Tuesday, December 9, 2014
"Better racist police than ignorant thugs"
In Hamlet, the melancholy Dane asks Rosencrantz if he has heard any news.
"None, my lord," the courtier replies, "but the world's grown honest."
"Then is doomsday near," Hamlet quips — the idea being the if people start saying what they think, candidly without draping it in artifice and deceit, that would be such a radical departure from the usual it would mean that the world must be coming to an end.
I thought of that line Monday, looking over my dozens of emails responding to my column dipping a toe into the racial tempest over police roiling over the country in the wake of the Ferguson and chokehold cases. I expected a lot of poison, but was impressed by the thoughtfulness, the intelligence of the replies. As of 4 p.m. I hadn't received a single foaming hater, which is odd, even on days when I don't stick a trembling hand between the bars of the police department.
Two stuck out —one from a white reader, one from a black. As they are lengthy, I'll keep this intro to a minimum. I found them interesting, and thought you might find them interesting too.
We may be a nation of laws, but we're also a nation of habits, some of them very old and very destructive.
A few weeks ago I was driving around the Northwest Side with an old friend from my teenaged years, a retired Chicago cop. I dared to broach the subject of local politics and he ran down a list of current politicians who were gang members back in the day. I remarked on how much I enjoyed all my Mexican neighbors who moved to my block and all he could relate to was all the gang and drug activity related to his policing of Hispanic neighborhoods.
Not for a moment did I think this was blind racism. After all, he had been married to a Hispanic woman and was never one to throw around racial epithets. But the years of having different experiences and forming different habits determined how we viewed the same city. Eventually he had moved out to a farm in Wisconsin to save his nerves and sanity.
Neil, you have a legitimate point about our not losing the cop's point of view amid the reaction to the Grand Jury's ruling on the death of Eric Garner. But it is disingenuous for the Second City Cop to say that police officers are merely carrying out the duty to enforce laws that others have passed.
It would have been more accurate for him to say that police officers are enforcing the order that we expect them to protect, because it is a physical impossibility for the police to deal with every infraction of the law that takes place. It always comes down to responding to situations that pose the greatest perceived threat to the public order and to reacting on the spot and by practicing the learned behaviors that are appropriate to the moment and that will be supported by officials after the fact.
Whether the police like it or not, these behaviors often reflect a much larger context. They reflect a justice system that has incarcerated way too many blacks, as you pointed out in your column. They reflect a law enforcement system that has, at least in Chicago, failed to protect poor black neighborhoods from horrendous acts of gun violence.
The most interesting question, at least to me, is whether the action of the police in the Garner case also reflects the persistence of Jim Crow. We whites tend to forget how recent Jim Crow laws were on the books, even in the North up to the late 1960s in such forms as protective covenants on real estate. We also tend to forget that it may take many generations to wean ourselves from the attitudes and habits that provided a basis for the enactment of Jim Crow laws and the deliberate segregation of our city.
The outrage over Eric Garner is more than "Racial Catharsis No. 342." What we lost through the Grand Jury decisions in the Eric Garner and the Ferguson cases was the present opportunity to bring to light any of the underlying factors that may have led to the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white policemen. We badly need these opportunities. That is because the current outrage also expresses a hidden shame in our body politic that it is 2014 and we are still fighting the Civil War.
The wisest response I have heard to the two recent incidents came from two African American journalists, one old and one young. They both said that they were surprised, but not shocked, by the Grand Jury verdicts. They also said that the fight for equality is a long, long struggle and this is just another milepost. Many miles to go.
As for my old cop friend and me, we just shook our heads and wondered how we had such different perceptions of the city in which we both had grown up. We went on to the next topic of conversation, as if to say, not in our generation.
And then there was this:
I am a Black man. I agree with you article 100%. And I believe that other Black folk will suffer the most from this latest round of highly emotional, explosively-charged mass hysteria. I see a complete ignoring of facts. I wonder, when the police powers/functions are good and nullified, who will protect me from my fellow anarchist Black brother? You see, Blacks victimize Blacks more than any other race.
Forget that we are extra cautious and vigilant when we walk in our own communities, often afraid when someone walks to close.
I watched that Ferguson stuff. Now this giant of a guy strong armed a store owner. He took what he wanted. He showed no stealth when he left the store, he walked out in the open. Now, I was always taught to weigh out all the potential consequences of your behavior and choose what you could live with. I would've never challenged a cop with a gun after I robbed a store, nor would I have walked down the middle of the street once I robbed the store. I would've made my escape in the shadows. The audacity.
Adrenaline high, I just strong armed a store and took what I want, I could take on a cop with a gun. WRONG!
My mother said, "Boy. Some lessons cost you. And some a lot."
I'd prefer racist police than to let some ignorant thugs who would love to run things, be in charge.
A fine time for White American to rally for a cause. It would cause a state of anomie in my neighborhood if they are successful. It doesn't make our neighbor any less the example of what's wrong.