Freddie Gray

Joan Walsh Says Dangerous Things About Race That Help Perpetuate Police Brutality

Perhaps her white privilege is showing and she should take her ideological fellow travelers' advice on it


MSNBC screencap

Since the news came out that three of the officers involved in Freddie Gray's death were black—this fact is mostly pretty irrelevant to the case. A person isn't any more or less violated depending on his race or the race of his violator. But it means a lot when some have vigorously pushed the narrative of "black men killed by white cops" as if it were only those instances of state-sponsored violence that were problematic.  That narrative helps dangerous myths flourish—like the myth that black cops might be less brutal than white cops. Here's Joan Walsh arguing that there was "no debate" black cops "absorb" the attitudes of their colleagues. It's a bizarre idea that's totally unnecessary if you live in the world but becomes a must-have when your understanding of the problem is based on the fantasy constructed in your head. And it's a more than slightly racist one because it seeks to diminish the agency of the black adults who make up the black police population.

It gets worse. Walsh also argued that the indictment of the three black cops shows that "black leadership doesn't protect wrongdoers like white leaders too often do," this based on just the one Freddie Gray case. This is not only easily disprovable, it too helps perpetuate a dangerous myth. If the black leadership in Baltimore (and how much can be said about "black leadership" or "white leadership" before you're just resorting to intuitions drawn from racial stereotypes?) were more interested in rooting out police brutality in the police department, why did it take Freddie Gray's death for Baltimore's black leadership to say it'll invite the Department of Justice to probe the Baltimore Police Department for a pattern and practice of police abuse? Stephanie Rawlings Blake has been mayor for four years and Anthony Batts has been police commissioner since 2012. The problem of police brutality in Baltimore, and as any black (or really, any) leader in Baltimore should know (right?), didn't start with Freddie Gray. So why would it take Freddie Gray (and the attention brought to his case) to get the city government to ask the DOJ to investigate its police department, other than some kind of interest in "protecting wrongdoers"? Black political leaders, and white ones, in places like Newark, Philly, and Seattle, have voluntarily asked the DOJ to investigate their police departments over the last four years.

Oversimplifying the issue of police violence by racializing it is a useful shortcut to constructing commentary that some readers might feel is giving them insights, but it's not useful for drilling down some of the things we can actually do to prevent police violence.