Americans celebrate our revolution against tyranny and oppression every July. Yet we allow tyranny and oppression to exist in our everyday lives in the form of police brutality, hunger, poverty, disease, unemployment, homelessness and many others.
Of particular notice in the media are the almost daily incidents of Black Americans, mostly young men, dying at the hands of police officers. Today the media are focused on Baltimore; tomorrow will be yet another American city. What is the cause, why is this happening, who is to blame?
America is to blame. Racism is firmly institutionalized in the American system. Slavery and Jim Crow have been replaced by a more insidious and mostly hidden form of institutionalized racism that is difficult to put a finger on and even more difficult to root out. If you read past the headlines, you have at least a general sense of the issues in the Black neighborhoods of American cities. You certainly have seen the numbers of young Black Americans in prison or with prison records, mostly for crimes related to drugs. You have read about the level of unemployment, poverty, and lack of education of our young Black American men. Too many of us shake our heads in dismay, talk about how terrible this is, and move on to other things.
And all too often we blame "the police" for the problems. Yes, police brutality and excessive use of force are too prevalent in our cities. Yes, police departments across the country must be forced to change institutionally, and police culture must be changed drastically. In too many cities, the police departments include militarized units that in practice are occupational forces tasked with controlling the population, specifically in poor and minority neighborhoods. But the police are not the root of the problem.
The root of the problem is the American system that creates the poverty, unemployment and substandard education that keeps a large segment of our fellow citizens in a state of subjugation. A variety of barriers are erected to keep these citizens separated from the more affluent segments of our society, and the police are given the job of maintaining that separation. As the desperation of the subjugated class grows, the level of repression increases in the form of violence by police officers.
These are complex problems that need complex solutions. It is fair to say that government as we know it today is not going to solve these problems; if that were the case, we wouldn't be in this situation now. And rioting will not solve the problem, either. So what do we do?
First, by "we" I mean every American, not just Black Americans. We need to pull together over this set of issues and work within our communities to level the playing field. And all communities need to coordinate nation-wide to take actions at a national level, or that will get attention from national news media. We need to work together to get from a society of greed to a society of collaboration. We need to push our local economies to create living wage jobs and find ways to get people who need them into those jobs. We need to find ways to improve neighborhoods without forcing out the people already living in them (i.e. gentrification). We need to push our school systems to be inclusive and to act as community institutions that address the problems of poverty and education by lifting families as well as children.
And that's my opinion.