The Racial Reality of Policing- Beware of Simple Solutions

It is dangerously attractive look for simple solutions to complex problems. And it is tempting to cling to them even against the evidence when they are offered.  Our country seems to be divided on the issue of homocide in the black community. And this division falls in line with a love of simple ideological answers.

Liberals are quick to blame the police and describe the situation as “open season” on black men.  To be sure, they have a growing body of evidence, much of it now on Youtube, that many police departments have been abusing their authority under the purview of the indifferent eyes of the white community. The facts tell a tale that blacks are disproportionately sent to prison for even minor crimes. And sadly, the list goes on from there. And this generates a distrust that undermines even sincere attempts for justice in black neighborhoods. Read the article for some troubling accounts from detective Conlon about times when his attempts to gain convictions for crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were unsuccessful.

Conservatives are quick to blame the black community and point out the disparity of numbers. If black lives matter, why are protestors focusing on the 129 black men killed by legal intervention (the number is likely much higher), and not focusing on the 6,739 black men murdered by mostly other young black men? They ask, why is there so little discussion absence of black fathers and the erosion of families?  Many conservatives are quick to discuss personal responsibility,  and act as if the only place to find racism is in the media.

This article by retired NYPD detective Edward Conlon is interesting to me because he acknowledges problems on many sides of this issue. Further, he suggests that those problems play against each other in some tragic ways.  They not only contribute to the problem, but work to hinder any practical solutions.  I have often felt like I was in the middle on this issue.  I have found myself occasionally listening to both sides on these issues and alternately agreeing or shaking my head in frustration.  It is frustrating when when we only see what we want to see, or repeat what our chosen news outlets tell us.

Last year Ta-Nehesi Coates wrote a lengthy and moving piece in the Atlantic on “A Case For Reparations.”  His essay was powerful and worth reading, but in the end I suspect he falls into the trap of oversimplification.  In a follow up article he wrote, “There is massive, overwhelming evidence for the proposition that white supremacy is the only thing wrong with black people.” That is to say, the black community is not responsible for any of its problems.  Coates is not alone in that kind of simplistic approach. There are plenty of white conservatives that would suggest the opposite, that whites aren’t responsible for anything wrong in the black community either. The cops are the problem. Blacks are the problem. A or B. Choose.  What is worse,  both groups are at risk of viewing even factual statements made by the other side with suspicion.  If you accuse the police of racism you must hate law and justice. If you suggest that the black community has an internal epidemic of violence, you must not care about police brutality. Either you are a black racist or a white racist.

I believe that the reality is far more complex, and it will only be when both sides acknowledge their contribution to the current mess that we have any hope of finding a solution. When someone points the finger instead of accepting responsibility, they loose credibility in the discussion and undermine any motivation to deal with their own problems.

Edward Conlon makes a good point, there were 2 reports released after Ferguson, and we need to read them both to get a clear picture.

“In March, Attorney General Eric Holder released two reports on Ferguson. One covered in great detail the shooting death of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson; the other described the broader patterns of policing in the city. Partisans have tended to choose one report or the other to support their reading of events.

“No, Brown wasn’t shot in the back while attempting to surrender to a white cop, nor was he shot for jaywalking. He had just robbed a store, and he had punched Officer Wilson in the face and tried to steal his gun. In the wake of Brown’s death, Ferguson burned because people believed a lie; because many still believe it, cops have been shot there, and the threat of riot remains.

“The other report showed that Ferguson was a speed trap for people going nowhere, six square miles of mostly black people, mostly poor, with 50 cops, almost all white, who were ordered to milk them for every possible nickel by white city managers. Black people were further bled dry in a punitive cycle of fines and fees; missed court dates led to arrest warrants, which left them increasingly incapable of having a chance at a productive life.” (emphasis mine)

Ben Carson recently wrote an editorial on the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  He points to the complexity of these issues. He refuses to see this as a problem with a single cause. He points the finger at our schools, Hollywood, Washington, crack dealers, Democrats, and Republicans. I think he is on to something.

Source: The Racial Reality of Policing – WSJ

Just Finished Season 5 of Blue Bloods


My wife and I just finished watching Blue Bloods. We watched it all through the end of season 5. There is no more for now… Groans and frustration. The next season starts in September 2015.  We watched it slowly over the last few months on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

We have enjoyed the characters and stories so much that we jokingly created a little dance (really just bobbing our heads and arms) that we break out during theme song to embarrass our children. I am not a ring tone kind of guy, but I considered getting the ring tone. I know, this is some serious nerd stuff

In case you aren’t familiar with the show… The story centers around the Reagan family. They have been involved in NYPD law enforcement for several generations. The father, Frank Reagan (played by Tom Selleck) is the police commissioner as his father was before him.  This adds an interesting dimension to the well-worn cop genre as the family often has to work through their own struggles and sometimes heated disagreements. Additionally there are the authority issues of having your dad being your boss and the most powerful law enforcement figure around. All of this makes for some good TV.

Here are several things I really enjoy about the show:

The depiction of an honest and ethical police commissioner is refreshing.  Throughout all 5 seasons the character of Frank Reagan plays a major role.  For me it is one of the best parts of the series. He is decisive, wise, insightful, and a man few words. He genuinely cares about the law, the people of New York, and his police officers. He frequently has to fight against political pressures, corruption, and enticements to compromise. Consistently his character holds firm and I found myself enamored by his resolve.  Here is an example: One phrase that gets repeated throughout the series is something like this: “It’s important to work as hard to exonerate an innocent man as to convict a guilty one.”

The Reagan family is far from perfect. To the contrary, they have a number of frustrating flaws. And yet the family is presented as virtuously catholic.  This is not a secondary element of the series. They actually pray in Jesus name.  It is a big deal and has felt so unusual that I have been shocked. The standard fair from Hollywood ubiquitously depicts christians as hypocrites or self righteous.  So it came as a shock to see them create characters that actually look like the people I know. One of the important plot lines throughout the show is the Sunday dinner where the family both laughs, cries, and argues their way through the difficulties of life. It is honest and often touching, without being sappy or cliched.

The cast also consistently displays the scars and wounds that face law enforcement families. So there is a fascinating juxtaposition: It is hard to love a job that ends up hurting you.  The show explores marriage problems, sibling rivalry, grief, PTSD, and moral failures that face law enforcement.

Additionally, the show is set in New York city.  This provides the ready opportunity to explore a variety of topics like gang violence, racism, police corruption, terrorism, stop and frisk policing, etc.

Any show that runs for 5 years will bump up against unrealistic situations and dialogue, and Blue Bloods doesn’t escape this. But it’s still worthy in spite of the little blemishes. I am looking forward to season 6.