Why do you think the disorders in Baltimore occurred?
Recently an appointment in Baltimore led me on a tour of the city. Once again I had to revisit what I had seen happen in the city. The scars are still very much in evidence. I thought it time to republish this post. We are doing better in some regards but in many others we still are not attending to the needs of our people.
A National Outrage
One essential theme in this blog is the empowerment of women and there are other secondary themes. From time to time I’m going to touch on these other themes.
In this instance I’m going to relate a matter of history. Not long ago Freddie Gray died after his arrest in Baltimore. Riots followed. Across the country we are seeing indications of abuse of power by the police but abuses and dysfunction will happen in most institutions from time to time. This death may or may not reflect racism. Racism remains an issue in our society but we have to assume that some of the worst abuses are committed by a few people who probably can be described as “bad apples”. And there may be other outside factors involved.
There is an illuminating background story I have to tell about what happened in Baltimore. In 1967 I was one of the first people hired in one of the first community mental health programs in the country. With my newly minted Ph.D. from Duke I took up station in the inner city. In another post I’ll give a broader view of the experience. But for now I will focus on police community relations and national policy.
A Dreadful Change
Do you remember touching movies from the 40s and 50s where the much beloved police officer patrolled on foot? He was well known in the community and the grocer would give him an apple as he passed. That was all to change. About the time I went to work, the police were instructed to pick up homeless or assumedly mentally ill people and remove them to a lockup for evaluation. The police were given a very new role and it led to terrible scenes in the community. There was a dreadful decline in the relationship between police and the community. There are probably no police currently working in Baltimore who were there at the time. The police did not want this role but were given no choice.
Making War on Our Society
The next large step in the deterioration of relations came in the 80s with the war on drugs/war on crime. This was a monumental bipartisan error. Now the police were forced into stop and frisk, would stop drivers for minor infractions, and then (although they had no real right) would search the car. If they found even a small amount of a controlled substance there was an arrest.
At the time laws had been enacted with lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. Now the police were even more intrusive and the division from the community deepened. Across the country this travesty was repeated with both community and police being the victims. Nationally our prison population swelled from one million to 2.4 million.
The outcome could be seen on the streets. We drove through Baltimore one morning recently and saw young men sitting on blankets or sheets of plastic on the sidewalks trying to sell a few items. These were the victims of what WE had done. They came out of prison after lengthy sentences with no job history or skills. In many instances they could only make a living with crime.
And, even if we assume the death of Freddie Gray was a terrible error and unintended, even so it stirred a community to a violent outburst because of the divisions that had been created.
How many politicians have you heard address the reality of these issues?
What we have done has been a blight on our communities, the police and our country.