"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

Baltimore and Our New Civil Rights Struggle

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 10
Publish Date: 
Thu, 05/07/2015


“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” is perhaps the most famous closing argument in American criminal justice history. Decisive in rendering a not-guilty verdict for OJ Simpson, it also summarizes our free society’s reliance on “due process” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”


So that no innocent defendant is wrongly convicted, a guilty defendant may occasionally go free – like Simpson, who was later found liable by a civil jury applying a lower standard of proof. 


Reflecting on the criminal trial’s not-guilty verdict, several jurors conceded that though they thought Simpson was guilty, the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, hampered by suspicions that police tampered with evidence. To African-Americans, the Simpson verdict leveled the justice system’s playing field; to others, it was a miscarriage of justice.


Two decades later, despite pervasive African-American political power throughout society and into the White House, race relations are tense and perceptions of justice diverge. Fueled by the tragic deaths of young black males after run-ins with law enforcement, protestors proclaim “no justice, no peace” while demanding authorities Think Again about upholding due process.


Like Ferguson, Baltimore raged after last month’s mysterious death of Freddie Gray while in police custody -- not without justification. Baltimore’s corruption and incompetence-plagued police department appears to have denied Gray the presumption of innocence and due process.


Now under the spotlight, a once-vibrant and safe Baltimore has become a synonym for mismanagement, catastrophic institutional failure and societal collapse, like much of big-city America. Neither afforded due process or their just due, many residents languish in cesspools of poverty and despair, despite per-pupil educational expenditures and a social safety net that far exceed national averages.


After decades of ever-increasing taxes and spending -- and a cronyist system that rewards the politically connected while blocking public-sector reforms, though claiming to protect the poor -- Baltimore is a tale of two cities where the privileged few are enriched at the expense of the disenfranchised many.


In America’s fifth-most-deadly city, the unemployment rate exceeds the national average by 50 percent and one-in-four Baltimoreans live in poverty -- a rate 250 percent higher than in 1960, before the $20 trillion “War on Poverty.” Gray’s blighted neighborhood suffers even greater poverty, fatherlessness, school dropouts, unemployment, crime, and dependency.


It’s a miscarriage of justice -- and the civil rights struggle of our time -- that the wealthiest and most generous country on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.


Sparked by Gray’s death, legitimate frustration morphed into lawless rage, as looters and arsonists became the threat officials are elected to thwart. Yet, rather than uphold her duty to safeguard the equal rights and property of all citizens, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the police to “give those who wished to destroy, space to do that.”


Unfortunately, when rioters believe they can misbehave without consequence, order is lost and job-creating businesses – many black-owned -- flee. To curb the mayhem last week, Chief Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced the arrest of six police officers, including three for manslaughter and one for second-degree murder. “To the youth of this city,” Mosby proclaimed, “I will seek justice on your behalf.”


Famed civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz called the indictments “crowd control,” not justice. “Under our constitution,” he explained, “the only people entitled to justice are the defendants,” not the victim or community. Given the abandonment of procedural justice, Dershowitz predicts acquittals -- and more rioting.


However satisfying, OJ-type verdicts won’t solve urban America’s plight, nor will pouring more money into failed government institutions. But kids can overcome the real source of their angst – opportunity and values deficits – by following a three-step plan: graduate high school; get a full-time job; and wait until 21 to marry and have children.


“Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class,” the Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins wrote. They’re also less likely to require due process in criminal court, though there’s no guarantee, considering OJ.


To steer fatherless children toward opportunity’s 3-step Holy Grail will take a village of mentors, and a phalanx of moms – not police. Toya Graham became a national hero after retrieving her rampaging son so he wouldn’t “become another Freddie Gray.”


Graham’s plea is every mother’s hope, one that can’t be realized by government power, but rather through a government that empowers. Politicians could begin by not condemning children to failed schools, and by reforming the unfair system that enslaves innocents so guilty gatekeepers of union and other public-sector privileges reign freely.


