A Different World

Baltimore and Ferguson riots, and Bikefest in Myrtle Beach

A man walks past a burning police vehicle, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van.
A man walks past a burning police vehicle, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. PATRICK SEMANSKY AP

Related: Most cops have witnessed police brutality but fail to report it

A healthy man name Freddie Gray was taken into custody by Baltimore police. While in custody, his spine was almost completely severed, his voice box crushed. No one knows why he was taken into custody.

That was weeks ago and police and city officials still say they don’t know what happened, with members of the police union and a lawyer for the police officers involved telling us nothing criminal happened. No matter what happened while Gray was in custody, they have a point - because cops are hardly ever criminally charged for actions they take while on duty, and the relatively few times they are charged, they almost never spend any time behind bars - even if their crime included severing a guy’s spine and crushing his voice box, injuries from which he ultimately died.

This goes all the way back to Rodney King in modern times but has happened throughout U.S. history. King’s beating by L.A. police officers was caught on video - and each officer was still acquitted of all charges in state court.

When Trayvon Martin was taken down by wannabe cop George Zimmerman, it was Martin painted as the violent thug - even though Zimmerman was the one with the violent criminal history.

When Eric Garner was choked to death, it was deemed perfectly OK by many because he “was resisting.”

When 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot sight unseen by cops in a park for holding a toy gun in an open-carry state, well Rice must have been at fault and scaring people.

A 20-something shot in a Walmart for picking up an air rifle off the shelf, well, nothing to see here, either.

And though Walter Scott’s killing by a North Charleston police officer was caught on video, it is far from a guarantee that the officer will actually be convicted.

This list is a long one, but it is beyond any particular case.

Related: Dealing with race in difficult moments, from Myrtle Beach to Ferguson

But this is what usually happens when this subject is brought up. Lots of Americans -- too many Americans -- look for escape hatches out of a long-overdue conversation.

In the quiet moments, they say because there is peace and quiet, there can’t possibly be a real problem.

See that mixed-race group having dinner together.

See those black and white kids pushing each other on the swings and giggling together.

See that nice white cop saving that poor, black woman.

While all of those things are nice and should be celebrated, not one of them addresses the underlying issues that have been plaguing this country for decades.

Even as those mixed-race groups were having dinner together, drug and social policy have been destroying poor and black and brown families, making the environment ripe for unrest and disruption.

Even as those black and white kids were playing together, acts of police brutality throughout the country have gone unabated and largely unpunished by the criminal justice system.

Then largely peaceful protests in Ferguson and Baltimore turn into riots, and suddenly our focus should instantly move to “the thugs” breaking windows and looting stores. Never mind Gray and his severed spine.

Never mind that Scott was shot multiple times while running away or that Garner was choked to death for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.

Related: Myrtle Beach police found way to deal with armed suspect without firing a shot

Why, oh why do those people have to turn to violence?

Never mind the well-documented violence by police against particular communities. That doesn’t really count. That must have resulted from a few bad apples because most cops are good guys.

In less than a month, the Myrtle Beach area will be confronted with an emotionally-charged situation that could explode if we don’t handle it correctly. As of right now, do I believe it will get out of hand? No, I don’t.

Fortunately for us, we don’t have the documented history of police brutality and intimidation in Myrtle Beach they had in Ferguson and Baltimore. And while there are too many low-wage jobs - the Myrtle Beach metro-area, tourism dependent, has among the nation’s lowest wages - the economy has not imploded here the way it has in larger cities when manufacturing declined, making way for the kind of abject poverty that usually clears the way for unrest.

We are in a good position to show the rest of the country how it can, and should, be done. Let’s not squander the opportunity with over-hyped fear and runaway rhetoric, no matter how you feel about Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest.

Some background about Baltimore:

The culture of police brutality in Baltimore

From the piece:

There are so many good reasons for locals to be outraged.

The Baltimore Sun's article shows why in detail. And a few choice excerpts are the best beginning in this attempt to contextualize the ongoing protests within recent history.

Let's start with the money.

$5.7 million is the amount the city paid to victims of brutality between 2011 and 2014. And as huge as that figure is, the more staggering number in the article is this one: "Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil-rights violations." What tiny percentage of the unjustly beaten win formal legal judgments?

If you're imagining that they were all men in their twenties, think again:

Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson. Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

Those who are upset by the violence in the streets of Baltimore yesterday have good reason to ask why. In the meantime, they should also be asking why the violence at the hands of police in that city have been allowed to go on for so long.

Other context for this discussion overall:

Police shootings: Thousands dead, few charged

Racial perceptions of crime and support for punitive policies

Race and overreaction: On the streets and in the schools

Black teens who commit a few crimes go to jail as often as white teens who commit dozens

Bipartisan summit on criminal justice reform

How incarceration infects a community

Trends in U.S. corrections

Cops kill maybe 3 people per day

How news media fuel the myth of black crime

How decades of criminal records hold back towns like Ferguson

For more teens, arrest replace school discipline

People, including cops, see black kids as less innocent

The case for reform is much bigger than Michael Brown

Seven reasons police brutality is systematic