The Baltimore story, like the Ferguson story, seems to be fading. But because nothing has been resolved, the story will be back, and this might be a good time to consider what the story is.
The story seemed to start with Trayvon Martin being killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch guy. The victim was an unarmed young black guy and the assailant was an armed white guy. Technically, Zimmerman was Hispanic, but the media called him a white Hispanic. President Obama immediately empathized with Martin – “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” and even after Zimmerman was acquitted, the president waxed nostalgic, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
Actually, the story might have started even earlier with Henry Gates, the black Harvard professor who got into an argument with a white Cambridge policeman James Crowley, who suspected Gates of breaking into his own home. President Obama immediately took sides by saying:
- “I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”
Eventually, as more facts were learned, President Obama backed off his position and called this a “teaching moment,” followed by a Beer Summit with Gates and Crowley in the Rose Garden.
Between the Harvard and Baltimore incidents, there have been several famous incidents involving young black men and usually white authority figures:
- John Crawford (Dayton man shot by a white policeman while brandishing a bb/pellet gun in a Walmart)
- Eric Garner (Staten Island, choke hold while resisting arrest)
- Tamir Rice (12-year-old boy with a replica pistol in Cleveland)
- Walter Scott (Charleston man shot while running away from a white policeman)
- Akai Gurley (Brooklyn man killed when an Asian policeman accidentally discharged his weapon and a bullet ricocheted off a wall into Gurley)
- Michael Brown (Ferguson man shot while charging a white policeman.)
The recent incident in Baltimore involving Freddy Gray prompted a lengthy article this weekend in the NY Times magazine titled, “Our demand is to stop killing us.” The article profiles a couple of activists who have been working since Ferguson to drum up support on social media for their issue. After reading the article, I read dozens of the comments and was surprised that many of them suggested that the activists were misguided – i.e., that inner-city blacks have more to worry about from black criminals than they do from white police. One writer suggested that inner-city blacks wouldn’t be in danger from the police if they didn’t commit crimes and didn’t resist arrest. That reflected my thinking because most of my knowledge related to the Brown (Ferguson) and Garner (Staten Island) incidents. Another commenter point out that Tamir Rice and John Crawford hadn’t committed crimes and weren’t resisting arrest, and he could have added Akai Gurley to the list.
Rice, Crawford, and Gurley are possibly victims of profiling, but who can blame a policeman for being edgy when dealing with young black males in high-crime areas. Just today, the NY Times reported on the death of a young white policeman in Queens, Brian Moore, who noticed a suspicious young black male fidgeting with his waistband, and when he tried to question the man, the man suddenly pulled the gun and shot the policeman in the head. Incidents like this are bound to produce hair triggers.
The NYPD had already suffered a targeted killing of two policemen (Hispanic and Asian) by a black man in December by a man who linked his actions to protests over the Ferguson and Staten Island incidents.
So what is the story? The simplistic narrative is that white policemen are killing black men. Going a little deeper, the argument is that the killings are inadequately unpunished by the judicial system because black lives are not valued. And ultimately, there is a rationalization that inner-city youths are frustrated with lives that have no hope. There was an article in the NY Times yesterday about a federal program that enabled families through vouchers to move into better neighborhoods, and that seemed to be an immense help to the kids in the family, especially if the move occurred before the kids were 12-years old. That sounds promising, just like school vouchers.
On an a brighter note for our policemen, yesterday a Texas policeman with a pistol engaged two Muslim extremists with assault weapons and body armor intent on crashing into a cartoon show that was making fun of Mohammed. Although details have not been reported, the policeman was able to kill both extremists without being injured. Sounds like a Clint Eastwood moment.