Think Again – Human history is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that without equality under the law and due process, there can be no liberty and justice for all.

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Thank you for taking the time

Thank you for taking the time to give me your thoughts on my column, “Baltimore And Our New Civil-Rights Struggle.” I’m sorry you found it misguided and appreciate your desire “to help,” as you said.

I actually find it both helpful and rewarding to engage with readers who think they disagree. In fact, often we share considerable common ground, including a mutual desire for a “more perfect union.”

In your case, because we seem to agree on a lot, I’m genuinely perplexed by the conclusions you’ve drawn and am wondering if you actually read beyond the column’s intro. That you conclude I must either be ignorant or a bigot is mystifying…indeed odious.

Here’s why:

You note that I made a “parallel between the OJ Simpson murder trial and the pervasive violence that police officers (the people we pay to protect us) perpetrate on innocent minorities,” finding it offensive. But I made no such parallel. Neither did I “completely dismiss the grave injustices that minorities have suffered in this country for centuries,” as you wrote.

In fact, I suggested the police in both the OJ and Freddie Gray matters appeared to have abandoned due process and reasonable doubt, which are necessary for justice to be served. Lack of due process, I explained, is why OJ was found not guilty and why Baltimore was justified in its outrage after Gray’s death.

I wrote: “Baltimore’s corruption and incompetence-plagued Police Department appear to have denied Gray the presumption of innocence and due process.” Furthermore, I described Baltimore as “a tale of two cities where the privileged few are enriched at the expense of the disenfranchised many,” criticizing the cronyist system that allows public sector organizations to get away with underserving their constituents. Baltimore’s police department and public school system are among the worst performing in the country, and that’s not fair to the African-American community they make miserable.

Finally, I called this tragedy (and titled the column) the “civil rights struggle of our time.” I wrote that having experienced prejudice in my life – as a Jew growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, I wasn’t allowed into the club where my friends swam. I also knew that the majority of my grandparents’ families were killed in the holocaust.

Yet you say I’m blinded by my own privilege? Really? Is it possible that you’re blinded by your erroneous assumptions and an unconscious bias that distorts your thinking?

Knowing that you’re also a columnist, I’m wondering if you also find it helpful when readers’ negative feedback is well supported? Can you appreciate why I’m finding your feedback unsupported hence unhelpful….. and in fact, offensive?

I look forward to your response to my questions and hope you’ll read my column one more time before replying. I also welcome the opportunity to meet when you’re in Aspen sometime. It helps to put a human face on a discussion like this.

Melanie Sturm

I came across your article

I came across your article (Baltimore and our new civil-rights struggle) through an unlikely source, and felt compelled to respond. Although I visit Aspen frequently, I live in Boulder and NYC, and don't generally read the Aspen Times.

That said, I found your article disturbingly misguided. First, your parallel between the OJ Simpson murder trial and the pervasive violence that police officers (the people we pay to protect us) perpetrate on innocent minorities is offensive. Is it possible that you're suggesting the murder of black men by police offices is some how "pay back" for Nicole Brown Simpson's murder? I am an African-American ma, I have "played by the rules" as you put it, I am extremely financially and professionally successful, and yet I am very much at risk of police misconduct (and violence) because of the color of my skin. And, even if I weren't successful I would still have a right to justice.

You seem to completely dismiss the grave injustices that minorities have suffered in this country for centuries, and the fact that those injustices continue to this day. There is well documented research on gross disparities in the way minorities are treated in everything from employment to the justice system.

I recognize that it's possible you are unaware of the long history of injustice. So, I would recommend that you do a little more study before presuming to pass judgement on minority communities; communities that I strongly suspect you've had little or no contact with. Here is an excellent article that was recently published in The Atlantic that I recommend you start with. http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparat...

I also think you may be blinded by your own privilege to the extent that you simply can't imagine what life in this country would be like without the protection of white skin.

I will confess that I hesitated in writing you because I strongly suspect the basis for your article is much simpler--a very thinly veiled expression of bigotry. However I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt (which in this case would be to assume ignorance) so I'm providing more information.

