Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Good cops and bad cops

Yesterday the news broke that the second police officer brought to trial in Baltimore, Edward Nero, was found not guilty in the death of Freddy Gray, a black man arrested for possession of a spring-assisted knife.  Such knives are legal by Maryland state law, but Baltimore has it's own law making them illegal.  The first officer brought to trial, Caesar Goodson Jr., had a deadlocked jury and will apparently be re-tried in September.  Four more officers may or may not be taken to trial.

One might ask, "Why did Gray die in police custody?"  It's a valid question.  But it's not the purpose of this blog post.  The arrest was legitimate; the death was not.  Nor is it the purpose of this post to blame the victims, as far too many people are all too willing to do.  Sure, some of those people had criminal records.  But some had no record, yet were still killed.  Cleveland's Tamir Rice, not even a man but a 12-year-old child, comes to mind.  

With Tamir Rice in mind, one might also ask what a cop is supposed to do when someone aims a gun at them.  It's been said that a cop sometimes only has a split second to decide if they are actually in danger.  But this is a result of training, or rather, a lack of appropriate training.  For example, in many European countries, police are trained to de-escalate and disarm, only firing their weapons when absolutely necessary.  And they're trained to be able to tell when it's necessary.  There's no reason we can't train our police officers the same way here in  the U.S.  None whatsoever.

Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention knows that Gray is not the only black man to die at the hands of police.  Nor is he the only black person, as several women have also died in police custody or by other police action.  Sandra Bland comes to mind immediately, but she's not the only one.     

No, the purpose of this post is to examine the larger picture of the phenomena of black deaths by police involvement.  And that larger picture is the reason for movements such as Black Lives Matter and Black Matters.

There is a major discrepancy, that has been demonstrated multiple times, between the treatment of minorities, especially black people, and whites.  Deny it if you will, but consider that black folks are killed for sometimes petty crimes, or no crime at  all, while the racist murderer of black people in a South Carolina church is led away smiling by police.  You know that if it had been a white church and the gunman was black, he would most likely have been dead, quite possibly after being taken into custody.

How many times have you read or heard a news report talking about arrest records of the black people who have been killed by cops?  Like Freddy Gray, that list is extensive.  But what the media generally doesn't tell us is that Freddy Gray's arrest record is not a valid measure.  What is valid is his conviction record.  Most of those arrests did not lead to convictions.  Furthermore, not one of them, arrests or convictions, was for a capital offense anywhere in this country.  Yet Freddy Gray is dead, as are a large number of other black men and women, at the hands or in the custody of police, and without one capital offense among them.

Are we a nation of laws and justice?  Or are we a nation of bigotry and revenge for all and sundry?

Many times I hear or read that the cops who do these things are a small percentage of the total.  This is probably true.  And there are the occasional stories of cops doing good things, like helping poor people desperate for a meal or facing eviction.  But where are the stories about cops crossing that "thin blue line"?  Where are the stories of cops standing up against their fellow officers who are not good cops?  Where are the Frank Serpico's willing to put their lives on the line to see justice being done, when the justice is against another cop?

Frank Serpico was and is a hero.  We need more of them.  And we need to see more of them.

Don Rice Jr.

© 2016 Donald C. Rice Jr.