Thoughts on Baltimore

Protests, riots, uprisings, they all spring from some sort of anger, and the situation in Baltimore is no different. Last Tuesday, after days of peaceful protest, and demonstrations by community leaders, protests turned violent, with buildings burning, looting, and police and protestors alike being injured. To dismiss this as a senseless riot is to forget not only the years of oppression that people of color in this country have faced, but the daily fear that many people of color experience when they walk in the street and interact with the police.

The FBI’s Justifiable Homicide Report released in November of 2014 stated that461 people were killed by the police in 2013, which is the highest rate of police killings in two decades. Across the nation, black people are three times more likely to be killed by the police. The nationwide rate of police shootings of civilians is .13 per 100,000 people, but that rate increases dramatically in Western states. In Albuquerque, my home, the rate of police shootings is over 30 times the national average, with 4 people per 100,000 being shot by the police. While black men are the most likely to be shot by the cops in population dense areas, out West, in more sparsely populated areas, it is the mentally ill who are more likely to be shot by the police.

There are 461 reasons to be angry. There are countless more stories of police brutality that go unreported due to the undesirability of the victim, or their mental state. Those are reasons to be angry. And with all that loss of life, and all those reasons to be angry, there is little to no accountability for police officers who kill Americans, as few face indictment by grand juries, let alone criminal consequences for their actions.

The protests in Baltimore are a result of that anger. The days of peaceful protest and organizing by community leaders are a result of that anger. The riots last night were a result of that anger. People are free to form their own opinions on the riots, but if you do not understand why people are angry, you need to take a closer look at the data and statistics available, and ask yourself why you’re not more horrified and enraged by police brutality itself, instead of being horrified by the community’s reaction.

Currently, the state, in the form of the police, appears to have unchecked power to kill American citizens. They may not be citizens that look like you, they may not be people you come in contact with, but the state has an ability to end a human life without any sort of fair trial, and little to no consequence to the person who committed a crime or murder, justified or not. This is an issue that affects all Americans. It is an extreme overreach of state power that should make all citizens of this country nervous.

I have relatives who work in law enforcement, and I fear for their safety. How can you not? If someone you loved was putting themselves in dangerous areas, trying to protect people, how could you not be worried about them? But I realize that the way I fear for my cousin, who chose to be a police officer in a dangerous area, is the same way countless mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends fear for those they love. A country with fewer police shootings will not only protect youth and adults of color, it will hopefully increase trust in the police, which creates a safer country for us all. This is an issue that affects us all, whether we fear for our relatives in law enforcement or our relatives walking peacefully in the street.

First Published: April 29, 2015