Crime is increasing
Panic is spreading
God know where we’re heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
That’s the late Marvin Gaye singing about similar times — police versus the black community — in the United States during the early 1970s. Fast-forward to now: Almost every week, there is a horrible, hard-to-explain killing of a black man by police officers.
The numbers are mounting, and the truth is almost inescapable: Something is terribly wrong with how the police deal with African-Americans and other minorities.
The latest incident occurred in Baltimore. According to authorities there, police took Freddie Gray into custody in one piece, placed him in a police transport vehicle, and he came out with a broken spine and died later.
There has been no concrete explanation from police. But, there is news: Six police officers were charged Friday with counts including murder and manslaughter.
Now, as always, getting a grand jury or a jury to convict police is extremely tough. And, too, they might be innocent.
His death sparked outrage, followed by rioting, looting and vandalism. It also resulted in the gone-viral video of a mother pounding on her son to take him out of the rioting.
Now let’s look at what happened and the aftermath.
The specific people who took to streets Monday night to burn and loot buildings, mostly in their own neighborhoods, accomplished nothing and shifted media coverage to damaged buildings and violence instead of what lead to Gray’s death.
Some say the combination of rampant police brutality, poor communities being ignored, along with widespread unemployment and poor schools, combined to build a tinderbox of hopelessness and frustration that needed just a spark to explode. Gray’s death was that spark, and what we saw Monday night was rage and rebellion against authority from people who were tired of being beaten down.
Those who weren’t rioting, and that was the overwhelming majority of people on the streets of Baltimore, were protesters. It’s important to distinguish between the two.
The mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, described the rioters as “thugs” and took so much heat for it that she apologized because some people see “thug” as the new N-word. Excuse me. The people who were looting stores and setting fires are thugs in every sense of the word. Should people who burned down a church or stole from stores be called freedom fighters?
And, there is something else that hasn’t been mentioned in the midst of justifiably criticizing police.
When the Baltimore police faced the rioters, many of whom were smashing police cars and private vehicles, burning buildings and throwing chunks of concrete, bottles and whatever else at police officers, the authorities used incredible restraint. Concrete is deadly. But there were few if any reports of police firing their weapons; there were reports of injured police.
I do understand the frustration that comes from living in poverty, going to poor schools, being virtually ignored by city government. The venting of anger is understandable, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of devastating already beleaguered neighborhoods.
Lyrics by Bobby Womack in hit 1970s song “Across 110th Street” explain:
Been down so long, getting up didn’t seem to cross my mind.
But I knew there was a better way of life that I was just trying to find.
You don’t know what you’ll do until you’re put under pressure,
Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester.
And, about that video of the mother pulling and pounding on her son after she saw him participating in the riot: The first time I saw it, I understood that this woman was trying to save her son’s life, at least for that one day, from the police he was rioting against.
There are some really bad people who have badges. The overwhelming majority of the law enforcement community are great people. But, when a minority of bad people have guns and authority, the chances of bad outcomes go off the chart.
The growing feeling is that you just wait until next week or next month, there will be another killing of a black man that is even more inexplicable than the others. Seemingly, there is no place that is safe. It could be coming to your town — or to your comfy suburban neighborhood.
It makes me wanna holla.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is email@example.com.