By W. TIMOTHY SUTTON. Sutton is a member of the Maryland Libertarian Party executive board. He hosts the Non-Aggression Principle Thursday nights at 8 pm on Free State Radio. These are his thoughts and his alone.
Technically, I have only been a “resident” of Baltimore City for two weeks. The first two weeks of my life. I was born in Union Memorial Hospital and spent the next two weeks there because I was undersized and jaundiced. After that I lived in the County until I went to college. For the first fourteen of those years, “in the county” meant a block away from the city line in two directions and within walking distance to the NAACP headquarters. When I came back from college I did live in Fed Hill & Canton, but kept my voter registration and driver’s license at my mother’s house. But those were the formative years of my adult life. I now live in Anne Arundel, but Baltimore is my home.
I work in the city. I pretty much have my entire professional life. The first legal job I had was working for the FOP law firm. The attorney I worked for defended cops. Cops accused of bad things. Cops accused of paralyzing men in the backs of police vans. Cops accused of sexually assaulting 16 year old members of junior cop trainee programs. Cops accused of raping prostitutes. Here’s the thing; those cops deserved that defense. They had rights just like everyone else. I certainly would argue that the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights is too broad. The LEOBR certainly needs to be amended, but those officers have rights too. The problem is that they are given the benefit of the doubt. I see it everyday in court, a police officer’s word is gospel. An officer says something and it is taken as true. How can there not be reasonable doubt when two people tell conflicting stories? When one of them is a police officer.
Before I get too far into the post I must make clear; rioting and looting and vandalism are not solutions to the problems facing the City of Baltimore and the nation today. They are not solutions to the problems of police misconduct. They are not solutions to the problems of income inequality. They are not solutions to the problems of the lack of jobs in American cities.
It is funny that people are comparing the rioters to the Boston Tea Party or the Stamp Act rioters that started this country. What they omit is the years of war that came after those riots. Riots in and of themselves do not solve problems. They are criminal and destructive. The church that burned down means that the elderly will not have a place to stay. Workers at the looted businesses will be affected. Bar and restaurant workers will lose money. Who is helping those people? Fires and violence are wrong. Violence begets violence. The Sans Culotte in France rioted in the streets, overthrew a monarchy, ended up killing themselves, starting a Reign of Terror, allowed Napoleon to rise to a dictatorship and eventually returned to the same monarchy that they had overthrown. That worked out well. Riots are only a solution if they lead to a revolution.
But to say that the rioters are “animals” or “monkeys” or “thugs” or “deserve to be shot” is just as abhorrent and quite frankly incredibly naive. It is also incredibly ironic that many of the same people who bash the president and spout founding father rhetoric are the ones using these terms. These are the same people who waive the Gasden Flag and quote Jefferson. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants, right? I guess arresting people without cause and breaking their spine aren’t the acts of tyrants?
Understanding the reasons for the actions is not the same as condoning the actions. Four hundred years of tyranny and oppression tend to not be looked upon kindly. There is systemic and systematic dysfunction in Baltimore City. The current mayor is inept and incompetent. The last mayor was corrupt. The mayor before that, the one who wants to be president, was out of touch and semi-delusional.
People say that they are not racist. But it is not the people that are racist, it is the institutions. The school system, the housing, the police department, the judicial system. These institutions may be run by well intentioned, kind people, but they have existed for centuries on the basis of white supremacy, such that even though they may be run by African-Americans now, the institutions still benefit the privileged.
Housing in Baltimore is just one example of such privilege. The problems in housing were created decades ago by racist policies endorsed by the government and the populous at large. Fifty years of not acknowledging the red-lining and contract home sales and decrepit public housing projects have led to neighborhoods like Sandtown-Winchester. Those policies have led to the unemployment, disinvestment, and incarceration. We must at least identify the problem before we can even comprehend to craft a solution. A solution that does not begin with a revolution.
