If a system is in place that breaks a man’s spine, maybe it’s time to break that system.

#BaltimoreUprising No more #RoughRide #BaltimoreRiots #BlackLivesMatter

A friend recently questioned what I meant when I tweeted this statement the yesterday through social media. My friend was frustrated with the violence in Baltimore that has erupted after the funeral of Freddie Gray, who died on April 19, 2015. Gray was taken into police custody a week earlier, and while being transported in a police van he sustained injuries to his spinal cord and larynx that left him in a coma, injuries from which he later died.

Frustration. I feel it, too. We all want to live in a world where people feel safe and where they have faith in law enforcement designed to “protect and serve.”

I think we can start to break the current system by doing some specific things when it comes to policing in America. There’s no excuse for:

  • –Police not seat-belting arrestees so that they avoid injuries during “rough rides”.
  • –Police not wearing body cams, when doing so has been shown to both decrease arrestee injuries and disprove false claims of police misconduct.
  • –Police not being required to report the deaths of people in police custody through a standard national system.
  • –Police not being subject to civilian oversight and review when charged with wrongdoing.

I’ll add that on a national level we probably need a law enforcement czar, someone who can implement the various recent DOJ reports’ recommendations regarding cities like Ferguson and Philadelphia–the city where I live. In the Philadelphia report, there were 91 recommended areas of improvement. Clearly, policing in America is a nationwide problem.

As for Baltimore, the city needs to end its “rough ride” practice and hold police accountable for the people in their care. The city should certainly do so for humanitarian reasons, but if that doesn’t convince people, then the millions of dollars Baltimore has paid out in wrongful injury suits should make them see the benefit on a fiscal level.

There’s no excuse for why those officers didn’t buckle in Freddie Gray when they put them in that van. Does that justify burning down someone’s home? No. Does that justify standing up to the police? Yes. (Injuring the police? No.) I’d rather see the system broken through education and job opportunity than through moltov cocktails and anonymity. Unfortunately, “Riot is the language of the unheard” as MLK Jr. once said, and some of these protesters think they have no other voice than through violence. That they are reduced to such tactics gives us an idea of how bleak their lives are. My heart is with the peaceful protesters, and I wish all the protesters would emulate them. But the violent protesters teach me a scary lesson: If we don’t do something about the increasing economic divide in this country, if we don’t give the poor more opportunities to rise to the middle class through education and job growth, if we don’t give them concrete ways to invest in middle class values, then we are likely to see more and more protests in the years to come.

I believe these riots of late, while sparked by specific incidents, are actually symptoms of the larger economic problem our country faces. If more of our country’s wealth were circulating among the middle class, it would stimulate job growth and employment opportunities for the poor. As it is, the poor are exploited by places like Walmart, where they earn a living that keeps them a member of the “working poor” and where their low wages are often subsidized by the government through food stamps, which they spend at–you guessed it!–Walmart. The trickle-down economics of the very wealthy never trickled down to the rest of the country, and it’s time to change that.

I can’t help seeing this violence as evidence of how badly that change is needed.

Related articles:

Fixing the Broken Talent Flow http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/business/2014/12/19/fixing-the-broken-talent-flow/

Rough Rides and Nickel Rides http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/20150428_NICKEL___DIMED_TO_DEATH__Is_a_long-standing_Philly_cop__technique__to_blame_for_a_Baltimore_fatality_.html?c=r

Image from Slate.com

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