After three acquittals and one hung jury, all remaining charges against the six Baltimore police officers who killed Freddie Gray with their direct actions and their negligence have been dropped. The deadly cops have all been reinstated on the city payroll.
At a press conference City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby spoke of the obstacles to prosecution, how she and those working for her had been “physically and professional threatened, mocked, ridiculed, harassed and even sued.” She described the lack of accountably for police who commit crimes against the people they are supposed to protect:
Unlike with other cases where prosecutors work closely with the police to investigate what actually occurred, what we realized very early on in this case was police investigating police, whether they’re friends or merely their colleagues, was problematic. There was a reluctance and an obvious bias that was consistently exemplified not by the entire Baltimore police department, but by individuals within the police department in every state of the investigation which became blatantly apparent in the subsequent trials.
Sadly, none of this is unexpected to those who have been paying attention. It’s entirely consistent with other recent cases in which police were exonerated after killing innocent people (especially African-American people) and also with the history of the Baltimore City Police Department — a force whose baseless arrests and harassment of citizens (especially African-American citizens) was decried by a grand jury a decade ago.
And in this election year, it’s worth noting that all this has happened in a city that is throughly under Democratic control, in a deep blue state with a Democratically-controlled legislature and which has had Democratic governors for 42 of the past 48 years. And for the past eight years it’s happened with a Democrat in the White House.
This is important because backers of Hillary Clinton would like us to believe that if Donald Trump wins the presidential election, poor and African-American citizens will be imperiled. But when we look at the policies that have most harmed these constituencies, the War on (Some) Drugs and mass incarceration and so-called welfare “reform”, we find bipartisan support and sometimes direct Democratic responsibility.
It’s no wonder that #BlackLivesMatter protesters were shouting out over a speech at the Democratic National Convention by Cory Booker in which he called for “more respect…more support, more cooperation and love” for the police forces that act like occupying armies in poor neighborhoods.
I’m reminded of an exchange in the 1998 political comedy Bulworth:
Black woman: Are you saying the Democratic Party don’t care about the African-American community?
Bulworth: Isn’t that obvious? You’ve got half your kids out of work and the other half are in jail. Do you see any Democrat doing anything about it? Certainly not me! So what’re you gonna do, vote Republican? Come on! Come on, you’re not gonna vote Republican!
And certainly with Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket, making Nixonian appeals to law-and-order and inviting Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to give a speech demonizing the #BlackLivesMatter movement and praising the acquittal of Freddie Gray’s killers, few African-Americans are going to vote Republican any time soon.
And this illustrates why the most urgent matter in 2016 is not to put Clinton or Trump in the White House, or to block Trump or Clinton from winning — it will make precious little difference at the bottom. The important thing is to break open the two-party system, so that we might be able to create a space for solutions.
This is the year the American political system hits bottom. We can start the recovery and healing, but only if we first admit how our behavior has led us to ruin and vow to take positive steps to reform:
- Stop viewing the Democratic Party as protectors of the downtrodden. It’s factually untrue. Stop viewing the Republican Party as protectors of so-called “ordinary Americans”, i.e. the white working class. It’s factually untrue. Both parties are machines for getting more Democrats or Republicans into office, that’s all.
- Assert your political independence, your dedication to rationality and fact over party identity. Critical thinking is hard but tribalism is easy, so don’t make it easy for yourself to fall back on tribalism. It’s best to disaffiliate from all political parties, but if you’re stuck with a closed primary system and choose to remain a member of a party to avoid disenfranchisement don’t let that draw you into thinking of yourself as a Democrat or Republican — or a Green or a Libertarian. Back individual candidates, never a party. (Though some strategic voting may be necessary until smaller parties have obtained the equality they are due under the law.)
- Avoid blanket condemnation of other parties or ideological groups, e.g. “Rethuglican” or “libtards”. A lot of people have a lot of bad ideas (I’m looking at most Americans there, honestly) but we’re all in this together and cannot afford us-vs-them. Again, that feeds tribalism. Criticize specific ideas, policies, and when appropriate candidates; but when you denigrate an entire party you close yourself off to good ideas they may offer — however occasionally.
- Pledge to withhold your vote from any candidate who does not promise to work to open the system to independent and third-party candidates, who doesn’t back at least some measures like opening publicly-funded primaries to all of the public, ballot access for all, or instant run-off voting.
- Look to solutions outside the state. People in poor minority neighborhoods already know that the police aren’t there for them, as Hector Luis Alamo recently wrote:
Growing up in a heavily segregated suburb of Chicago — where all the poor people of color and immigrants lived on one side of town, while the well-off white people lived on the other side — my friends and I knew never to call the police, even in times of need. I vividly recall arguing with two girls from the other side of town when they suggested I call the police to report a crime committed against me. As much as I wanted justice, I feared the cops more, and knew without pause that the police would treat me as the other criminal in the case. There are no police for blacks and Latinos, especially boys. The police belong to other people.
Can we help those people find community-based ways to prevent violence and theft?
We need to stop big business from exploiting workers and consumers and polluting the planet, but regulation is often corrupt and often works more to interfere with the small local entrepreneur than to leash large concerns that actually have to power to do harm. Consider, for example, how Utah has laws requiring a cosmetology license — nearly two years of school and $16,000 in tuition — to braid hair, while in the same state companies get away with dynamiting bedrock for gravel and mining oil sands without appropriate permits.
Can we use new information technology to organize workers and consumers to take direct action with boycotts and strikes?
Building non-state solutions doesn’t mean immediately abolishing the police or ending business regulation, or letting up on pressure for better government. It means empowering citizens to practice democracy at the most direct level, leaving us less reliant on bureaucrats and elected representatives — and thus leaving less motive and room for corruption.
I’ve got a new book! What Does It Mean For The Gods To Exist? and other essays collects my run on the Patheos Agora blog plus a few bonus pieces.