By Ben Tanosborn
White America’s ugliest, uncompassionate, punitive face came to life in 1994 politics as Bill Clinton signed the incommensurable largest crime bill Congress had ever legislated: the Violent Crime Control Act; now, in retrospect, perhaps the most anti human rights legislation in modern times, not just in the US but throughout the civilized world.
Clinton reasoned signing this bill as remedy to his view that gangs and drugs had taken over the streets of America and undermined its schools. But more than Clinton’s flawed reasoning; it has been rationalized politics which has cost the nation, and continues to cost, hundreds of billions of dollars by incarcerating a third of the male black population in their prime, productive years; that, while giving police a stronger arm, inviting all too often an aggressive conduct from people in uniform already predisposed to exceed of their own accord the force required in exercising their honorable mission to protect and serve us all.
America’s uniquely irrational behavior among civilized nations, whether or not a product of our diverse multi-racial society, has not served the country well during the past two decades adding the social problems created by racial inequality to an ever-widening economic inequality among Americans that Ronald Reagan legated to us.
And as social inequality merges with economic inequality, a synergy of resentful rage is being created in cities and communities largely populated by people of color. Enter the city of Baltimore with a two-thirds black population, America’s problem-du-jour.
Unlike many other major cities in America, Baltimore does not have a song-anthem by which it can be identified. As the largest city in Maryland, and keeper of proud historic tradition, it does, however, deserve a special place, as heir to two nicknames describing the state as “Little America” and “America in Miniature.” Shouldn’t Baltimore give us a model for many, if not all, major urban centers in America?
That introduction quickly brings us to a key question: is Urban America becoming a “Land of Thugs”? The president of the United States and the mayor of Baltimore, as well as many others in government and mainstream media, seem to readily make use of that term when describing rioters and lawbreakers even when confined to property crimes. Is that what we are dealing with in Baltimore now; or in Ferguson five months ago; or in the many black communities daily throughout urban America?
Whether by art or by design, much of white America simply just doesn’t get it; and neither does our representative government, or the media. Or one would expect better choice of words than “Thugs” to describe people who at their worst, as rioters and lawbreakers, are unveiling resentful rage and not solely criminality; yet, words from a black president, Barack Obama, and by the black mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake bring an unintended image to the reality we are living.
The attitude in much of white America appears to be in lockstep with that expressed by Texas Senator, and declared Republican candidate to the presidency, Ted Cruz, who when confronted with the riots in Baltimore said that government has the responsibility to perform its central functions – to “preserve the peace, protect the people, and serve justice.” But as complete and responsible as that statement might seem, it may prove to be at odds with the accepted democratic theme of “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” And that government, first and foremost, should be one to serve justice… preservation of peace and protection of people are societal byproducts of a proven free and just society… not one auto-designated as free and just.
One cannot ask black Americans to abide by an evolutionary process which is unlikely to bring them the equality they deserve, socially and economically, in our plural society. If evolution is not bringing about fair and equitable results, it’s inevitable for revolution to replace evolution in the hope to bring about equality. And the leading indicator for such an upcoming change can be found in the level of resentful rage building up in black communities traumatized by punitive crime legislation and the lack of a social-economic master plan, one as comprehensive as the post-WWII Marshall Plan, that could establish a firm foundation for transforming us into a more humane and egalitarian America.
Cries are beginning to be heard, even from unlikely Republican politicians, calling for an overhaul of the criminal justice system in America. Candidate to the presidency, Hillary Clinton, seen as a smiling wife during her husband’s signing of the horrendous 1994 crime bill at the White House, seems prepared, if elected, to undo or amend one of the most shameful pieces of legislation ever enacted by a bipartisan Congress, and signed into law by her visionless husband.
A fair and humane overhaul of the criminal justice system would certainly be a good first step in our needed walk towards a more equitable society.