The riots in Baltimore are the latest reaction to ongoing police brutality that has targeted our fellow Americans. While some see the riots as justice others see them as lawless and emotions have flared from both camps. Regardless of how you feel, the worst thing we can do is ignore the situation. The riots are a cry for help. So, I’m going to take the time to examine the issue of police brutality in America to determine what is justice and what is lawless…I’m assuming we know enough about slavery and civil rights movements in our country so I won’t touch on those relevant details.
Imagine a country where people of a certain race lived together in concentrated areas as minorities. These people went to their own theaters, their own schools and spoke their own language separate from the rest of the country. Those who didn’t had to adopt the culture of the country they lived in while their own culture vanished into obscurity. Although emancipated and given civil equality, they were still subject to racism and had to face that racism in their everyday lives–whether it was not being hired for a job, being called racial slurs or being pre-judged as criminals simply because of who they were. Next thing they knew, violence erupted and hundreds of them were being killed because of their race. A new leader eventually rose to power and a new, militarized police force emerged that arrested these people, brutally beat these people and started killing them left and right. At the same time, citizens were losing faith in their government and military as they clawed their way out of an economic depression and clung to the promises made by this new leader that their country would once again be prosperous and there was hope for them all.
Sounds like American history on up to the present day, doesn’t it? With fire hoses turned on black Americans, freedom riders ripped out of busses to be killed, rampant reports of police brutality by a police force receiving military hand-me-downs and a disillusioned people investing so much hope in their new leader?
Well, that’s a scary notion because I am talking about Nazi Germany. But let’s jump across the ocean real quick and examine current events in America regarding police brutality.
RIOT OR REVOLUTION?
I’m sure most of you are aware of the riots in Ferguson and more recently, the riots that occured in Baltimore. And if you’re like most people, you have already formulated an opinion about them. Now, I’m not going to sit here and condone harming innocent people or destroying property because both are senseless and neither lead to any positive changes. At least, they haven’t since the Boston Tea Party, where patriots rioted and committed vandalism to get their point across three years after the injustice of the Boston Massacre. But what options did the patriots have left? The King of England wasn’t listening to their pleas and was imposing his tyrannical will on a nation that was founded on the basis of freedom. And as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” And let’s face it: the Boston Tea Party was very much a riot and the colonists were very much unheard.
Legal definition of a riot: A disturbance of the peace by several persons, assembled and acting with a common intent in executing a lawful or unlawful enterprise in a violent and turbulent manner.
(It should be noted the Boston Tea Party escalated tensions between the colonists and the British to contribute to the start of the Revolutionary War.)
But the thing is, the protests in Baltimore didn’t start out as violent riots. On the contrary, the majority of protestors were engaging their first amendment right to a peaceful assembly, as reported here, here and here. However, the news cameras didn’t start to roll until the violence started–after outsiders shouted racial slurs and agitated protestors, according to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore.
The difference between a peaceful protest and a riot is only one of them gets televised, politicized and makes the movement demonized. Case in point, Baltimore. The news crews didn’t start reporting until the violent protestors appeared. This is because the media believes death, violence and unrest are more newsworthy than peaceful protests so death, violence and unrest are all they allow us to see–they teach us that in journalism school. So now we get to hear all the spin on the riots and even the peaceful protestors have their names marred and the whole movement against police brutality loses credibility. It is a political sleight made possible by the media and is akin to selective hearing. And yes, police brutality is a thing.
“Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012,” according to information reported by USATODAY. While Huffington Post noted that black Chicagoans are 10 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than white Chicagoans.
Even more chilling is the story of the 51-year-old grandmother beaten and hospitalized by highway patrol–her medical records were seized by the department in a questionable breach of doctor-patient confidentiality. Or the case of 87-year-old Venus Green, who had an officer try to force his way into her home without a warrant, beat her and handcuff her as she was trying to help her grandson who had just been shot (scroll toward the bottom of the linked article for details). Clearly, both these women were menacing thugs who deserved that treatment.
In a previous article about violent crime rates in America, I provided FBI statistics that showed violent crime is declining. Despite that trend, other statistics have shown violence by police is increasing. So why aren’t news stations telling us this? Well, it’s likely because many instances of police brutality go unreported by police departments. In New Jersey, only one percent of police brutality cases are reported, according to Huffington Post. ONE PERCENT. Extrapolate that data to the rest of the country and it is likely that many other police departments are following the trend of sweeping the issue under the rug and demonizing any movement against it. So if there is no perceived problem, why would we be told there is a problem?
Truth be told, we really don’t need to be told there is a problem with police brutality to sense something is fishy about all of this. Even Wikipedia created a page containing lists of police killings by year, many of which are in the hundreds. Some might ask, “but shouldn’t that be expected when dealing with violent criminals?” And I would ask, “you mean violent criminals like the beaten grandmothers above?”
Compared to other first-world countries, our numbers should be an embarrassment. Police in the United States kill more citizens than any other first-world country each year, according to information gained by The Free Thought Project. In fact, our police force killed 78 times as many citizens in 2014 as Canadian police. Citizens like Freddie Grey, Michael Brown and Timothy Thomas. Further, while 763 American citizens were killed by police in 2013 (see link at the top of this paragraph), only 119 American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan the same year (see here).
Hence the protests. Hence the anger. Hence the distrust. Hence the riots. The case for police brutality is valid.
But if crime is universal and other countries’ aren’t seeing nearly as much police brutality against citizens as America–and if some of the citizens being killed and beaten here include feeble, old women–is there another explanation? Glad you asked. Let’s turn to psychology for a possible answer.
