During my freshman year, my team, made up from White kids, was playing a Black team at our community college. Despite our lockers being separated by team, I ended up alone in part of the locker room with an opponent. While I was tying my shoes one of my teammates came over worried that I was surrounded by black players. Racial fears were felt, even by college kids playing an intramural basketball game.
The 1960’s and 70’s were a missed opportunity for our country. The Black community was divided into three overlapping camps: Those who believed in non-violent direct action for their rights (this lost its focus with the death of Dr. King), the Black Power Movement that was militant and demanding, and a third group who hoped that the change in laws would improve racial relations.
At the same time the White community was also divided into three camps: The White racists, the White liberals who tried to be color blind including those with White Guilt, and a third group who hoped things would get better, but avoided crossing racial boundaries.
Three problems occurred: White folks were afraid of Black Power and Black people, White folks wanted Black equality without sacrificing their White privilege, and there was resentment across racial lines.
Resentment, poverty, and exclusion have placed a wedge between poor Blacks and the rest of the country. It is easy to see that large public housing complexes (99% Black) in big cities like Chicago developed a culture that led to underground illegal economies that brought drugs, guns, and killing to certain neighborhoods. Yet the racial tensions are felt in every corner of our country.
Blacks are over-represented in our jails and prisons, but at the same time violence and murders are over-represented in their communities. These Black youth are dropping out of school in alarming rates, but where do they see a high school diploma leading directly to anything?
Law enforcement has been the main player in attacking the problems in these streets. They have not had much success. They face the pressure of making arrests and stopping crime in an uncooperative community. Cooperating with the police damages the economic and social relationships of the neighborhoods, causing danger, isolation, and vengeance to the cooperators.
For the past 400 years law enforcement and poor Blacks have been at war with each other. Poor Blacks have, for the most part, worked at deception to avoid interaction with the police whenever possible. For most of this time these conflicts have been racial, but in my thirty years of working with gangs Black Officers are not liked either.
Police officers and gang members have one thing in common. They both look out for their own at the expense of the other. While it is a crime to lie to or deceive law enforcement, it is a badge of honor to lie to or deceive a suspect. While a police officer will seldom suffer criminal penalties for homicide or brutality of a Black suspect, a Black man will face prison time for defending himself from a brutal attack from a police officer. The anger is never alleviated.
With the acquittals of officers Rice, Goodson, and Nero of all charges in the death of Freddie Gray, in Baltimore, the Fraternal Order of Police said, “If (the prosecutor’s) office is willing to violate rules in these high profile cases, we can only imagine what her office is doing in the cases that affect the citizens of Baltimore every day…” For the cases that affect the poor Black community, which is large in Baltimore, “Did Freddie Gray’s life matter?”
(This is part I of a continuing series. Please check back soon for Part II as Brother Jim continues to explore the complexity of the police-Black poor relationship)
–Brother Jim Fogarty, Brothers and Sisters of Love