With the current situation in Baltimore it seems that Policing and race relations have become lasting and integral issues to the millennial generation and throughout the nation. With a recent string of incidents involving white police officers shooting or killing unarmed black men, tension over the role that race plays in our criminal justice system is reaching a boiling point.
I believe that our nation has focused too much on race during the recent events and because of this, the discussion around such events has been more divisive than it needs to be. At its root I believe these incidents are just as much about income inequality as they are about race.
We live in a country with a systematic problem of targeting low-income neighborhoods and citizens, particularly criminal justice and police enforcement. The Black community is at a disadvantage over their more affluent white peers in terms of wealth, opportunity and power. Although it is obvious that progress has been made over time, certain elements of the establishment in this country have put forth great effort in holding them back and delaying progress, such as education. This is a legitimate source of anger for many, but cannot be used as justification for violent acts.
Monday night, Baltimore rioters attacked and assaulted police injuring 15 officers. They smashed police cars and civilian vehicles, looted innocent businesses and set over 150 fires across the city. They also cut fire hoses that were trying to put out the flames. A senior citizen’s home, a church and a pharmacy were among the 15 structural fires set in addition to an estimated 144 vehicles set ablaze.
These actions only serve to undermine the progress towards positive change. When you start burning and looting your own neighborhood all you are doing is hurting your neighbors and damaging your community. Your message for change also loses all of its credibility.
It’s refreshing to see leaders on the ground like Reverend Jamal Bryant a prominent figure in Baltimore who has preached for peace and an end to violence. During an interview with CNN he asked “how does burning a senior center get justice for Freddie gray?”
However it is extremely troubling to see some people in leadership positions come out to defend and justify these senseless riots. Anybody who has a public voice and is in a position of leadership on these issues or in the affected community has the responsibility to help diffuse the situation. When these people go on TV and offer excuses and justifications for such unacceptable behavior they are only adding to the problem.
I absolutely agree that we need to make a real effort to reform the criminal justice system in this country. I think that needs to start with ending the costly and unnecessary war on drugs and stopping the privatization of prisons, which is a very slippery slope due to the assumptions outlined in my argument. We also need to make sure that no matter what tax bracket you’re in that you are treated equally under the law.
Trying to bring about change can be frustrating and there will be setbacks. While we continue on the path for progress we must always remember that violence is neither the answer, nor is it a catalyst for change.