Revised Monday, May 4, 2015
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
Oh Baltimore: A Reality Check for America
Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody was the light that ignited violence in parts of Baltimore with more than a dozen buildings and over 100 cars torched. The city reacted by imposing a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. ending May 4th. New York, Boston, Washington and other cities across the country held rallies to demonstrate solidarity with Baltimore. Previously Ferguson, Missouri became a center of unrest in response to police violence. (Source International Business Times)
There is something much deeper than a reaction to one or two random events that have caused riots and protests. First Ferguson Missouri and now Baltimore Maryland, clearly there is a type of frustration so deep seated that even rival gangs embroiled in protracted disputes have set aside their differences.
They are seeing a common enemy where the stakes are high, and potentially very bloody ones. Black gangs are aware of long term problems that eclipse turf warfare and they did something about it, along with others frustrated with the status quo. There are signs here, and I am not sure many are aware of just what they are contending with, or the ramifications.
The real beginning of frustrations expressed by the African—Americans to social, economic and legal inequity played out in Florida. When an overzealous neighborhood watch member with anger management issues unleashed his rage on an unarmed Black youth, an ugly truth emerged. The names George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin would be names associated with the problems of an America still decidedly uncomfortable with social, economic and racial difference was forced to confront. The idea that we live in post racial America was always a fiction. Trayvon Martin’s death proved that, but there were still those skeptical.
Then again, America is filled with fictions. It is not surprising that the U.S. is the film making capitol of the world. We know how to tell tall tales. We also know how to reside in them.
The response to Trayvon Martin’s death illustrated the deep divide in America. The vast majority of African—Americans and those in tune with urban reality could see something was amiss. Conservative, even somewhat liberal White America, wrote this off as simply a case of a threatening young Black man ready to do violence stopped by one brave man. George Zimmerman was a hero for anyone White threated by Black violence, Black people or Black achievement.
In a bizarre twist of irony, Zimmerman was of German and Hispanic ancestry, became the poster child for male White frustration. In a nation where the White middle class is shrinking, and the perception that Blacks have all been given a “free lunch” is the narrative that conservatives have used for years to turn Blacks into convenient scape goats. If it were not for “the lazy violent Blacks,” the white middle class would thrive. The reason for crime, violence and all other social ills that affect the majority of White America can be blamed on Blacks who take but never give.
Politicians, both Black and White mingled with a media that loves sensationalism more than journalistic integrity and America’s true “Power Brokers,” could see in the death of Travon Martin a way to justify blaming Black America for all domestic problems. This was never openly stated. It was quietly assumed.
This death would not only benefit careers made on racial separation, Blacks anointed by Whites as spokesmen who are paid to essentially do nothing would benefit as well. Conservatives could twist the situation to once again to manipulate middle America into buying into justifiable segregation.
Like Romans had Bread and Circuses to divert attention from the real issues of the say, Blacks can be used as a distractions. Create a sensation trial, and now the news waves are filled with one story to the exclusion of others.
Focusing White anger and frustration on Black America creates a convenient domestic enemy. It creates a tool that can advance the careers of Blacks willing to sell out, predatory White politicians and anyone else who wants to pretend that evil, poverty and Black America are coiled together.
Convince middle class Whites that nothing can be done and that Blacks want to be poor and then employ a vast communications media program to paint Blacks in the worst possible light and you can sell a fiction that overlooks history and systemic racism.
What ruined George Zimmerman from being a real hero was George Zimmerman. He had domestic violence problems, issues with law enforcement after the trial. It called into question his character. It became rather obvious that Zimmerman was at fault, even to some who gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Trayvon Martin’s death brought to light two other ills. The Police department in a shameless case of overt racism decided to do everything possible to paint Zimmerman as a hero and a victim of senseless Black crime. The entire Florida judicial system proved that justice was not served. A guilty man walked, with the support of a Police department not only covering their tracks, but an entire judicial system that views Black lives as dispensable.
Matters did not fare better in Ferguson Missouri when their police department can under scrutiny. The day Michael Brown 18 was shot by Darren Wilson 28, this one young White Officer would eventually make public what had been private.
For years, the Police Department, which was overwhelmingly White, treated the community it was set up to protect and serve like an enemy. Not unlike some occupying force, the Ferguson police department saw the citizens as “cash cows.” Minor infractions earned huge fines with huge interest. The judicial system was clearly set up to work in cooperation with a police department that was openly hostile to Blacks.
Emails surfaced in an investigation where racist rants against Blacks were openly exchanged within the department. There was no way to explain the emails as being anything other than racist.
