Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
When asked about Baltimore last week, President Obama said this:
"... if we think that we're just gonna send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise (in our inner cities), without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities ... then we're not gonna solve this problem."
"We can't just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching."
The president is right. But how, exactly, does a nation go about searching its soul in times like these?
Perhaps it begins by reflecting on his own brilliant words from the 2004 Democratic Convention -- the words that set him on the path to the White House. "There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America," Barack Obama said that night, "there's the United States of America."
That summer evening seems so long ago now.
On an aspirational level, the president may have been right. But on the streets where human beings eat and breathe and live and die, another reality prevails. When young black males are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white males, then at least in one sense they are living in a very different country from that of their white counterparts.
When we ask America to search its soul, which America are we talking about?
Personal and State Violence
Violence, like the nation itself, takes different forms. The events in Baltimore were manifestations of personal violence, amplified by crowd behavior. They were triggered by state violence, represented by the unrestrained excesses of police officers. That form of violence seems to have been especially severe in Baltimore. (The Baltimore Sun ran an excellent investigation into police abuses last year.)
Police/community conflict may be exacerbated by the influence of the for-profit prison movement, which the Washington Post recently called "the biggest lobby nobody's talking about." The beds in for-profit prisons must be filled, sometimes by contract with the state.
And filled they are. By the age of 28, according to a detailed study of young Baltimore residents, 49 percent of African-American males have been convicted of a crime -- and have a much harder time finding work than their white peers.
Nowadays the police aren't just "keeping the peace" in America's inner cities; whether by design or not, they're also recruiting clientele for the prison industry.