One unexplained death. So many negative images. So many pundits talking past real issues. So many obvious problems.
The storylines of Baltimore’s latest riots are heavy fodder for observers from all sides of the political spectrum.
On the left, it’s mostly about racism and bad cops and not enough social spending. The Ferguson-inspired slogan “Black Lives Matter” is renewed even though in the spate of highly publicized recent young black deaths there is no evidence that Michael Brown, who attacked a police officer, was deprived of any rights at all.
In Baltimore, the mayor turns to the feds in order to investigate her allegedly out-of-control police. A newly elected state’s attorney promises to answer the angry mob’s cries for justice. Yet, nobody asks the (indelicate) question of why the mayor and her chief prosecutor waited for Freddie Gray’s death before asking for federal intervention. Another indelicate question: where was the street rage when 1/6 of the population of Baltimore was arrested in 2005?
On the right, it’s a more complex debate, including the facts and circumstances of Mr. Gray’s arrest and transport that fateful morning. Besides police process and procedure, I and so many others bemoan the considerable social ills that poison West Baltimore neighborhoods: too many pregnant teenagers, too many sick babies, too many fatherless children, too many single-income households, too many high school dropouts, too many welfare dependents, too few manufacturing jobs, too much drug culture, too little hope.
Our conclusion is familiar: Trillions of dollars directed into poor communities over the past 50 years has failed to produce better neighborhoods. Just too many left behind, with little hope. It seems a value-less culture trumps social welfare programs every time.
Going forward, it’s not nearly good enough to ritualistically repeat the usual clichés regarding the importance of “healing” and “coming together.” Here, we truly need to define our terms.
Healing is not about demanding your unique definition of justice or threatening to burn the place down if your demands are not met. Neither is it about a not-so-secret war on African Americans in a police department where the mayor, police commissioner, and nearly 50% of the force is black. Real healing is respecting the criminal justice system’s search for truth and then working within the system for change if you disagree with the result. Kind of like Dr. King taught us to think and act.
Similarly, coming together is great if it means everybody working to bring about positive change. In this case, bringing the police closer to the community they are paid to protect and rooting out bad actors within the department along the way. There may be bad cops, but the Baltimore riots were not explained by a reaction to bad police work.
Most important, progress will only come if we are willing to think really big and long term. Such a new way of thinking about our inner cities would include parental demands for better schools; community leaders lobbying businesses to reinvest in their neighborhoods; political leaders willing to alleviate the dis-incentivizing impacts of high property taxes; a recognition that teenage pregnancy is a key predictor of cultural dysfunction; and a willingness to admit that young boys desperately need a strong male influence in their lives.
Leaders from both sides of the aisle will be willing to go “all in” if our leaders can shake off their Great Society blinders. Yes, big-time barriers will always be present – not the least of which is a newfound challenge to widespread acceptance of social welfarism – a central tenet of today’s progressive thought. But the case against government subsidy and dependence grows day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year.
On the other side, the right must pursue reform of criminal sentencing laws and seek to better understand the rage – frustration – bitterness – that flashed across America’s television screens two weeks ago. Such a task is far easier said than done as most conservatives live a life far removed from the realities of inner city life.