Sunday, May 10, 2015

Baltimore and the banality of evil

The NYTimes ran a story today on the cops who were involved in Freddy Gray's death in Baltimore. Basically the story is that they were normal people:  the black woman cop was a particularly good egg, a church-going model citizen who was from Tnd lived in Baltimore, unlike 65% of Baltimore cops (normal -- cops get paid lower-middle to middle-class salaries and typically don't want to live in a ghetto and/or can't afford to live in expensive pockets of infill/reurbanization). One of the white cops had some mental health issues and had had his weapons confiscated three years previously -- which is pretty normal too, from a number of perspectives.  Per NAMI, the National Association on Mental Illness, 6.7% of the population lives with major depression, 18% lives with anxiety disorders.  The guy driving the van was a passive guy, hadn't made great career progression, which is pretty normal too, not everybody is gonna make captain.

These cops worked within a dysfunctional police department in a city with a challenged political culture.  Normal.  There was institutional racism.  Normal.

I'm deviating from the point I set out to make.  These were regular people who fucked up in the course of doing their jobs, and a kid died.  There may have been malice (I admit I haven't been following the details too closely) Now there are heavy charges filed against them.

I was reminded first of Marx's old phrase from Das Capital:  "Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es", "They know not what they are doing, and yet they are doing it."  Marx used this phrase to characterize commodity fetishism, the way in which the social relationships between people were made material items within the economic system, so that the original relationships (the way in which commodities are produced) are forgotten.

Slavoj Zhizhek came along 140 years later and used the phrase to characterize ideology as such. Ideology, per Zhizhek, is the process of sedimenting relationships into the everyday so that their origin is forgotten).

And so, back to Baltimore, normal cops, some exemplary, some simply human, all-too human. Between them, they cost a kid his life.

But what about me, sitting here comfortably in my leafy abode?  Where do I fit into this?  I think a lot about soccer. I love the game. It was a game I could compete in when I was young, being too skinny to play football or basketball when very young.  We had a great team.  We won the state championship.  We were all white.

Fast forward 30 years and soccer is the great warrior sport of suburbia, dominated by white, affluent kids who can pay for expensive coaches from a young age.  Yeah, the hispanic population does pretty well too, but you don't see that many black faces.

When in school I had some black teammates in track and field, and lord knows I tried to be a good basketball player, never with much success, but that's where I got to know some other black guys at the most basic of levels.  But mostly I lived in a segregated world.

And now, it's even worse.  I see almost no black people in my work, except when I go to lunch, where I might be served by some at Jimmy John's.  Excellent guys, both the guy who works the register and the older guy who works the sandwich line.

Anyway, I ramble, and I must stop.  My point is this:  it is a shame that good people were involved in Freddy Gray's death, but we all are.  The officers getting charged are in a sense serving to exculpate us, to ascend the cross to atone for our sins.

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