Normative Narratives


Leave a comment

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.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Transparency Report: Reconciling The Micro and Macro Narratives on Police Reform

https://i1.wp.com/thespeaker.co/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ScreenHunter_1801-Dec.-08-17.59.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/thespeaker.co/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ScreenHunter_1802-Dec.-08-17.59.jpg

Original article:

Statistically, New York police shoot more often at blacks than at whites–by about 700 percent. But, statistically blacks are armed and shoot at police more often than whites–by over 700 percent, according to national statistics and the NYPD’s annual firearms discharge report.

Recently, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani commented on the recent police shooting deaths in New York and referenced the statistic that, “Ninety-three percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here.”

In the past 15 years, NYPD shootings have resulted in 179 deaths. In other words, 179 people were killed by police while on duty out of 75 million calls.

“Again statistically speaking this is not a significant number,” commented [John Jay Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Maria Maki] Haberfeld, “given the fact that many of these shootings were justified because the people who were shot were armed and dangerous.”

Statistically. the main killer of blacks when it comes to violent deaths is other blacks. US-wide, around 8,000 blacks were killed every year between 1976 and 2011, and 94 percent of those were killed by other blacks. Of those 8,000 around 2.8 percent were killed by police.

“The overwhelming majority of black victims are killed by black perpetrators and NOT the police,” noted Haberfeld.

Haberfeld stated that she did not feel that numbers would provide the whole picture, however.

“In general, I believe that police work cannot be simply understood by the analysis of sheer numbers.”

I think this is an instance of two sides shouting past each other, instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue. I cannot say I am surprised, not only is criminal justice reform is an emotional issue, talking past your opponent has become the norm in modern public discourse.

Most officers do the right thing–they are hard working, fair, and just. But those who are not tarnish the badge, undermine efforts to build trust between police and society, and ultimately make an inherently dangerous job even more dangerous–they must be held accountable.

When Dr. Haberfeld callously appeals to the “statistical insignificance” of NYPD shootings, she is missing her own point. “Police work cannot be simply understood by the analysis of sheer numbers”, and neither can police homicide rates–these numbers represent peoples lives.

If even one innocent person is killed by someone whose job description is “to serve and protect”, and that person walks away with impunity, this should be unacceptable to anybody who believes in the notions of justice and rule of law.

I believe most people simply want officers held to the same standards as the law abiding citizens they serve, particularly when it comes to violent crimes. When a police officer commits a violent crime, it would be in everyone’s best interest (except the officer who committed the crime) for that officer to be held accountable. As I said in my last post, officers should not be above or below the law, but equal to ordinary people.

However, by definition society holds all people to a higher standard than violent criminals, and police officers should be no exception. When Rudy Giuliani says something to the effect of “what about all the black on black crime?”, he is making a false equivalence. We do not have to choose between reducing minority crime rates and reforming the criminal justice system (in fact, these issues are often closely related)–it is not an either / or situation.

Yes most homicides of black men are “black on black”. It is not that NYC or America is not addressing the socioeconomic and cultural underpinnings of minority crime. It is that these issues are multifaceted, affected both by policies at different levels of government and by people who are often at odds about how to achieve progress (not to mention spoilers who purposefully undermine progressive policy in order to maintain the status-quo for personal benefit).

It is simply much easier to enact change in the criminal justice system than throughout society as a whole. The former is comprised of a number of small, organized institutions that must adhere to changes mandated by overseeing bodies, while the latter numbers in the hundreds of millions and is as variable as free will itself.

Two reforms, special prosecutors for grand jury proceedings police officers, and lapel cameras, could lead to meaningful improvements in the criminal justice system with marginal investments. Lapel cameras would vindicate the use of necessary force, while providing an important piece of evidence for holding “bad” cops accountable (just because the Eric Garner video did not lead to an indictment does not mean lapel cameras are not an important piece of the criminal justice reform puzzle).

Reconciliation begins with the extension of an olive branch. It is up to police departments to extend this olive branch by deliberating in good faith with community leaders about how to build trust between officers and the communities they serve. The first move falls on police departments, because they are more organized and disciplined than their opposition.

Once this branch (or branches, as it must happen around the country at the municipal level) is extended, it is up to community leaders to rise to the occasion, and take the risk of pursuing reasonable reform rather than making absurd demands / publicly demonizing police officers (and vice-versa).

There is enough blame to go around for the criminal justice reform movement to grind to a halt, resulting in a status-quo that is increasingly dangerous for both police officers and the minority communities they serve.

There is also a vast swath of middle ground between police departments and community leaders–if only we can learn to deliberate instead of shouting past one another.