Friday, September 14, 2018

Why Black Lives Matters, Matters

Image result for black lives matter protest

When people feel they can't trust the police, civilization suffers.

In previous postings, I have expressed some skepticism as to some of the cases that have been brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement.  It is not that injustice doesn't occur, but that the poster children that they have picked to use as exemplars of police misconduct are often poorly vetted.

Being a policeman is a difficult job.  You have to make split-second decisions with often with deadly consequences. And if you make one mistake, you will be vilified by an entire nation.  Given how lousy the pay is, who would want this job?

That being said, there are valid incidents where police brutality and excessive violence have been documented, including even murder.  But these are the exception, not the norm.  However, to residents of the inner city, they don't see it that way.  They see the police not as a friend but as an enemy.  And this is corrosive to our culture.  Whether you are right-wing or left-wing, you don't want to see trust in the police eroded.

I was discussing recently, with a friend, about our trip to Mexico two decades ago when we went to visit our cleaning lady in Cuernavaca Mexico.  She was quite distraught when we saw her. She said "my son has joined a criminal gang!"

When we ask her what gang had joined, she said  "the police".

We almost laughed at this comment, but at the time it was largely true and indeed even true today. And after having been "shaken down" by police in Mexico - twice - we understood what she meant.  In Mexico, government officials are corrupt from the very top, down to the lowest levels.  Policeman seek out and accept bribes for almost every routine incidental transaction, everyday.  As a result, when a crime is committed, few people are willing to go to the police as they often believe they will be victimized a second time.  At the very least, nothing will happen.  At worst, the police will be in cahoots with the criminals and inform the criminal gangs that you have ratted them out.  Your body will be found on the street, sans head, as an example to others.

Mexican people, as individuals are great.  They are hard-working and dedicated.  Despite what Donald Trump says about Mexican immigrants, they are an asset to our country even if a small minority engage in criminal activity.  One of the reasons people from Latin American countries come to America is that their own governments are so wholly dysfunctional.  There is no trust for government agencies, including the police.

It struck me, as I related the story to my friend, that we have a similar situation developing here in the United States. You can argue all day long whether it is based on perception or reality, but a large segment of people living in urban areas have absolutely no trust in their local police force.  This is a dangerous situation and a destabilizing factor for our government.

As events in Chicago illustrate, when people no longer trust their police, crimes become almost impossible to solve.  Someone is shot on the street in broad daylight with dozens of witnesses present.  The police show up and nobody says a word.  No one wants to talk, because they don't want to get involved, which could result in them spending countless hours giving testimony and showing up in court, often to see the criminal end up free on the streets.  And if they do testify or talk to the police, they may be victimized themselves.

So in a way, this Black Lives Matter movement really does matter - regardless of whether you are black or white, live in the inner city or a gated suburban community.  It's not that the police should be treated as criminals or hounded or otherwise shamed.  Rather, we need to develop trust between the police and the local communities that they serve, so that people will feel the police are on their side and be willing to cooperate with them.  This is a monumental task to say the least.

I'm not sure that the methods of Black Lives Matters will take us there, either.  Their confrontational approach to the issue seems to be polarizing people even further.   By turning this into a racial issue and trying to use it for political gain, not much is getting done.  And in fact, it is probably turning many people in inner cities even further away from the police and causing more distrust.  And there is always the possibility that such movements can be nurtured by foreign powers (as was illustrated during the last Presidential election) to encourage dissent and divide us as a nation.

The nature of police work being what it is, there will always be incidents where people are unjustly arrested or assaulted or even shot and killed by policeman.  You and I can make mistakes in our jobs and the consequences are often trivial or can be easily corrected.  At worse, we may end up having to pay money in order to fix things.  But in other jobs such as those of doctors or policeman, when mistakes are made, people often die.  Doctors are richly rewarded for taking this risk.  Policemen are not.  And oftentimes the people dying are policemen themselves.