Baltimore and Ferguson: my two Syrian cents on an all-American issue

<> on April 28, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Maryland state troopers stand guard near a CVS pharmacy that was burned to the ground on April 27, 2015 during rioting after the funeral of Freddie Gray, April 28, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The problem highlighted by the current riots in Baltimore and the earlier riots in Ferguson cannot be reduced to the casual observation that mostly black neighborhoods cannot be effectively policed by a mostly white police force. Due to its more intimate knowledge of the local communities, a mostly black police force can be as equally oppressive in its tactics if not more so, unless the real problems are addressed.

Beyond the obvious socioeconomic problems involved, and of which we are all aware, there is an institutional malaise here whose role is often neglected in the ongoing debate. Indeed, it should be obvious by now that the police force in both cities, and elsewhere in the United States, seem to insist on approach to policing, at least as far as certain neighborhood are concerned, that posits the local communities as part of the problem rather than the solution. With this assumption as your starting point, any proceeding internal discussion will focus on how these communities can be kept “under control,” and how neighboring communities and neighborhoods can be protected from them, rather than how these communities be made safer, and how crime within these communities can be checked.

This is what happens when local communities are not engaged by law enforcement officials and invited to take part of the conversation and the process of local policing activities. But communities that remain uninvolved in supervising their local police forces, helping them establish their priorities, and debating with them the best methods that could be employed in different situations will always end up developing an adversarial relationship with local forces of law and order.

Engagement. Transparency. Accountability. Education. These are the main concepts that hold the key to better law enforcement across the United States. When serious work is done along these four axes, racial tensions will decline, and socioeconomic problems may not necessarily lead to an uptick in criminal activities, so long as they are not perennially neglected and some progress in improving local loving conditions, no matter how slow, is being actually made.