I spent nearly two weeks working on a post about Ferguson, et al, and my stance with regard to it, because I felt like I should acknowledge that I was aware of it and thought something about it, even if those thoughts were not as informed or coherent or had as much conviction as most commentators on the situation seemed to require.
I found that I was not really able to write in a natural and human tone about the matter. This was not because I was secretly sympathetic to the police. I have never thought much of the police, have always found there were too many of them and their presence too ubiquitous wherever I have lived in this country, in those places have always felt that their power to do harm far exceeded all of the supposedly wonderful things that were always attributed to them, and never understood the broad liking for them that seems to exist. Especially in New Hampshire it seems to me a far greater likelihood and cause of worry that I or one of my four sons will get caught up in the racket of the criminal justice system for some trifle or behavior that does not intuitively occur to one as being a crime than that any of us are as a matter of rule in imminent danger of being victimized in some particularly violent or horrific way but for modern police practices.
I have always had, compared to other people, a weak sense of morality, of almost anything being absolutely right or wrong, or good or bad, independent of my personal inclinations.
While I am sympathetic with those who assert that the police are way too heavy handed in the use of lethal force, especially against black people, as in many controversies one is not always readily accepted by the partisans of either side as sharing their position unless he accepts and adheres without doubt or qualm to a number of correlating stances. And as I am much less certain about the absolute truth of some of these, I therefore cannot help but appear to be insufficiently incited by the more fervid advocates of social justice.
Many, many people in this world, including quite a lot who are quite fortunate and privileged in their lives and suffer little in the way of direct oppression, carry within them a store of righteous anger that never fails to impress me. Some of them brim with it just about all the time, while others who are usually jovial enough are able to call it up in a flash when occasion calls for it. In addition to all of the outrages they are angry about, many of these people are angry that other people are not angry in the way they are angry, which mass indifference or pusillanimity they see as a primary obstacle in effecting the changes they desire. Anger, like love, is of course an emotion, and in raw form it is as silly to demand another to spontaneously feel strong anger such as you feel as it is to demand that they feel love in the way that you would have them do so. I suppose the argument is that a moral system can, and ought to be, cultivated through education that is central to a person's waking consciousness, such that, unless he is utterly devoid of natural spirit (though this does seem to be the case with multitudes of modern people, especially Americans) he can be trained to muster up some degree of response or agitation to gross wrongs passing under his nose. It is true that most people, myself included, do not receive a moral education with anywhere near the degree of intensity needed to produce this reaction, however.
I also wonder, and this is purely a conjecture I am throwing out, whether the competitiveness of our society, and the increasing attitude that only the most serious and accomplished practitioners in any area of life really matter, is causing people with weaker levels of anger who are in the main sympathetic to an issue to doubt whether they in fact care anything about said issue, or any other, at all, and certainly whether their tepid sense of outrage could ever be of any use, since even the people who seem to experience all of life as an endless series of crimes against righteousness and possess an endless amount of fire for railing against it appear to be able to effect very little change such that their moral sense is ever satisfied for long, which ultimate satisfaction the non-crusader, doubtless mistakenly, assumes to be the purpose of employing this anger.
The racial aspect of this police and prison culture, the effects of which are obviously multiplied many, many times in black communities, even acknowledging that the violent crime rate is many, many times higher in these communities, is the problem that it is seen as incumbent on white America especially to come to terms with and address. The tone taken in many of these declamations is that this persecution can stop, or be turned off, at anytime if white America decides it wants to do so, at no real cost to it, but that it obstinately refuses to take this just action. From the 'white' point of view, and I think it is pretty safe to say that there is such a thing in general that is distinct from the 'black' point of view, or the 'non-discriminating human in the abstract' point of view, is that the general tenor of life in poor black communities tends to be totally incompatible with--to the point of non-negotiability, in truth--the general tenor of white middle and upper class life (I say general tenor so that those who are comfortable in all places and with all people and with all lifestyles and do not even perceive that there are any differences between them understand that I know and am not talking about them). I do believe this is, all else aside, the main reason why even well-meaning white people cannot achieve more progress in resolving the racial disparities with regard to justice and law enforcement that I do think many of them really do want to see resolved. By incompatible here I mean that there are very few white people, and essentially none with any middle class pretensions, who can handle on a day to day basis the stress that the level of crime, social disorganization, low quality of schools, confrontation in routine interactions, etc, etc, that prevails in many poor black communities. The degree of integration on the part of the white middle class that progressives claim that they want and that we should be achieving will never happen until there can be serious assurance that these problems, whoever's fault they may be, are either resolved or can somehow be subjected to tight social control. Otherwise, I can't see how it is ever going to happen.
Most of the policemen I have had occasion to know in my life (I am, in part, from an Irish family in Philadelphia, and there are policemen among my extended relatives or their spouses or circle of friends) would be considered appallingly racist by anyone in the liberal arts intelligentsia. There is no way to sugarcoat it and it is not even particularly subtle, but describing the form it takes in such a way as to overcome that which the enlightened liberal imagination already has in its head is a little problematic. There is a belief that the kind of nice white people who hate racism and would never work as policemen are hopelessly naive and would have their (the police's) more 'realistic' attitudes towards the black community if they really knew the kinds of things that went on there. Outside of their families and people like themselves, they really don't care about the feelings or perceptions of other people towards them in the same way that sensitive people with high SAT scores who care about the environment and animals and so on do. While I don't think it is difficult for writers and so on to believe this, I think it is hard for them to grasp what it is like to approach life with this kind of mind at every instant of the day.
These policemen when they are sitting around the barbeque grill or in the stands at the little league game or whatever will once in a while go on about their training in firearms and how they could blow your or anybody else's head off from a distance of such and such yards and so on. I don't remember anyone explicitly expressing a desire to do this, whether to black people or anyone else, but some of them didn't seem to mind letting it be known on occasion that they had it in them to do so if circumstances required it.
A number of writers felt called upon in addressing the crisis to expostulate on the various deficiencies and moral vacuity of white people as a collective entity, or blot, I guess, on the face of the earth. Many of the more zealous of these commentators could not easily escape being fingered as belonging to the blot themselves. They doubtless appeal to a certain kind of reader, though I rarely find anything in them that I consider to be insightful as far as what is wrong with me, let alone all of the much smarter and better adjusted white people whom one assumes would be in a better position to effect change than I am. A reporter from the Guardian accused the whites of America of isolating themselves in their cars and crying to the Frozen soundtrack instead of dealing with the world exploding and rising up in a fury all around them (I hate it when they get personal like that). This is a familiar, and old, attack, that white Americans in particular are the world's perpetual sheltered and fragile children, as compared with the seriousness and maturity of, apparently, everybody else. I don't really see this as being true; I think that what is meant is that the white American middle class is always perceived as having more power, if it could rouse itself from its frivolous amusements, to affect political and social change, fight racial injustice, prevent the government from starting wars, throw the bankers and torturers in jail, prevent the establishment of for profit prisons, and so on, than maybe it really does, especially anymore. Outside of a few social issues, the public certainly seems to have lost any kind of moral force as far as being able to constrain the powerful from acting on the most outrageous impulses of greed and injustice and even cruelty. But it strikes me that people seem to be more aware of and upset about these things than they were in the past, it is just that their ability to protest and contend against them has become so feeble.