More Thoughts on Social (In)Justice

Two policeman in New York have been killed by a guy who was basically crazy.  The blame is being placed on the protests that have been occurring around the country surrounding the police killings of various young black men.  Specifically, three young black men.

The major of New York called for a stop to the protests until the policemen have been buried.  This, to me, is ridiculous.  The major didn’t call for a stop to the “stop and frisk” policies until Eric Garner was buried, did he?  Or a stop to the “stop and frisk” policies until an assessment of how this policy affects the communities in which it targets can be conducted.

Today on the Diane Rehm show, at least one of the guests blatantly implied that the protests are why the police officers were killed and that the protesters are to blame. Seriously?

First of all, I should state upfront that I am all for the police.  I very much feel that the state should have police officers to enforce rules and regulations.  The police have an extremely difficult job.  They are under constant pressure from all different sides.  At any moment, they may be called to give their life in service to another human being.  People such as this should be honored.

At the same time, these police officers have significant power over people.  They carry guns and they are pretty much legally allowed to use them whenever they want.  I have heard a statistic that of the ~1000 police officer shootings in the last few years, only 2 have been prosecuted.  To me this is astounding, and it says that police officers are free to use their gun whenever they feel in the last bit threatened.  Police officers should be trained to use any other means at their disposal before resorting to using their gun.  De-escalation should be the policy of the nation. Sorry – that was a tangent. Let’s set this aside.

I was discussing the protesters and the idea that they were responsible for the death of these two officers.  I feel quite strongly that this idea is bullshit.  Let me provide an example.

Let’s say that a man is beating his wife.  The woman takes it for years and years.  Finally, one day she goes to the police and files a complaint.  The police go to arrest the guy and he kills one of the police officers.  Who is at fault here?  The man for killing the police officer or the wife for reporting the husband?  People might think that this example is sort of bullshit, but it illustrates a couple of points (a) police officer’s jobs are dangerous and (b) victims should be encouraged to complain and not discouraged.

What is happening in the United State to black men is repression plain and simple.  When black men are harassed by the police walking down the street, or pulled over in their cars disproportionally more than others, or treated like they are thugs, or punished more in schools which leads them to be expelled at a significantly higher rate than others, they are being repressed.  This is not physical abuse (except when it actually is physical beating), but it is emotional abuse.  So, when we as a society say, “stop!”, is that wrong?  Is it incorrect for us, as a community, to stand together and say enough is enough?

Should we honor the police officers who were killed?  Absolutely.  Should we honor the young black men who were killed by other police officers?  Absolutely.

Should we set aside the protests until the police officers have been buried?  Why?  What is the point of this?  Honoring the police officers?  I don’t have the slightest idea how this honors the police officers.  I would hope that all police officers desire a fair society in which every person is treated humanely.  I would hope that they would encourage others to rise and express their dissatisfaction at a government that treats black males as second class citizens, locking them up and throwing away the key with zero tolerance policies.  As protectors of the population, I would hope that the police would be the most outraged by the policies of those in control.

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About aaronridley

Professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Climate and Space Science and Engineering.
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3 Responses to More Thoughts on Social (In)Justice

  1. ljridley says:

    Sorry, I only just saw this post. It’s really powerful. I went pretty apoplectic when I heard the suggestion that the protests had something to do with the murder of those two officers (it kind of blew Len’s hat back, he’s not used to me ranting). The idea that people should not protest police behavior, that they are above reproach because their job is dangerous, is offensive. That they should implicate New York’s mayor because he dared say something needed to change is reprehensible. From here I devolve into swearing, so I will stop. I applaud you for your eloquence.

  2. Steve says:

    Like the author, I am a (late?) middle-aged white male and can only imagine the frustrations any minority groups feel. If we (the “majority” in our country) are honest, we must acknowledge there is pervasive discrimination, bias, bigotry in our country. Most (not all) of the “majority” are too quick to pass judgement on anyone that is different from themselves. It is due to ignorance, learned / inherited beliefs, and fear of going outside their own comfort zone for a myriad of reasons. I work on it regularly. as I am guilty of come of the same character flaws. I don’t feel I am a bad person but also realize there are many aspects of who I am that need reflection and change. I believe we all, any person on the face of the earth, need to face some fears, educate ourselves, and step out of our comfort zones with respect to our fellow man. Thanks for sharing a thoughtful post.

  3. Mary Blashill says:

    I lived through the era of Martin Luther King, Selma, assassinations, riots, and change. It was a time of great upheaval, in all respects. Most of us watched on TV people being brutalized and felt great sorrow but also great fear and indecision – what can we do to change how black people were being treated? For those who physically went to the struggle, lent support, risked their lives, gave their lives, and walked the walk, I have such respect. I marched on my college campus – big deal. I never really considered actually traveling South, I was much too afraid. In my heart, however, I felt such compassion for any person who was/is being treated in-justly so I spent my life trying to treat everyone with respect. In the end, hopefully, that speaks louder than any words. Obviously, however, words are important to express outrage, frustration, encouragement, and alliance with people who deserve and have the right to equality. I am proud of Aaron for thinking about these issues and speaking his mind.

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