SCIENCE AND HISTORY TIME
In 1971, a team of researchers under the lead of psychology professor, Phillip Zimbardo, undertook what is now called the Stanford Prison Experiment (funded by the US Office of Naval Research). The team selected 24 male students to be designated as either prisoners or prison guards to determine the cause of conflict between military prison guards and their prisoners. The students adopted their roles perhaps almost too well and within days of the experiment, the “guards” used psychological torture on the “prisoners” and enforced authoritarian measures. The guards attacked the prisoners with fire extinguishers, renamed them as numbers, harassed the prisoners, made them urinate and defecate in buckets, forced them to strenously exercise as punishment, removed prisoners mattresses so they had to sleep on the concrete, forced one prisoner into solitary confinement in a closet and used other sadistic psychological manipulation techniques to control them. Keep in mind these were college students seeking course credit. One prisoner allegedly started acting insane while another fled and never returned. The experiment was supposed to go on for two weeks but was terminated on day six. The guards were extremely disappointed the experiment had ended.
The results showed the corrupting power of authority and how we as humans bend to the will of authority, even if it isn’t real. It was hypothesized that the situation caused the behaviors in the guards and that their behaviors were not natural to them. The effects were psychologically damaging as five of the prisoners were emotionally traumatized and had to leave the experiment early. Early, as in, they didn’t even last six days.
This could explain how officers in positions of authority are finding it easier to beat and kill suspects. Cops are human, after all, and are subject to corruption, brutality, cruelty and racism. This could also explain why we as a society justify recent police actions and sit by idly instead of making a stand. We were raised to obey authority at all costs ever since we were children, so when we see police brutality we believe the victims had to have done something to deserve it–even in the cases of the two grandmothers. We can’t accept that the victims may not have deserved what came to them because police are supposed to be the good guys, not the bad guys. The reason we can’t accept that maybe some of them are the bad guys is because of another psychological factor called “cognitive dissonance.”
So now let’s return to Nazi Germany. You have an entire nation of people who feel defeated and hopeless and are losing faith in their government and military. A new, charismatic leader appears and promises to return Germany to its glory days. Just, nevermind the militarized police force that is targeting Jews, beating them and placing them in concentration camps. Soon, the nation follows suit and justifies the police brutality. Not only that, they aid the police brutality and eventually venture down the path of genocide. They don’t believe they are doing anything wrong because that would make them and their police the bad guys. But they can’t be the bad guys because the Jews are the bad guys and everyone is antisemitic. Cognitive dissonance at play.
I reference Nazi Germany as a history lesson. No, I don’t think we are quite as bad but we can learn a thing or two from the German’s mistakes. Such as, not being afraid to question the motives of our authority figures or accepting the notion that there are bad cops out there and not every victim of police brutality deserved what was coming to him or her.
Some will still ask, but what about the riots? Well, what about the Boston Tea Party? I mean, wasn’t the Boston Tea Party a riot? Or do powdered wigs somehow make things different? What about what happened at Kent State several decades ago–not only was it a riot but wasn’t the incident criticized as an abuse of power? How is that any different from the abuse of power we are seeing today? I hope your answer isn’t because the victims in those examples were white, because that seems to be the only difference. Not to mention, the protests in Baltimore started off as peaceful until outsiders jumped in and the cops swarmed the streets. According to this Baltimore teacher who was there when it happened, even her students were targeted by police and not allowed to take their busses home from school.
We don’t necessarily know what started the violence because we weren’t there (in Baltimore and in the historical cases I mentioned). But we seem pretty comfortable believing the protests started as violent riots just because that is the point at which the cameras started to roll. But of course that’s how it played out–death and unrest are considered more newsworthy than peaceful protesting, so death and unrest is all the media allows us to see. Then we make up our minds based on that and let our emotions rule our judgement instead of seeking truth for ourselves. And the truth is you know police brutality must be bad when even the Bloods and Crips have joined forces to protect their neighbors from the police.
And let’s not forget the unarmed man who was shot in the back during the other recent case of police brutality some people seem to have forgotten.
So now people will make up their minds based on a half truth and condemn the entire city. The movement against police brutality will lose credibility because media giants are more concerned about ratings than fair reporting. The country will judge these people based on half truths and politicians will use the riots to push their agendas. Fox News is having a field day with the Baltimore protestors I’m sure, so now the conservatives who make up the majority of that audience will have their minds manipulated and their opinions made for them which will affect future votes on related issues and make it seem like police brutality doesn’t exist. It is a horrible cycle that can easily be broken if people did their own research on police brutality Instead of jumping to the conclusions the media wants them to jump to.
So after this issue gets ignored for decades (and it has been going on for decades–Rodney King comes to mind) and recent peaceful protests aren’t given ANY media time, you get outsiders coming in and shouting racist slurs at peaceful protestors in Baltimore and assaulting them, so the protestors finally turn violent. I don’t condone hurting innocent people or destroying private property (what’s that going to solve anyway?) but I can at least empathize with their struggle and understand where they are coming from. That’s what our fellow Americans need right now rather than blind judgement and rampant criticism on an issue many people know nothing about and won’t inform themselves about because they don’t want to be wrong and have to change their minds about something. Like police brutality, racism in America and media manipulation.
Cognitive dissonance is a killer. Don’t fall for the propaganda of the mainstream media because the mainstream media is crap. Instead, do your own research to see for yourself what is really happening in our country. If we don’t wise up and start holding our leaders and our police force accountable for their actions, then we’ll be too complacent to stop them when things become even more serious…should it move past police brutality and become more Orwellian in nature.
Let’s not follow in Germany’s footsteps. Something is going terribly wrong and we have to band together to stop it. That is true patriotism. We are the voting citizens who give our leaders their power and who our police have sworn to protect and serve. We can’t let them forget that and we can’t just sit back and watch our fellow citizens suffer injustice.
It’s time their voices are heard and justice is served.