Thursday, May 7, 2015

Avenge Violence

I went out and saw “The Avengers…Age of Ultron” like tens of millions of others. I’m not much of a fan-boy, but there’s always something satisfying about watching things blow up, good guys winning over bad guys, etc. I’m a non-violent person, a pacifist in many ways, and passionately anti-war. Experiencing superheroes fighting evil and the inevitable over-the-top explosions and destruction that doesn’t seem contradictory to my real-world philosophies, just one of the ironies of being human. There’s something fantastical about the white hats beating the black hats that just feels good. That simple narrative frames many movies, television shows along with books and even journalistic story telling through the ages. The blur between heightened conflict as a tool for storytelling and actual violence is especially present today.

The eruptions of protests and the deterioration into rioting in many urban environments is troubling. There are deep socio-economic and class issues at play. Looking at the most recent example, Baltimore, it is not enough to point to a community in distress. The issue of violence has been in the news there for many years, perhaps generations. In September 2014 the Baltimore Sun investigated and published a powerful series of stories about how millions of dollars were paid by the city in settlements where the police were found to have used excessive force with residents. Police and community issues are longstanding.

It is also true that Baltimore has had economic challenges for decades and the unemployment rate in the city is disproportionate based on race. Tens of millions of dollars –local, state and federal, have gone into various programs to address those issues over the past 50 years. Statistically there’s been little change in poverty rates or unemployment. It’s also true that one party has dominated the policies of the city for 40 years. That doesn’t mean that Democrats are to blame for the violence (as some have claimed), but it does indicate that political will, economic incentives and good intentions have not actually changed life for the citizens of Baltimore. The people pushed back at authority in a most dramatic way after the problems simmered for a long time. I’m not justifying the riots – but there is a rationale.

More bloodshed and more victims isn’t the answer: instead that becomes a never-ending and circular situation. Addressing the long standing issues is one thing, but how does society stem the violence? Banning guns is problematic given that the 2nd thing that the Founders wanted protected (via the Second Amendment) is people’s right to “keep and bear” arms. Some clever politicians have said – ok, keep your guns but let’s ban ammunition. The constitution doesn’t say anything about protecting or providing a right to ammunition! Innovative as that thinking is, it’s like saying that you can have freedom of religion so long as you don’t use The Bible or Quran or Torah, etc.

In 2007 then U.S. Senator John Kerry was giving a speech at the University of Florida on Constitution Day when Andrew Meyer was waiting to ask a question and was then forcibly removed from the line and ultimately the room. As officers tried to subdue him he cried out “Don’t tase me, bro!” asking officers not to use taser him to subdue him. The incident “went viral” and more than 7 million people viewed the video. While there were many things wrong with this situation at least the police were able to subdue him without having to shoot him dead. Progress.

Rubber bullets have been long used as a non-lethal way to manage crowds. Injuries and occasionally death does result from the use of rubber bullets, but far less so than if live ammunition was used.

The major incidents that have been precursors to the recent spate of protests, riots and further damage seem to be when a police officer fatally shoots a black citizen. The issues of race, economics, and justice are all elements of the problem and the solutions will be as complicated as the causes. If we can put people on the moon, run a multi-trillion dollar economy based on 1’s and 0’s, then certainly there’s a way to maintain order without killing each other. We can start to avenge the violence by having the police use non-lethal weapons

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