In the context of the riots and racial finger pointing in Baltimore, I contend the problem in America is not one of race; rather the problem is a fundamental lack of education and leadership. The cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Oakland, or whichever city is next to burn (and there will be another city), have a few things in common:
- The citizens are poor;
- They are mainly African American;
- They lack upward economic mobility; and
- They are severely undereducated.
Crime rates are disproportionately higher in these parts of American cities than in their middle class counterparts. The cops in these areas are constantly at a heightened level of alertness and stress. Does it justify the wrongful killing of any member of the population you’ve taken an oath to protect and serve? Of course not!
Similar to servicemen and women, it is part of the job description for cops to be in harm’s way. However, like any other human, self-preservation is a high priority. If I were on the beat in Georgetown, or Beverly Hills, I’m going to be a little less-trigger happy than in parts of Baltimore or South Central Los Angeles. Why? In some of these cities there are over 300 murders per year. Blame the crime rates on economics, lack of opportunity, availability of guns in American society, a history of racial division, video games, movies, etc., etc.. In many instances, I’m sure one or more of these are valid. But, they are not reasons; they are excuses.
This nation is failing in educating and training our youth. The lack of education is due to a simple; yet fundamental lack of leadership. This is a lack of political leadership from the municipal level of these cities straight to the Governors’ Mansions, Congress and the White House. The elected officials of every creed, color and sex in both the Republican and Democratic parties are at fault. What’s worse is we live in a democracy, and therefore, “we the people” are responsible. However, our ignorance, and our surrender to being oblivious has led us to elect one failed politician after another, to establish the narrative we see today. I’m seeing it all over social media, where my black friends are predominantly blaming the GOP and law enforcement of being racist, and my white friends are blaming how race relations is the “Democrats own doing.”
How did we become a society of finger pointers? In an article with Salon, Lawrence Wilkerson (former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell) claims “under Richard Nixon, there was a conscious strategy to take advantage of disgruntled [White] Democrats in the South,” and that “the GOP has scores of racists.”
This disturbing statement from a long time, yet controversial Republican spells out that there was a systematic effort to have White Southern Republicans only vote for a White Republican. As I read that, I chuckled and shook my head because that means that Black Southern Democrats will only vote for a Black person. Sadly, I’ve heard both statements. In and by themselves, these statements might be true for a small minority of both parties and ethnicities, but it’s foolish right? Because we’re no longer talking about the elected officials of our cities, states and country, we are once again blaming some other entity. Think back to the end of George W. Bush’s tenure. He became “the Republican” President. The Iraq War became a “Republican” war. President Bush was no longer the American President. He wasn’t “our President.” And now, President Obama has become “their” President. American foreign policy is “his debacle.” To more than half the American population, he is not their President. I find this conclusion to be absurd, sad, and unfortunately, relatively true.
Black people in Baltimore can’t blame the White politician anymore. We have a Black President, the city of Baltimore has a Black Mayor, and a Black Chief of Police. The majority of Baltimore’s finest are in fact, black officers. Yet, this tragic story has taken a similar narrative; a white cop kills a black civilian. Let’s move past the finger pointing. What is at the core of poverty in these black neighborhoods, or even White trailer parks? For the area of Baltimore that is burning, it’s a lack of education and/or training.
Countries like Germany, and Iran for example provide free university to their population. Iran; a “third world country” spews out engineers and scientists, while German universities lead in science and technology. What do both of these countries have in common other than that? For starters, military service is mandatory. When you are done with high school, or reach the age of 18, you will either be trained or start receiving a higher education. By the age of 22, most individuals enter the workforce with some capability. Whether it’s being a mechanic or engineer, these individuals have done what was asked of them to continue contributing to society.
The tragedies in American cities will not stop with House Committee Hearings on Race Relations. They will not stop with a “beer summit” at the White House. Nor will they stop with cameras attached to each police officer. These tragedies will not end with the removal of guns either. In America, at the age of 16, you are given the responsibility of operating a motor vehicle. At the age of 18, you are given the responsibility and right to vote for your elected leaders. Today, one has the option of going to college, joining the Peace Corp. or the military. I believe a bi-partisan initiative should be taken by Congress to put in place a mandatory system of training at the age of 18.
Under this system, at the age of 18, one would either:
- Go to college;
- Join the Peace Corp;
- Join the military;
- Join a new domestic initiative for urban and rural development;
- Join a new space and science initiative; or
- Get conscripted into a new branch of the military.
A few generations have gone by since President Kennedy’s famous speech of “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” It’s time for that kind of leadership.
1) Google link on racism in America: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/28/the-most-racist-places-in-america-according-to-google/?tid=sm_fb
3) Article on education levels in Baltimore: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/28/what-you-really-need-to-know-about-baltimore-from-a-reporter-who-lived-there-for-30-years/?tid=sm_fb