Kristof on Baltimore

Sometimes the knee-jerk tendency of journalists to take the “both sides…” approach is really annoying, but I think Kristof gets it right in this column on Baltimore:

It’s outrageous when officers use excessive force against young, unarmed African-American men, who are 21 times as likely to be shot dead by the police as young white men. It’s also outrageous when rioters loot shops or attack officers…

President Obama set just the right tone.

“When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing,” Obama said. “When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities.”

Absolutely.  There’s simply no excuse for that kind of crime.  (Though, it still is useful to understand the social and historical context that leads to it).  That said, Kristof rightly returns to the bigger and more important picture here:

Yet as Obama, Anthony and other leaders also noted, there are crucial underlying inequities that demand attention. The rioting distracts from those inequities, which are the far larger burden on America’s cities…

If wealthy white parents found their children damaged by lead poisoning, consigned to dismal schools, denied any opportunity to get ahead, more likely to end up in prison than college, harassed and occasionally killed by the police — why, then we’d hear roars of grievance. And they’d be right to roar: Parents of any color should protest, peacefully but loudly, about such injustices.

The real crisis isn’t one night of young men in the street rioting. It’s something perhaps even more inexcusable — our own complacency at the systematic long-term denial of equal opportunity to people based on their skin color and ZIP code. [emphasis mine]

Of course, violence and burning buildings are always going to capture the attention of the newsmedia (especially television) more than the massively important social and historical context, but, at least there’s some excellent print journalism (Kristof is just one of many examples I’ve seen) that really understands what’s going on.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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