What I believe became the ultimate “straw that broke the camel’s back” was the result of an investigation that said there was not enough evidence to warrant a trial for murder against Darren Wilson. It was deemed that there were no “reliable witnesses.”
I would assume that a case of this magnitude, an officer shooting to death a defenseless man, a trial would be in order. It became clear that Black witnesses were irrelevant. For a community treated like hostility invaders for so long, this was just too much to let pass without at least some show of anger.
Michael Brown’s death was dismissed. It was hoped the matter was settled. This was not going to happen. Riots and protests were proof positive that this was not a matter to simply brush away. Years of horrific treatment was making itself known. These Americans were not going to take this treatment anymore without some show of rage.
As the reality of Ferguson became known, I am not sure America really understood why this was so pivotal. I am not sure anyone really understood what powered this outrage. To some it was like an angry mob emerged for no reason. There was a reason. There was reason enough to literally go “mad.”
The false narrative that White American has lived with is that Blacks do not achieve because they chose not to do so. The problem with Blacks is apathy, a poor work ethic and a lack of ability to advance themselves. Being that we live in post racial America –another false narrative — they should be moving forward.
The problem with the above is that it ignores history and years of racial separation. First, Blacks were held as slaves. They had no earnings to pass on to generations to come. Whites had the opportunity to do so, for much longer. As a result of slavery, it was a firmly entrenched view that Blacks were supposed to be a lower class unable to exist in a democratic society.
When slavery ended, suddenly there were a large group of people uneducated trying to figure out their place in a country openly hostile to their existence. Then, there were laws passed to limit what they could do. Educational institutions were not always greeting blacks with open arms. The world was divided and their laws to ensure limited contact and interaction with Blacks set by law. They were totally shut out of social institutions that were open to Whites. Even if you were successful, there were limits.
Flash forward to the present. We have Blacks who need social, economic and educational opportunities. The history of slavery and the slow progress made in civil rights permitted a Black underclass to continue.
Alexis de Tocqueville say all of this in the 19th century. He also saw the dilemma we see ourselves in the here and now. He could see the problem with slavery when it ended: there would be a glut of people ill equipped to exist in a democratic society after years of enslavement.
A glimmer of hope fired in the 60’s. President Johnson called for the “Great Society.” This translated into equal rights being written into law, and programs to advance African—American intellectual development. Everyone in the nation was seeing the need for positive social change. From Black Panthers to White Liberalism, change was happening. Then, it all went into reverse.
The Black community became underfunded. Schools descended into chaos. Federal programs designed to help were too small and too ineffective. The very things that Black communities and individuals needed, better education and safer communities did not come. Black communities were turned into liquor stores, drug havens and a protected by a police department that was inn and hostile.
Now, White America is being given a healthy dose of what Black America has been experience for years. Predatory loans, loss of jobs, education that is unaffordable, public schools that are failing, out of control housing costs and low pay.
Clever conservatives have created a political environment where the middle class actually believe that providing a higher minimum wage is a bad idea. They even convinced them that Unions, the one organ that ended child labor and the 18 hour work day and unsafer working environments is public enemy number one.
In the lopsided world of America, the conservatives have created this insane fiction that Blacks are supposed to be poor, violent and drug addicts that enjoy their condition and that the Middle Class is doing well. In reality neither are in solid shape. The slide down has been ongoing for decades.
De Tocqueville was worried that if despotism rooted itself in a modern democracy it would be more dangerous than any Roman emperor or tyrant because they were limited in the influence that they have. He went on to say that this new type of despotism would be truly dangerous because it would not resemble any form every seen before.
Some have called this “The Friendly Fascist State.”
The myths that are at the heart of America, the real value system, the real philosophical foundation of our Republic is now materialism and selfish individualism. Idealism is something that one gives lip service to when making donations. The concept of a new society in our times sounds like a dated throwback to the concept of “modernism,” that 20th century notion that the future was going to be something of a promised land with plenty for all. The future would free us from dreary labor so that we could pursue other things.
That future has yet to arrive.
The concept of a public good is absent. When America looks at the issues negatively impacting the Black community, it is seen as “their” problem. The situation is not stated as an American problem. Our current political, social and economic climate has made no space for the commons. At each and every opportunity it is being privatized. The commons are just a market place. Citizens of our Republic are “consumers.” Even medical terminology has turned what where “patients” into “healthcare consumers.”
It is comforting to see Ferguson Missouri as a distant place for most Americas. It is was even easier with Trevon Martin’s death. However, Baltimore makes a case that this is not an isolated instance. This is not a problem confined to one area. Baltimore is a large urban center. It is not too easy to ignore.
