I’ve been watching events unfold in Baltimore and reading lots of commentary. I’ve learned some new phrases, like “rough ride.” This topic is really not for a white, suburban mom. I do think it’s best for  people who know this turf to do the talking. But if I say nothing, tweet nothing, people might think I don’t care. So, at least on Twitter, I’ll just RT things that broaden my understanding of the topic.

I can offer one little tidbit for those should do the talking. Wilbur Rich wrote a book back in the 90s, Black Mayors and School Politics: The Failure of Reform in Detroit, Gary, and Newark (Garland Reference Library of Social Science), exploring the question of why urban schools didn’t improve when black leaders gained power. His conclusion was that black leaders repeated the power dynamics of the previous white leaders. To gain election, they made alliances with the teachers’ unions who frustrated reform efforts. Not sure if his analysis applies to Baltimore, but it’s relevant.

I’ve read about ten completed different accounts about how his spine was broken. Did it happen during the arrest, the previous week, during the rough ride? Was it self inflicted? If it happened during the ride, why wasn’t the other guy banged up? If it happened during the ride, wouldn’t there have been more bruises?

I owning my ignorance here, but is it standard practice to chase and arrest someone who flees when he sees police? I’m sure it is. OK, how is that legal?

I’ve been chatting with Steve this morning about these issues. His point is that the particulars don’t matter. We all know that there are problems with policing in this country, and that dealing with the hows and the when of this particular arrest sends people down the rabbit hole. I think that the particulars matter, because lots of people don’t accept that the broad statement that we have a problem with the criminal justice system. In order to change minds, you have to present the facts.

33 thoughts on “Baltimore

  1. Here’s one of my favorite educational videos:

    Warning: Lots of bad language–it’s Chris Rock.

    It’s aimed at black men, but I actually showed it to my very white very middle class husband a few years back for educational purposes after he’d had a number of experiences with getting talked to by police, thanks to his astronomy hobby. People get worried seeing an object that looks like a mortar in your front seat and they also get worried when they see somebody standing in the dark outside doing Lord knows what.

    Experience suggests that regardless of race, the police are going to want to talk to you whenever they see you doing something they don’t understand. (My husband also had a hair-rising police experience thanks to the fact that he was with a broke white friend that was living in a black neighborhood and driving a borrowed car that he couldn’t produce the papers for.) And sometimes it’s a good thing–Ted Bundy was caught (after many near misses) partly because a police officer was nonplussed by the fact that he had removed one of the seats from his VW Beetle.


  2. I agree that there is plenty of police abuse in this country. What I find troubling is that the public attention paid to a case doesn’t seem to have much correlation to the degree of abuse. Therefore, it isn’t a very effective corrective. For instance, the Justice Department investigation of Ferguson seems, basically, to have concluded that the killing which sparked so many protests was not, in fact, improper.

    Also, I’m not convinced that the primary problem is police racism. It seems that only unjustified killings of blacks rouse protests, but there are plenty of unjustified killings of whites too. Viewing the problem of inappropriate policing through a racial prism inhibits any solutions.


    1. I agree the issue goes beyond race, but there are reasons people focus particularly on that, including history and the fact that minority men are particular, if not the only, victims of police brutality. There are others, however, including the mentally ill, and especially pointlessly, dogs.

      I also agree that a good way to win people over to the cause of changing police culture is highlighting the breadth of victims of police violence. People really understand that what’s happening can’t possibly be justified when they realized small dogs have been killed. There is something very very wrong with the way police are trained in this country. I think that the police don’t realize the depth of anger at them, even among white middle aged women like me. I immediately hang up the phone when the fraternal order of police calls. I know that many people who were adults during the crime waves of the seventies and early eighties still have a pro-police attitude, but frankly, if you pay attention to pop culture, the young just don’t have that. I think police unions are in trouble in the future if they don’t start changing the way they operate and building more bridges.


      1. That came out a little weird, so I should add that all the brutality is pointless, of course, but in the case of dogs there isn’t even the potential excuse that the police misread the situation and were actually in danger, since few if any dogs are an actual threat to a adult man. On the other hand, it makes me angry that some people get upset at cops killing a dog (look up all the facebook pages about it) and not when they kill human beings, including the mentally ill:


  3. “For instance, the Justice Department investigation of Ferguson seems, basically, to have concluded that the killing which sparked so many protests was not, in fact, improper.”

    But, on the other hand, the investigation also revealed systemic problems with the justice system and policing in Ferguson. I agree that the attention paid to individual cases is arbitrary, but the individual cases are the reason we are paying attention to the problems at all, at least in some instances.

    I’ll note that Seattle is in the process of implementing a settlement order on policing, following a justice department investigation (which hasn’t, in my mind, at least, been associated with either a specific killing, or riots/uprisings):

    “We found that SPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law.”

