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Who Should Pay for Police Brutality?

April 28, 2015

As I write this, because of the fear of violence schools in Baltimore are closed today. And because of the fear of violence there is a curfew in place in that city for anyone under 17. At the request of the mayor of the Governor of Maryland, because of the fear of violence, has deployed the National Guard.  And, perversely, it is because of the fear of violence that the police in Baltimore have been allowed to brutalize members of the community with relative impunity. The concluding paragraph in Atlantic writer T’Naisi Coates powerful essay describes this paradox forcefully:

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.

I lived through the Civil Rights era and recall the media’s admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful non-violence in the face of explicit brutality by the police in the south. His efforts won over the nation and resulted in passage of laws that reinforced court victories won a decade earlier. But the passage of those laws has not resulted in the kind of economic justice that African Americans expected and the passage of those laws has not resulted in the change of hearts and minds of many in our country. And this intractability, this “political brutality” contributes to the sense of hopelessness and frustration that, in turn, results in addictions and violence that leads to the state doling out “…heaps of violence to its citizens”.

The answer to this problem is embedded in Coates’ essay:

The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build “a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.

Here’s the way to fix this problem: have the city of Baltimore divert it’s spending “…to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department” to build those state of the art playgrounds and divert its spending to incarcerate drug dealers to provide treatment centers for those trying to cure themselves of the disease of addiction and divert its money away from law enforcement in schools to social services outside of schools to support those families who are striving to make ends meet.

And who will pick up the costs for the brutality of the police? If the federal government can find money to bail out bankers who sold flawed mortgages to citizens trying to seek housing it should be able to find the money to protect innocent citizens who are brutalized by law enforcement officers.

  1. Elyssa
    April 28, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    That last paragraph is perfect. We always seem to find the funding for the bailouts, but never for social services for those in true dire need.

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