In America, certain benefits come along with being born into the ‘right’ family, ‘right’ school district, or ‘right’ neighborhood. Privilege, is something that is blind, and varies as diversely as the population it represents. We are taught early on that life is fair, but as reality sets in as adults, we learn that it is often anything but. One of the advantages that comes along with privilege in this country is having access and media influence within the media. Issues affecting the wealthy, or majority, are addressed and discussed routinely. However, issues affecting the poor, minorities and other underrepresented groups don’t often get the same air time. As a media outlet focused on news affecting all Americans, not just the wealthy, this has been an issue of growing concern. What happened in Ferguson, and now Baltimore, comes as no surprise for those who have been trying to raise awareness about Police corruption and other issues affecting our communities.
What Baltimore highlighted yesterday was that certain issues affecting our population are not being addressed. There are segments of our population unheard and ignored. Despite the warnings, despite the protests and rallies, despite the meetings and seminars, our leaders and government have failed to sufficiently address the problems being raised. What was once a political issue most politicians and media avoided, has now become an issue that must be addressed. Addressed in the right way if we are to remain a country united. Baltimore is a reminder that this won’t be an issue going away any time soon.
America has a growing history of not addressing its problems. We once relished in being the best of the best. Whether due to privilege or hard work, our country has a short history of success that can sometimes blind us to our shortcomings. For some Americans in this country, Ferguson and now Baltimore are not surprises by any stretch. The pure rage over the issues being raised and the topic being debated doesn’t come from a TV screen for many. For many Americans, particularly minorities including and excluding race, this problem is something they have experienced personally. Whether its stop and frisk, an unlawful stop, or being gunned down or beaten for a crime, some people feel that they are being exploited, harassed, and abused, instead of served and protected. Public support for Police reform is growing rapidly and as the argument evolves, more problems within our system are being brought to light. The interconnectedness of this issue, with so many related policies, makes this issue a complex one for politicians to maneuver.
Empirically, the evidence is there. Americans are fed up. The countless protests, the marches, the meetings, the Tweets and posts. It is clear that there is a large segment of Americans fed up with Police corruption and brutality. However, statistically, some have argued the numbers don’t ‘add up’ in reference to this being a major American issue. This demographic, who have not had negative experiences with the Police, are basing their opinion on their own experiences and empirical evidence and using the number of total interactions compared to negative interactions as proof that this issue is nothing more than media hype. Let’s take a look at the statistics.
America is the world’s largest jailer. We house close to 25% of the world’s prison population while having only 4.4% of the world’s people. We have the 2nd highest percentage of prisoners per capita as of June of last year. Second to only Seychelles, an African island country with less than 100,000 citizens. We are effectively locking up more citizens than any other country in the world. Those statistics alone do not tell whether the arrests are legitimate or not, that is always up to perspective, but they do tell part of the story about the number of interactions that Americans are having with the Police. Of those incarcerated, most are incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses. Despite public support, research, and active examples of an alternative system, politicians have largely kept silent on the issue and have not taken the initiative to address the concerns of a growing segment of the population. Outside of the incarceration rates, we also have an extremely high rate of Police related killings and brutality. According to some reports, there were 176 Police related killings in January and February alone. A 2012 report, found that an African American was killed by Police or security every 28 hours in this country. Statistic after statistic leads to the conclusion that we are an anomaly as far as how we’re handling our “crime’ issues. The reasoning and justification being highly debated.
Without going into detail about the legitimacy of our legal system, let’s focus on the average American’s interaction and perspective of Police. What happens during each citizen’s interaction with the Police collectively influences public opinion either positively or negatively. Outside of the highly publicized instances of Police corruption, brutality, and in some cases, killings, there’s countless of untold stories and personal experiences that have shaped public opinion about the state of Policing in this country. Many Americans have made it clear, enough is enough. Ferguson, and now Baltimore, are just physical manifestations of the emotional outrage of a mainly unheard population. Whether it’s speaking out, raising awareness, protesting, or debating, the issue is on the hearts and minds of almost every American. The warning signs of an issue ready to blow were ignored until the powder keg exploded in Ferguson, and now Baltimore. Our leadership, those with the real power to address this issue, have been silent on the topic. Very few have taken the initiative to reach out to the concerned. Despite the public efforts to raise awareness, politicians have deflected, ignored or avoided the issue altogether. Some have even dismissed it as being a concern. Our leaders shouldn’t be surprised that these situations are happening. They are largely responsible for allowing them to happen.
The American attention span is short. Next week there will be new headlines, and a focus on new issues. The cameras, media figures, and lights may fade away from this particular issue for the moment, but it’s a reality that will remain. Police corruption is a real issue for millions of Americans. Justice System corruption is a real issue for millions of Americans. Every interaction someone has with the Police and our court system is a reminder of the reality that we live in. Whether it’s the fear of being crippled by fines, harassed, or physically threatened, people fear an oppressive Police state. People fear being beaten for standing up for their rights. As much as the media portrays the Police being afraid to work, you have to remember that citizens are ‘afraid’ as well. Somewhere the fear has to stop, and the reasoning has to kick in. If we live in a constant state of fear, we’ll never feel secure and we’ll never feel safe, no matter how truly safe or secure we comparatively are. The issue currently being played out on nearly every television and computer screen in the United States is not a new epidemic, or one that the media just now found out about. It’s an issue that some have fought extremely hard for, some risking their life, to raise awareness about. What you’re seeing now is the result of the increase in awareness, and due to the continuation of the problem, the backlash. It is a highly volatile issue and some people have a very real emotional reaction to the subject.
For some of us in this country, we’ve known about the magnitude of the problem. Some have written letters to the media and politicians. Some have protested. Some have taken to forums and blogs. Some have provided research and statistics. Outside of a few high profile cases, the cries have fallen on deaf ears. Supporters have been mocked for supporting “criminals.” Businesses, organizations, and individuals have been deemed ‘anti-cop’ and shunned. Some have been personally and professionally attacked. For various reasons, there have been some that have fought extremely hard to make sure that this does not become a nationally debated issue. However, despite how clever or effective the PR campaign or marketing, the issue keeps manifesting physically in various cities throughout our country. The recurring theme is that the issue is clearly not ‘media hype’ and is a legit American issue seriously impacting our country’s quality of life and standard of freedom. There is no other issue in America currently that is mobilizing more young people than Police and Justice System Corruption. The message is clear, they are real issues.
As Baltimore burned yesterday, and as the country watched in shock and awe, some of us, those who have been fighting this issue for a while now, were unsettlingly justified. The issues that some wanted to cover up, suppress, and use to justify the expansion of their powers just exploded. Again. This article is not an excuse for the looting and destruction that occurred in Ferguson or Baltimore. This article is not an excuse to break the law or to not be held responsible for your actions. This article is not anti-Police, or pro-Revolutionary. This article is simply an explanation to some of the causes of the recent riots, and a statement that there were many people, organizations, non-profits, and businesses trying to prevent this type of thing from happening.
For some Americans, Baltimore comes as no surprise at all.