    I think there is a systemic problem with police enforcement in many places in the US. I think body cameras will help (though we still haven’t figured out all the rules that will apply).

    I also think that we have no idea of the answer to “there are plenty of unjustified killings of whites, too.” My guess is that there are many more unjustified (as well as proper use of force) killings of black men, but, we don’t know. Because, apparently, we do not keep track of police shootings in any systematic way, we lack the data to do the analysis. Hopefully one of the other effects of this current spotlight will be nationwide data collection of the use of force by the police.


    1. But that’s my point, the event that actually occasioned riots was not an example of abuse. In this area, at least, public outcry is a very poor guide to sound public policy.


  4. I’m also struck by my not very thought out reflection that there have been uprisings/riots in 1968, 1992, and now, 2015 (23-24 years apart). Makes me wonder if the cyclic violence is a new generation of young people noticing that things have not yet changed enough (though, undoubtedly, they have changed). That is, what does happen to a dream deferred?

    What happens to a dream deferred?

    Does it dry up
    like a raisin in the sun?
    Or fester like a sore—
    And then run?
    Does it stink like rotten meat?
    Or crust and sugar over—
    like a syrupy sweet?

    Maybe it just sags
    like a heavy load.

    Or does it explode?
    Langston Hughes, “Harlem” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.


    1. I teach the crap out of that poem in my intro lit class. It works great for demonstrating simile’s contribution to meaning. I start off with the whole New Critical approach blah blah blah, ignore the author, and then after we tear apart the first 10 lines, I call their attention to the last line, then I hit hard with the historicized reading.

      It’s not my favorite Hughes poem, it’s not the best poem he ever wrote, but it is my favorite poem to teach. 🙂


    2. “I’m also struck by my not very thought out reflection that there have been uprisings/riots in 1968, 1992, and now, 2015 (23-24 years apart). Makes me wonder if the cyclic violence is a new generation of young people noticing that things have not yet changed enough (though, undoubtedly, they have changed).”

      Or alternately, you need a new generation of young people that doesn’t remember how much worse life got after the last riot.

      Experience suggests that the following is the natural cycle:

      1. Complain liquor store groceries are too expensive.

      2. Burn down the liquor store.

      3. Complain nobody wants to build a shiny mega-grocery store in your neighborhood.


  5. As I said, we don’t know numbers for the number of whites and blacks killed by police, but here’s a daily kos report that tries to extract the numbers:

    In Chicago, 23 people were killed by police in 2012, according to the article (gleaned from media reports). Want to guess how many of them were black? (according to the article)? As a reference, Chicago’s population is 30% black.


    1. The link doesn’t work. But to even begin an analysis, one would have to have some idea of (i) what percentage of crimes in Chicago are committed by blacks and (ii) what percentage of arrests involve blacks. And before indicting racism, one would also want to know what percentage of the police doing the shooting were black. And one would have to analyze each shooting to determine what percentage were unjustified. And a million other questions. Cherry picking numbers to justify one’s political preconceptions is fairly standard social science fare, and so it’s fine if that’s what you do for a living, but it isn’t actually a good guide to policies that work.


      1. I left out the link on purpose, ’cause I really wanted people to guess.

        What guesses one would make about each of your additional variables (feel free to make assumptions and do a piano tuner calculation) are indeed completely relevant to the issue being discussed. In addition, even if we (reasonably) presume that in any of those circumstances, some percent of shootings are going to be in error (i.e. the person shot and killed presented no threat, though a rational person might have made the wrong decision), then the threat faced by the black man or black boy walking through the street, through no responsibility of their own, would still be real.

        BTW, being black does not prevent you from engaging in race based prejudice, profiling, and bias (well studied and well established in the literature), so, the question of which percent of the shooters were black would do little to address the question of systemic racial bias in policing.


  6. I’m hopeful that more attention and spotlighting of the issue will make things better for everyone. For example, Oakland police have been using body cameras for a while, and the effect seems to have been a decrease of use of force incidents, as well as citizen complaints. And, when there are complaints, the police are often able to use the evidence from the cameras to address the incident.

    The horrific killing of Tyler Stewart, a Arizona police officer, whose murder was recorded on his body camera (and released, an issue that still needs to be debated), is a vivid reminder, as well, of the danger police are in, sometimes during routine work. The description of the video makes clear the hair trigger decisions police have to make, to keep themselves safe and makes me wary of blaming individual police in complicated decisions made in dark hallways, on dark nights, with potentially scary people. But, I think we have to consider the statistics and data as well, and we can’t, unless we have it.


  7. I’m just curious: how many of you know police officers, particularly those who work in cities? I mean, know them well (i.e., family, very close friends).


    1. I know one policeman, who I would regard as a close acquaintance. Imagining him in the dangerous situation does influence my perception of the rhetoric. He’s fortunately not been in danger in his fairly short career yet, but when he was in school, he “failed” his first test — a simulation entering a dark house in a potential shooter situation — in the simulation, he was dead.