And there is one more thing. Harvard University has posted a really interesting online tool that allows people to test their unconscious biases. Here is the link. I suggest you may want to take it before publishing another story about minority communities. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

I hope it helps.

I agree with the points

I agree with the points raised in your article. I think one key phrase, quoting Alan Dershowitz, is this: "under the constitution the only people entitled to justice are the defendants."

I think that idea often gets lost in the heat of the moment when the mob is out for revenge and blood, and that idea got lost, in my opinion, when the prosecutor came up with charges that will be impossible to prove and will only lead to more violence and looting when the conviction does not match the expectations of the mob.

Nice article, Melanie!

Nice article, Melanie! American taxpayers have given $20 TRILLION to the government since the 1960s, and the War on Poverty still hasn't been won?

In 2008, Senator Barack Obama said this about the war in Iraq: "Even under the best case scenarios, this war will cost American taxpayers well over a trillion dollars. And where are we for all of this sacrifice? We are less safe and less able to shape events abroad. We are divided at home, and our alliances around the world have been strained. The threats of a new century have roiled the waters of peace and stability, and yet America remains anchored in Iraq."

The facts are in about the war that Lyndon Johnson started in 1964. America is anchored in a quagmire, and this war cannot be won using the same old, tired, bankrupt strategies. We need new ideas, a new commander in chief, and new generals.

As Candidate Obama said, "it’s time to turn the page on a failed ideology and a fundamentally flawed political strategy, so that we can make pragmatic judgments to keep our country safe."

As always, I love your

As always, I love your columns. But this one probably doesn't make my top 10.

I can't really pinpoint why; I think there is a sense of "victimhood" of inner city folks in your column. And they are certainly harmed by the policies of local and state politicians (and federal too). But those inner city folks vote overwhelmingly for those politicians who enact those policies. So are they truly victims caught in the destruction of outside forces over which they have no control? Or do they some level of blame for their plight?

Great article. One comment,

Great article. One comment, we used to often go to Baltimore but it was NEVER considered "safe". Everyone knew never to stray away from the harbor or ballpark areas. The locals always warned tourists not to stray.

Thanks for another thoughtful

Thanks for another thoughtful and interesting article.

As you know, 50 years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynahan wrote his incindiery study "The Negro Family", in which he lamented the family breakdown and cultural breakdown that he predicted would keep the black community in proverty. He was apalled that almost 25% of births in the black community by 1965 were to single mothers.

We know that the statistic today is close to 75%.

It will be hard to imagine any intervention or set of policies that will move the needle unless we can break that cycle.

Moynahan is famous for observing that the Central Conservative Truth is that it Is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The Central Liberal Truth is that politics can change culture, and save a society from itself.

In this regard, the politics has become a politics of vicitimization. It will never succeed in changing a culture that it is validating.

Thanks for another wise

Thanks for another wise column.

An additional comment: for decades Baltimore has been managed by libs, if opportunity, jobs, and education have been lacking, who failed to deliver? Not the Federal Government, not the GOP, it was their very own elected representatives.

I love the three step plan !!

I love the three step plan !! We don't need Congress to implement it, it doesn't cost taxpayers
anything and it does not require an MBA from Harvard to explain it. I would like to add
just one more step....OBEY THE LAW.... Love reading your columns !

This is an excellent and well

This is an excellent and well written article; you touched every point but one that is very important to the survival of suspects.

The suspect must be respectful to the police, cooperate when they are questioned and never resist arrest. Ben Carson is going to Baltimore tomorrow and I hope he talks to leadership there about this life saving issue.

I would guess that Freddie Gray's injury came from the initial arrest to which he resisted violently. He was probably seriously injured and his continued mis-behavior in the van finished it off. None of the recent deaths of black 'boys' would have happened had they not resisted arrest; that is the saddest part of the story along with the resulting destruction of their home towns, a cost that will be felt by their citizens for a very long time.

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