The biggest problem in the current situation is that we ask our police officers to do too much or perhaps better said not the right things. We believe that more policing will solve the problems affecting our city. The problems of drug use, theft, and murder can not be solved by policing. There are not enough officers or enough money to pay for officers to effectively end these problems. And even if they were, what then? We arrest half of the city? That benefits everyone. Police cannot be social workers. They can not solve societies ills. The solution is not completely governmental. We must come together as communities to help troubled individuals. Whether those troubles are drug related or a youth who needs guidance, we can not sit idly by while Rome burns. There are too many vacant houses, too many drug corners, too many people hungry, too many illiterate kids. The leadership in the city and state has failed these people.
All civil societies strive for balance between tyranny and freedom. Tyranny is not just and anarchy is not freedom. To have a functioning society we need court systems. We need roads. We have found that government protected corporations are beneficial. Bankruptcy protections give people second chances. We need a public school system right now. Certain regulations are necessary, people should not die from eating a tainted food product. We need to help those that can’t help themselves. The sick, the infirm, the children, the elderly. Perhaps a change from a more religious state to a more secular state has necessitated the government pick up more of the slack. Perhaps we have simply allowed it to through apathy. But this isn’t the first time Baltimore has rioted. Google Baltimore riots and images from 1861 and 1968 appear. I would not be born for another eleven years so my only “memories” of the 68 riots are stories told to me by my father-in-law and my old boss. Those were truly scary stories.
As peaceful protests turned into minor destruction things were overblown and exaggerated. Saturday was nothing. Yesterday was different. There were no “protests” yesterday. People like Rachel Maddow who called those people protesters did a disservice to the journalism profession. It started with kids, fueled by governmental incompetence. If you had asked me a week ago where the riots would start, I would have said Mondawmin Mall. Anyone with a lick of knowledge of this city would have had it in the top three spots on the list. First, because of the fact that it is the only place the kids know. Second, it is a transit hub. The kids have to be there. Third, over the years it has seen more violence than probably any other public place in the city. The police should have known this. They should have had a plan. And they should have had a plan that included getting kids on the busses they needed to get on. They didn’t and they failed the city again. Just like they failed it by breaking the spine of an individual in their custody. The images from that scene closer resembled the West Bank or Kiev not the United States of America. It looked like an occupation. Because it was an occupation.
Complaining without offering solutions is meaningless. How can we changes things? The first step is to remove the police from the social work business. Drug use, prostitution and silly traffic violations are not what we need police to protect the community from. Let police focus on people who hurt other people. Let our courts be unclogged by these cases. Let the state’s attorney’s office focus on violence. Let us not use violence on the non-violent. The force of the state and the force of the police and the force of the criminal justice system is violence. Violence begets violence, even if it is the state initiating the violence.
The second step is to eliminate bad individuals from their positions of trust. Reform the LEOBR to make it easier, subject to the union contract, to fire bad cops. Pay cops more. They represent us. We need the best. They need to be perfect. If they cannot handle than we need people who can. Find better people to reform the city institutions. Start with the Mayor and go from there.
The third step is a complete reorganization of city government. Audit everything. I don’t know what works and what doesn’t but a government that has failed its people to such an extent for such a long time needs a complete overhaul. Throw everything out. Put everything on the table. Term limits, greater council authority, limited executive agencies, a reform of the Board of Estimates, police changes, everything must be up for debate and change. The existing structure must prove its worth. So far that has been weighed, it has been measured and it has been found wanting.
Baltimore was once a great city. It can be again. We need leaders willing to lead. We need a populace willing to try. We need to avoid special interests and crony capitalism. We need to stop searching for a quick fix. Stop with the Grand Prixes and Harbor Points. Stop with the TIF’s. Stop giving money to friends of the people in charge. We need to stop thinking that money is a solution to the problem. Per pupil spending in Baltimore is highest in the state and what has that gotten us. We need to acknowledge the years of neglect. We need to respect the citizens of Baltimore as people and not as subjects or “animals.” People have thoughts, people have feelings, people need to be respected. Let us respect them and change our institutions to do so as well.