses and high powered offenses. These two teams, well coached and well balanced, should give us a very competitive Super Bowl. I know I am looking forward to more than the commercials this year.

So who will win the Lombardi trophy this year? Surely, a strong argument can be made for each team. The Ravens bring playoff experience to the table, Joe Flacco appears to be on top of his game, as does Anquan Boldin. Ray Rice and Torrey Smith are All-Pro caliber players, and Jacoby Jones is an X factor as both a slot receiver and a return man. On the defensive side of the ball, there is no question that Ray Lewis and the gang will come ready to play.

The 49ers are equally dangerous. Colin Kaepernick showed poise last weekend, running a balanced offense after falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter of the NFC championship game. Frank Gore is an elite running back, and Vernon Davis creates match-up nightmares. Michael Crabtree has emerged as a true number 1 WR, and Randy Moss seems to be getting on the same page as Kaepernick. The 49ers can beat you in so many ways on offense; it is hard to believe Kaepernick will be starting only his 10th game when he takes the field in New Orleans on February 3rd. On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers are as good as anybody.

Ultimately, it will come down to 3rd down efficiency and who wins the turnover battle. I know this is a bit of a cop-out; almost every NFL game comes down to these two statistics. However, with two teams as balanced as these on both sides of the ball, with head coaches who know each other so well, I can’t think of anything else that could swing this game. Perhaps the deep ball, as both QBs have the ability to make big strikes through the air (although both teams secondaries have the ability to shut down the deep game as well).

I’m calling this one for the 49ers. I don’t think any team, even the Raven’s, can stop all the weapons the 49ers have. That option play, where either Kaepernick or Gore/James keeps the ball, is so hard to stop, just ask the Falcons defense.

Either way, it should be a game for the ages. There will be tons of speculation over the next two weeks (as well as memorable sound bites from media week), at this point all we can do is tune in and see what actually happens when the two teams take the field.