The riots in Baltimore brought back memories of the 1968 riots after Dr. King’s murder when I worked in the inner city. The city burned around us and it took time before the violence played itself out. It seems very little has changed.
We need to go deeper into the causes. The accusations are flying back and forth as the police are accused of not being forceful enough or not prepared enough. If they had responded forcefully they would have been accused of being excessive and if the government had been more “prepared” they would have been accused of provocation.
One root cause relates to what the black community has been telling us. We are seeing videos documenting instances of abuse. The fault does not lie with the police. It lies with us and our policies. Some of it has a racist base but much of it has a misguided policy base.
The “war on drugs” was a major contributor. We have a drug problem but it is not how it is often characterized. Think back to the movies when cigarettes were everywhere. Finally we addressed nicotine addiction and are still working on it decades later. Now in film and on television the focus is on coffee (caffeine).
We all have receptors for drugs and they vary from person to person. It took me decades to deal with my excellent nicotine receptors. After an auto accident, with enduring pain, I learned that I am not an opiate enthusiast. Each of us has our own story.
The point is that drug problems are intense and widespread and we do not address them well. At last we are constructively dealing with the second failed prohibition of marijuana. Now we begin the journey of appropriate regulation. And in line behind it are many other drugs to be addressed.
Politicians proclaimed the war on drugs and the sentences were harsh including such things as twenty-five years for possession of one joint of marijuana in Texas. Over thirty years we went from a million people incarcerated to 2.4 million today. We seem to be recognizing our mistake. But the consensus is more about money wasted than humanity.
In fact, this war was unfairly visited upon young black and brown men. Recently I drove through inner city Baltimore and saw black men sitting on the sidewalk with a few items for sale in front of them. I knew who they were. Men who had been imprisoned for minor drug offenses. After often lengthy incarceration they had no meaningful education or job skills. Their feelings of outrage about their treatment surely lie just under the surface.
Then there was the effect on the police. We say they are to protect and to serve. Older citizens have images of the much beloved local officer walking through the streets of the town greeting his fellow citizens. That was before the police were pushed into the position of enforcing absurdly harsh and often inappropriate drug laws. There will always be some bad apples in any organization but it was our policies which changed the standing of police in the community.
We have a lot of our misdeeds to rectify starting now. Under the circumstances the job will be a difficult one. We need to carefully reconsider our laws and policies and to reach out to one another to restore mutual respect and restore the police to their proper place in society. And our perspective on drugs needs serious attention along with in depth education and treatment.
Drugs are being hawked on television. “Tell your doctor about the drugs you take and your medical conditions.” Seriously? These drugs should not be sold on television and certainly we should have better communications with our doctors. Drugs are everywhere and we need a solid campaign of education and involvement. Dealing with the complex issue of addiction and drug use in general requires wise consideration. And we very much need to get the (expletives deleted) manipulative, self serving politicians out of it. They have done immeasurable damage.
We have spent decades fighting nicotine addiction and we need to move on to enlightened policies regarding all drugs. When we return to reality the public and the police can deal with each other with mutual respect. And, need I say, it is time to deal with what has been revealed about the treatment of young black men? This is a time for long overdue careful consideration and new forms of commitment.