      That’s why I think that policeman do have to be given a fair amount of leeway in the decisions they in stressful circumstances, while we still make efforts to assess the profiling and prejudice systemically. Prosecutions are appropriate and necessary in some circumstances — the video of the officer shooting the running man in North Carolina qualifies — and, we suspect that it was the video that was the key piece of evidence, hence the desire for more such video, but the standard of proof for criminal prosecutions should be high, for everyone, including policeman.


    2. My cousin’s ex-husband (who I don’t actually know well) is a police officer. He once had his jaw broken during a routine traffic stop some years back with lots of medical unpleasantness after that.

      My great-grandmother’s brother (who I never knew) was the youngest sheriff in rural WA. He was killed in the line of duty 90 odd years ago.

      A different cousin’s wife is a state trooper (I believe).

      Oddly, that’s all of the police officers I can think of in my family.


    3. My feelings here aren’t very coherent because the ones I know, I love, YKWIM? And some things I may say are pretty obvious. But a few things:

      Police work involves risk/danger. I don’t know a spouse of a police officer, no matter how liberal, who doesn’t say “You do what you have to in order to come back home to me and our children.” That is on one level understandable and on another kind of problematic. To ensure you are safe, you have to magnify every risk, in a way. Even a small risk is a risk and must be eliminated. I am not saying that police officers should be unmarried, but I think there is a lot of pressure on them to do the safest thing.

      And actually, now that I write this, I wonder if there isn’t a little bit of the Slayer in police officers. A police officer’s funeral is a time of great mourning for other officers. They will often go to funerals of cops they didn’t even know. But… aren’t they, to quote Spike, just a little bit in love with it? Do they end up wanting that glory, the glory of death in service–yet they can’t have it because they also have gotten married and had kids etc.

      Another thing, and I say this again, with love, is that my experience (how much can I qualify myself?) is that police officers are not usually very smart. Sometimes they don’t even have street smarts, much less book smarts. And they have fairly simplistic ways of looking at the world–right and wrong. They become police officers often because they have fathers and/or uncles who were. And I think that leads into the way police officers see each other as family members.

      Police officers are very tribal, very much into brotherhood. I see this as similar to the military, a sense of self-as-part-of-a-whole. (Btw, Orphan Black is kind of brilliantly exploring some of these gendered senses of self, especially this season with Project Castor.) And thus it’s probably not surprising that their union (the PBA or other police unions) is very important to them. But at the same time, even though they represent government in that they enforce laws, they see themselves as in opposition to the government. It makes them respect each other more than the mayor of the city even though the mayor is technically their boss. That is why they were able to protest Dinkins so disgustingly. That’s why they tend not to live in the city. The city is *other*. They come to the city to protect “it” from itself.

      I think they grow up in social groups that are usually white and usually racist. Becoming a police officer doesn’t really change that. They have *always* seen the threat as black/brown people. Always. They walk in to the first day in the academy knowing what the threat looks like. They learn (usually) to be less crude about it, but they will believe it till their dying day. Where I grew up, we had a lot of wannabe white supremacist types, these ridiculous suburban “gangs” of lower middle class kids who would spray paint swastikas and bond over how much they hated blacks and Jews, etc. The future cop-types knew them yet kept a little distance from the “gangs.” That way they could tell themselves that they weren’t racist if they weren’t hanging out with these gangs. But they still were.

      So, there are some of my thoughts. Obviously, I’m generalizing and there are individuals who don’t fit this mold. But there are a lot of guys like this out there….


      1. Been reading about Brian Moore, who is exactly like every police officer I know. He even looks like them. I just read some articles on him. Of course he’s from Massapequa. Of course.

        Some quotes from a Newsday article that make my points above: “Plainedge Superintendent Edward Salina said Moore’s teachers knew he would be a police officer one day, following his father, uncle and cousins’ law enforcement careers.”
        “The vigil was held adjacent to Edward Byrne Memorial Field, named for another NYPD officer who, 27 years ago, was assassinated in his patrol car. He lived down the street from the Moore family in Massapequa.”
        “Caputo [family friend of Moore’s] had restored a 1989 Chevy Caprice, an exact replica of the car Byrne was murdered in, and drove it to the vigil.”

        “Two of Moore’s cousins serve in the Nassau County police department.” Aah, the promised land for all NYPD cops: a cushy gig in Nassau or Suffolk PDs.


        Except the felon wasn’t doing anything felonious when he was confronted.

        I find the “God’s work” rhetoric troubling, needless to say.