At a time when national leadership is need, Washington is sending out two messages. The President is saying these are not issues that can be ignored. His spokesperson maybe relating the real response.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest called tensions between police and communities around the country “fundamentally a local issue” and said that “there does need to be a commitment from local elected leaders and local law enforcement leaders to confront this challenge and to demonstrate some determination about trying to build bridges with the citizens that they’re sworn to protect.”
“Ultimately,” he said after another question, “this is a problem that the federal government is not going to be able to solve.” (Source Washington Post.)
There you have it in no uncertain terms. The Obama administration is saying there is nothing to be done. This is a failure not only on the part of the Obama administration, it is a condemnation of the entire Government, both parties included. Neither party has taken any type of action. No one realistically expected the Republican party to ever take a stand, and it is a disappointment that the President did not take the opportunity to present an over view of what could be in an aggressive way.
While the families are calling for an end to violence in the Black community, there is no real call for any kind of action. There is a decided lack of leadership in the acceptable political arena because this is seen as a “Black Problem,” not a serious indication that our system of government, values and priorities are total failures.
As long as these issues are seen as only Black problems, everyone has missed the entire point. What drives protests in the Black community are echoes of the exact same ills and frustrations impacting White America. Rather than stress connections, our leaders are parting us like the Red Sea.
While not made public, Reverend Jesse Jackson is cautiously being put forth as representative of Black political voices. The reality that has been felt is that he is irrelevant. His credibility was serious impacted by silence during the Bush administration long ago. His inability to be a force in American politics happened when he compromised himself long ago. Now, he is just an empty symbol.
Jackson and some Whites are seeing Black leadership following the Rev Martin Luther King model. That paradigm is a past one. I feel that new Black leadership may come in a very different package. I think the times, media and the needs of the present will foster a very different type of leadership. If you are looking for the second coming Dr. King, or Malcolm X, you are going to be bitterly disappointed. I could be wrong, but I think that leadership is going to come in a very different package that no one will expect.
What I am certain of is that the stress on the quaint notion of “be quiet and fix the mess” solution will work. The message going out to the black community is that this is a Black problem that the Black community must fix. The best thing to be done is be peaceful and pick up the trash and promise never to get angry.
This will not work. It turns Black protest into a senseless orgy of destruction. It is anything but that.
The anger of the Black community is not the eruption of childish temper tantrums. It is a suppressed rage directed at social injustice. The crimes have gone on too long. It all could be prevented, but no one wanted to step up and take control.
The only answer to inequity has been to ignore it in the U.S . Asking stressed communities to repair the damage of racism that has been sanctioned by self-centered Whites, duplicitous Blacks and middle class intellectuals too removed to get their feet dirty is proof that no one sees this as an event with historical roots and ramifications. It is impossible to expect those crushed by the current system to “fix” such overwhelming problems without the concerned involvement of Federal Government, local government and the private sector, and this includes banks, insurance companies and powerful heads of industry. Without unified involvement in repairing the fractured infrastructure of Black America, we will be looking at a total and complete collapse of the U.S., internally and externally.
For all of his academic achievement, and his victories in Washington, President Obama is mired in the fear that if he expresses outrage it will be perceived as inappropriate. He, and the party, had “golden opportunities” to pass legislation and appeal to the American public for support of laws that would benefit everyone. What the people wanted, they got, but in a very very mild form.
President Obama never took his case to the people. Rather than motivate the grass roots that helped put him in the white house, he chose to become just another beltway democrat. Like so many, I was hoping for a real single payer Obama heath care program. I wanted nationalized medicine as they have in Canada and Germany. I wanted a new society where we all pull together.
To be fair to the President, he faced an overwhelming negative force. The Republican party behaved like spoiled children. It was not their first loss and it sure as hell will not be their last loss. To add insult to injury the Republican Senate decided to commit treason and undermine U.S. diplomacy with Iran, a subject that passed by the public and media like a ship in the night.
The real solution we need is Washington invested in urban issues, and Black concerns and problems. Instead, we get a tentative White House. This is not going to work.
The reality comes down to looking at the protests in Baltimore as a symptom of very deep seated problems with a very long history. Until this is seen as a problem that involves all of us, not just those immediately impacted, we could see a violent history replay itself as it has many times in the past in many parts of the world. Not since the Civil War have we seen blood shed on U.S. soil. That could potential change if these problems are not addressed. For certain, they are not going away.
Kurt von Behrmann is an Artist. He is currently working on an art exhibition that deals with Bipolar disorder and its impact on creativity.
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