Freddie Gray dies in the back of a police van after being picked up for nothing. No one is seemingly held accountable. Maryland a black state attorney, Baltimore has a black mayor, a substantial minority presence in their police force, a majority-minority city council, and has basically been run by local Democrats for fifty+ years.
There are issues here of accountability, but they run all over the place. If they belong to any political party, they belong to the local Democrats. They certainly appear to transcend easy racial narratives on the side of any oppressor, though personally I find it easy enough to imagine the state being a tool of minority/poor oppression regardless of who’s in charge.
We know that, for example, police use of force is disproportionately applied to minorities. There’s some ongoing discussion of shootings – most research indicates a bias, there’s at least one recent study (though only examining incidents in Houston) which counter that conclusion – but personally I think it’s enough to point out that minorities get beat more often than whites in similar incidences to say that there’s smoke.
But what now?
The panacea of “better government” is not enough. Government is, by-and-large, a manifestation of society at large and for good reason. The downside is that transformation in government comes after transformation in society at large, and American society at large is struggling with itself: Black Lives Matter against All Lives Matter, awareness of the state’s largely out-of-sight minority oppression against a struggle to maintain deference to law and order. The good news is that the civil rights movements of the 60s were decried in their time for being disruptive, and that Black Lives Matter being considered similarly is at least a reminder that struggles can tip quickly.
The new, ugly wrinkle in all of this is the string of murders of police officers.That is the wedge, the worst fears of All Lives Matter come to manifest, an erosion of the ideal that it is possible to be both aware of the minority experience of the state’s violence and power, as well as aware that minority and poor communities in general require the help and aid of police. Just as any kind of terror attack is designed to drive rifts between populations, to make estranged allies and neutral parties into enemies, these shootings are terror attacks. If they work, they will erode the social capital required for change, and everyone will come out lesser.
North Carolina’s GOP candidate for Attorney General has some interesting ideas about being gay, and by interesting I mean dumb.
‘”Go home, tell your friends and family who had to work today what this is all about and how hard we must fight to keep our state straight,” [Buck Newton] said to applause.’ – from Reuters
What a terrifying world it must be to believe that culture is disintegrating in front of your eyes, being torn apart by forces you cannot comprehend and that terrify you with their openly decrepit ideas. It’s generally the same feeling I get when I think about what life would be like with a guy like Buck Newton as my state’s attorney general. Luckily I live in Massachusetts, where our flavor of oppression is much more neoliberal.
Anyhow, imagine the mental gymnastics required to be the state’s representative of the law and also have a literally ignorant disregard for civil liberties. It’s not peculiarly American, but it certainly is the most common kind of fear-driven pearl-clutching reaction to a world confronting you with some kind of strange change you never considered before. The Other! They’re going to destroy us!
It’s such a well-worn trope that it’s easy enough to spot once you’re on the outside of it, but when you’re on the inside – say, when a terrorism victim’s family supports an unhelpful war or the expansion of security at airports or what-have-you – it’s a very, very hard sell. I have compassion for those folks; I’m sure I’m on the inside of some struggles myself, such as my position as an upper-class white male making me more amenable to capitalism than presumably a lot of other people. This is a democracy, and that means that sometimes what you or I might consider to be bad ideas are still the majority will and the representative’s will as well, and while screaming at people can be helpful for various reasons in a larger social context, I’ve always considered compassion and patience more effective in my personal life.
So, let’s just say a prayer for North Carolina that the GOP doesn’t get the Attorney General’s office, and helpfully remind people that being gay is almost certainly not a choice and that laws barring transgender folks from peeing where they’re most comfortable isn’t going to keep anyone straight.