  8. BTW, I don’t put much stock in Justice Department investigations of states and localities. I’m sure that if the City of Miami were permitted to investigate the Elian Gonzalez seizure, or the State of Texas were permitted to investigate the Waco Branch Davidian conflagration, they’d find plenty of abuse. That was Justice Scalia’s point about special prosecutors: if you are assigned to investigate everything about a person (much less an organization), you can always find problems.


  9. “BTW, being black does not prevent you from engaging in race based prejudice, profiling, and bias (well studied and well established in the literature), so, the question of which percent of the shooters were black would do little to address the question of systemic racial bias in policing.”

    So calls for more diversity in police departments are not based on sound social science? That is true of most items in the chattering classes’ political agenda, so I’m not surprised.


    1. There may be a professional deformation, whereby police officers (who spend a whole lot of time dealing with people that are the bottom of the barrel) tend to assume the very worst of their fellow man.

      So (and you guys are catching me in a very liberal, daisies-in-the-hair mood), maybe part of the answer to getting police to behave better is making sure that police officers have enough of a chance to relax, be normal, and to spend time with good people.


      1. In contrast, I am in a cynical mood. I’d rather put my money on body cameras.

        Many of the cases which have reached national prominence recently would never have been national news, had they not been recorded on video. Right now, most citizens carry a camera able to post video to the web with them all the time. That saturation will not recede. If anything, I predict we’ll see people carrying small personal security cameras on their persons. So acts of police brutality, which have likely always happened, will be recorded, and published.

        The old system of authorities “reviewing” incidents, then denying that anything bad happened, will not work in the long run. All it will do is render that authority suspect.


  10. “Many of the cases which have reached national prominence recently would never have been national news, had they not been recorded on video.”

    That seems like almost the opposite of the truth when it comes to Ferguson. If it had not been for false reports, there would have been no national uproar at all. In fact, it’s really striking how many leftist causes celebres of recent years, from the Duke lacrosse case to Ferguson to the U.Va. “rape,” have been total fabrications.


    1. Actually, it’s Black Twitter that has been responsible for raising awareness of incidents of police misconduct.

      I’ve been following the case of the officer in NY who was killed on duty. From an article: “The incident unfolded just before sunset Saturday when Officers Moore and Jansen noticed that the alleged gunman, Mr. Blackwell, was grabbing the waistband of his pants, according to the criminal complaint.”

      Why is “grabbing the waistband” of one’s pants reason for police to confront someone walking? No one sees the problem with this?


      1. No. It’s really awful. Especially as it’s happening at the same time as a much publicized movement to normalize carrying guns.


      2. Black Twitter at it again, with the support of, well, the rest of Twitter.

        If you wonder why it is that black people are upset and protesting in places like Ferguson and Baltimore and NYC, just look at the Waco incident. Seriously. Michael Brown had to die, but these pieces of excrement live?
        ““We have police cars shot. We have citizens’ vehicles shot,” Sergeant Swanton said.”
        Police cars were shot, yet the people doing the shooting weren’t immediately executed by police? White people who shoot and kill other people and shoot cop cars sit on the side of the road afterwards texting but a black person who committed the “crime” of looking an officer in the eye gets a “rough ride” and his spinal cord severed?
        Don’t get me wrong–I think the pieces of excrement should not have been shot on sight unless there was clearly a threat to the officers. But I don’t understand why a white motorcycle gang member shooting a police car is not a threat and a weaponless black teenager is.

        *That* is what the problem is.

        There’s also a meme going around comparing Eric Rudolph sitting in prison, cutting a deal with feds vs. Tsarnaev’s death penalty sentence for very similar crimes. Though I suspect Rudolph’s deal involved snitching on some of his white supremacist friends. Tsarnaev was actually probably too innocent, in some ways, to “earn” a deal. We live in an f-ed up world.


      3. “If you wonder why it is that black people are upset and protesting in places like Ferguson and Baltimore and NYC, just look at the Waco incident. Seriously. Michael Brown had to die, but these pieces of excrement live?”

        Well, at this point we don’t know which of the Waco bikers were shot by police and which were shot or stabbed or clubbed by each other. It could be that a whole bunch of the Waco casualties are due to police–they were on the scene from the very beginning on high alert. Presumably, forensics will eventually be able to sort this out.

        I did see one black or Hispanic woman among the detained bikers wearing biker gear in the photographs I saw, so there may actually be a light sprinkling of minorities in the groups. The detained bikers mostly look exactly like the cast of Duck Dynasty, though.


      4. For Waco, I’m betting that 33-50% of the fatalities were caused by police, but I’ll assume that they had less to do with the injuries. (Last I heard, the police had counted in excess of 100 weapons of various kinds on site, but that’s a number that I fully expect will go up.)


  11. Sorry to keep on this, but this is my people.
    Apparently the Farmingdale school district (in Nassau County NY) is cancelling classes today because of Officer Brian Moore’s funeral. The road closures are going to make it difficult for students to get to school.

    Just let that sink in.


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