Two friends of mine put it this way: What if the wrong questions are being asked?
Perhaps the rioting itself is not relevant. It is the end result of a catalytic action: the killing of Freddie Gray. Mr. Gray's past interactions with the police became completely moot once he was arrested and placed in custody. The political party running the city is not relevant. The living conditions, social programs, unemployment, disenfranchised youth are not relevant.
What is relevant?
A man was arrested. His arrest was illegal: although he had a knife, it was legal to carry and it was not a switchblade. Even if he was in violation of the law, his rights upon arrest should still trump all.
His Fourth Amendment rights were violated. How? Under the rule of law, the actions of government officials are prescribed by the principles and laws that make up the U.S. legal system and do not reflect the arbitrary whims of the government officials themselves. Freddie Gray was killed because of the whims of the arresting officers. He was not given due process. As an American citizen he deserved that. He was killed because a group of individuals who should hold themselves to the highest standards of professional conduct decided to invent their own rules for dealing out justice.
It was vigilantism, plain and simple. And the fact that the people entrusted with this power over other humans wielded it for their own ends should make your blood run cold. Six police officers murdered a man because they could.
But at the same time one can feel sorry for them. Just like all the other cops who happen to take suspects on "rough rides", or the cops who prolong the choke hold, or use the taser a tad too readily. Even the ones who arrest and detain and abuse and batter.
You know why? They're a part of the dirty machinery.
We want a certain kind of society, both in Canada and in the U.S., where we can look in the mirror and see what we want to see: a caring and supportive culture that gives everyone an even chance and helps out the little guy. We want that, but a sizable portion of the public doesn't want to PAY for it.
So instead of funding social programs that target inner-city lack of opportunity, instead of redressing generations of institutionalized oppression, instead of funding a medical approach to drug dependency, instead of examining the effects of such things as for-profit prisons and the effects they have on policy, we fund police.
We give them shiny new toys, new uniforms, and salary increases even when we're cutting back on other public sector salaries. And we hire too many of them, because they have to be the under-trained substitutes for the social workers, mental health workers, community outreach workers, recreation and parks programs, drug counselors, and others who are not being funded.
And we're not funding those for a very simple reason. When the anger and fear and hopelessness get too much for inner city working poor, they riot and do destructive things. What do suburban, middle class people do when they are scared and angry? They do something even more destructive: they vote in tax- and service-cutting ideological idiots.
So who is truly deserving of punishment here?