Freddie Gray, Dirty Cops, and The Problem With (Peaceful) Protests

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Police, the government, the city: they all play a role.

The responses to the incident are a detriment to Baltimore. Not just the looting and destruction by the criminal element: The non-violent protests are a problem as well.

I’ll explain below:

On the Police:

Gray was critically-wounded some time after being apprehended by the cops. The way his legs hung from his body in the video depicting his arrest suggest his spine was already injured before they put him in the car.

Americans should be up in arms and the dissatisfaction with police conduct is justified.

If there’s no imminent threat (e.g. suspect pulls a gun) to bystanders or officers, suspects should be subdued with just enough force to bring them under control. Nothing more than necessary, with an eye on preserving life. 

If resisting arrest is the proximate cause of a suspect’s injuries (ex: drunk driver flees cops, crashes into telephone pole), that’s another story. You get what you get when you choose that behavior.

But that’s still not an excuse for cops to take liberties because they are frustrated with an uncooperative suspect. Police still need to abide by standards of civility because of the authority we’ve entrusted them with.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

There are questions about why Gray was even arrested in the first place. That discussion has been covered at length in the media, so I will not discuss it here.

The nation should demand answers for the manner in which the arrest was handled and keep demanding answers until a sufficient one is given. The answers do not have to be ones that people want to hear (i.e. politically-correct, pander-to-the-masses talking points), just responses that explain how Gray was hurt and why he did not receive medical attention.

If the Mayor and Police Commissioner cannot provide sufficient answers, both should be reprimanded. Not token punishments like a minor fine or public mea culpa, but loss of salary and suspensions—or worse. People do not take matters seriously until they feel the heat.

Punitive measures that hit where it hurts will puncture the Blue Wall of Silence.

More on police misconduct later.

On the protests:

I covered the problems with most protest movements here:

and here:

Much of that applies to the Baltimore demonstrations.

Two problems facing the protest community:

1) Inability to Create Change

2) Sullied Reputation: “Protesters are Thugs.

1) Protests—both peaceful and violent—have not created change.

Over the last twenty years, can you point to a peaceful protest that accomplished its stated goal?

I can’t. You probably can’t, either.

The problem here is two-fold:

1) No Specific Goal  

”Better race relations” is not specific enough—if you have no defined target, you’ll struggle to get anything done.

2) No Strong Incentives for Change

Until protest leaders understand the importance of incentives to human behavior, they’ll never make progress.

Incentives, the reasons why people do what they do, are the key to getting anything done in this world, especially when you want to effect widespread change.

Let me tell you a story about Cuba:  (Credit: Don T., my relatives )

Some of my relatives traveled there recently.

One of the more peculiar things they noticed about life in Cuba was how safe the streets were. Not just in the affluent areas, but everywhere. You could walk the streets in the middle of the night—alone—without worrying about becoming a statistic.

Do you know why the streets are so safe?

In the 1930’s and 40’s, Cuba was one of the most dangerous places in the world. Foreign business interests and organized crime were a plague on the nation, introducing drugs and other maladies into the area.

(Godfather: Part II has an accurate portrayal of the chaos in post-WWII Cuba.)

When Castro took over in the 1950’s, he wanted to rid the country of every last vestige of Imperialism.

He instituted a zero-tolerance policy on street crimes, like drug dealing and gun possession. The military became his personal security arm, maintaining constant surveillance on the populace.

If you were caught breaking the law, you were executed

No due process or a trial by your peers: just a bullet with your name on it.

Crime dried up quickly.

Martial law still reigns supreme in 21st century Cuba. If authorities even suspect you are participating in illicit activity, you’ll be rounded up and sent to prison, perhaps never to be seen again.

I am not supporting capital punishment, nor Communism or Fascism, but the point should be clear: Strong incentives change behavior.

Self-interest will always rule the day, not good intentions or pleas for self-sacrifice.

If you’re counting on cries of discrimination to get anything done, you’ll be waiting a long time.  

The country has become desensitized to cries of racial discrimination (for a number of reasons that require an essay of its own). Racism still permeates every corner of society, but the degree to which it impacts the lives of the average minority—let alone the average American— has been drastically-reduced. No longer do you have to worry about being lynched because you said something that flouts polite society.

Of course, you’ll still be at a disadvantage in the boardroom, among other subtle indignities.

The behavior of certain prominent civil rights leaders has also done much to sabotage the movement.

People don’t care about catchy slogans or demonstrations that block traffic. They don’t care about someone’s suffering on the other side of the planet or even issues in their own communities that don’t impact their lives.

They only have one question: What’s in it for them?

Why should they invest the time and effort to help you, beyond offering empty gestures and lip service?

It could be an emotional reason or a financial one. It could be to create tranquility inside their own minds. You have to give people a reason to get off the sidelines.

Until you do that, you’re just pounding sand.

2) Much of the nation sees race-related protest movements as little more than roving mobs.

Some complain that society is too quick to label all protesters as “Thugs”.

Time to mitigate your damages, folks.

Protesters can’t let even a single bad egg color the whole group. 

Even the perception that one of your members is a criminal undermines your ability to enact change. 

You control the narrative by:

1)Sincerely denouncing looters (instead of the “wink, wink” mealy-mouthed criticism of rioting being tossed around by media phonies)

2) Kicking trouble-makers out of demonstrations, and, ironically, calling the authorities to arrest the law breakers.

Protesters have to “police” their own. There is a reason black protesters are treated as something to be feared by a large section of society.

And it’s not a dignified fear, like the respect defenders afford a dangerous receiver on the football field.

Realism vs. Idealism:

Cops doing dirt is nothing new.

They should be held to a higher standard because of the power bestowed on them by society, but what actually happens in reality is far different.

Why is police misconduct a recurring issue?

A lot of the blame for why the police operate with impunity falls on citizens. Hero worship, the same enjoyed by members of the military, discourages intellectual honesty.

By the way, if your first inclination when you meet a military veteran is to say “thank you for your service”, you’re probably part of the problem.

Cops will not change because society does not force them to. 

The power of a union that makes it nearly impossible to discard the bottom-of-the-barrel is a problem. Ironclad contracts that ensure raises and preserve benefits independent of performance don’t help. You can only go so far with a bad headline and isolated incidents that blow over once the cameras leave town—there have to be enduring elements of accountability.

People reach for the most convenient form of action instead of taking the time and effort to consider what would really get people to change. They do not vote out the fools who support policies that keep the status-quo. Nobody has any reason to change.

The nation’s unwillingness to engage in difficult conversations will cap any potential progress on this front.

“So, what can I do to make a difference?”

First, view the the world as it is, not how it ought to be.

Protesters have to buy into realism, instead of idealism. They need to reduce their own exposure to negative outcomes. Humans are flawed creatures and we live in an imperfect world. If you believe people are duty-bound to act a certain way, you’re in for a life of disappointment.

That’s the problem with being an idealist; you’re at the mercy of the world around you.

You need to operate under the premise that the world is a screwed-up place and you’re going to act accordingly.You have to ask tough questions instead of accepting what you see at face value. Do what you can to get things done, ever-ready for opportunities to influence others and effect change, but never place the responsibility for your emotional and physical well-being in the hands of others.

Be 100% Accountable.

Adopt dominant actions that further your interests, regardless of what anyone else does. Stop bemoaning a world that does not exist.

At least you’ll learn not to throw in the towel when the going gets tough.

When things don’t look great… through the tape!

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