What I’m Reading About the Baltimore Riots

Several months ago, Michael Brown and Eric Garner died during encounters with police. The horrific nature of their deaths, and the fact that they represent just two of the many black men who experience discrimination and violence at the hands of law enforcement, spawned uprisings in Ferguson and elsewhere. At the time I wrote a post about choosing to listen to this important conversation.

That conversation is on-going and I’m still choosing to do more listening than speaking when I can help it. Although discussion never really died down, it was brought to the forefront of consciousness once again when 25-year-old Freddie Gray died of spinal injuries in policy custody in Baltimore. Once again, I hope that my relative silence on social media and this blog with respect to this conversation and these events is not interpreted as indifference. Rather, it is a recognition that there are far more authentic and expert voices out there that I’m listening to.

Having said that, I couldn’t help but tweet this on Monday which is, at least for now, all I really have to say:

Instead of leaving it there, however, I thought I’d share some links to the best stuff I’ve been reading online about the Baltimore riots. Check it out the non-exhaustive list below.

11 Stunning Images Highlight the Double Standard of Reactions to Riots Like Baltimore
Interesting how the Baltimore residents fighting against discrimination and violence are labeled “thugs” but the (predominantly white) people who riot after winning/losing a sporting event are….what exactly? Many have made this point but Mic’s use of images really drive it home.

29 Moments That Show Another Side Of The Baltimore Riots
Buzzfeed is full of ridiculousness – time-wasting quizzes and inane but addicting commentary on random bits of pop culture (that I read faithfully) – but every once in awhile it does some more serious journalism that is usually quite good. The photos curated above are an example of this.

Hillary Clinton Laments ‘Missing’ Black Men as Politicians Reflect on Baltimore Unrest
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton offered remarks on the Baltimore riots in which she called for an end to the mass incarceration of black men. Sure, she may be pandering to voters but the fact that she made explicit mention to racial fissures and a broken justice system is significant. Especially considering this is the first substantial policy statement she has made since launching her campaign.

The problem with wanting ‘peace’ in Baltimore
One of the most frustrating reactions to the Baltimore riots has been the invocation of Martin Luther King, Jr. to condemn the protesters. This Waging Nonviolence blog post does an excellent job of tearing that critique down. Even better, it’s written by a Kingian Nonviolence trainer.

Nonviolence as Compliance
n a similar vein, Baltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a compelling and eloquent explanation of the problem with calling for non-violence in the midst of systemic violence. As usual, Coates is on point.


Je Suis Charlie

Talking About The Efficacy Of Torture

The media is still buzzing with news of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s interrogation program – or as it’s more commonly referred to, the Torture Report. Former CIA director Michael Hayden appeared on CNN to offer a heinous defense of rectal rehydration, among other things. Dick Cheney stated unequivocally on Meet The Press that he has no regrets regarding the program and that he would “do it again in a minute.” Cheney’s defense of the program rests mainly on his conviction that he has no problem with such “enhanced interrogation” methods “so long as we achieve our objective, and our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.” It is frustrating that Cheney does not see the contradiction inherent in this argument. The report contests the idea that the CIA detention and interrogation program produced actionable intelligence. That is to say, it did not achieve its objectives. Presumably, Cheney has objections to specific interpretations that the report makes, thus justifying his position. But still, the findings of the report are corroborated by psychological and social science research that suggests that in general torture does not produce accurate results. (I provided just a few examples in a previous blog post.)

There are many who agree with Cheney and continue to defend the use of torture by the United States for reasons that I mentioned earlier. On the flip side, an equally vigorous debate has sprung up among those who are opposed to torture (both in general and in the specific case of the post/9/11 CIA program). This debate is concerned with what place efficacy has in a debate on torture. I have noticed several people on my Twitter feed are deeply concerned that we are even talking about whether such morally repugnant actions worked. They argue that this is beside the point because torture is morally wrong, against the values of the United States and thus it frankly does not matter if the program did or did not achiev its objectives. To focus on the efficacy of torture is a dangerous precedent that may validate an ethically questionable “ends justifies the means” attitude.

This perspective makes a lot of sense to me. Moreover, those expressing such a perspective are generally people whose thoughts and opinions I admire and respect. I still admire and respect these people, and read with interest most of what they post on Twitter (it’s why I’m following them) but on this point I have to disagree.

For the record, I agree with them wholeheartedly that torture is wrong and even if it had worked I would still be opposed to its use. But I have to concede that if we had solid evidence that torture worked, I think the subsequent “do the ends justifies the means?” debate is both unavoidable and, unfortunately, valid. When we talk about the Geneva Conventions, rights for prisoners of war, the distinction between combatants vs. noncombatants, and yes, torture, we are by definition engaging in a debate on where we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour during conflict. That conversation is uncomfortable and unpleasant but deeply necessary. In order to shape the norms that govern war, we have to talk about why something is unacceptable. While I wish that the use of torture would cease on the sole basis that it is morally abhorrent, that hasn’t happened. The United States is party to the UN Convention against Torture but as we have learned that hasn’t stopped the United States from torturing people. Thus, the point that torture does not work is a boon to those of us who argue against it. As Dan Drezner commented in a Washington Post piece last week, “The trouble with debating torture’s efficacy is that if it turns out that information extracted from torture can be tactically useful, then advocates will be able to make their case more effectively in public discourse. On the other hand, if the debate takes place strictly on the moral and ethical plane, anti-torture advocates will feel on firmer ground.”

Yesterday, in an article for Slate, Jamelle Bouie discussed another reason why torture is difficult for the United States government to disavow for purely moral reasons. The nature of American public opinion with respect to incarceration and torture is largely retributive and punitive. This attitude was evident in the online conversation that occurred after the torture report was published. Many individuals expressed a profound lack of remorse for the tortured on the basis that they deserved it. It seems unlikely then that arguing against torture for moral reasons will succeed in changing public opinion.

It’s a bit depressing to think that we have to substantiate an anti-torture stance with empirical evidence but such is the case with polarizing issues. Sometimes setting emotion aside and dealing with the pragmatic is the only way to break gridlock since both sides usually believe they are in the moral right. The process of getting to policy that is both effective and morally sound can involve a lot of uncomfortable debate like whether or not an end justifies a means. In the case of torture, if it can be demonstrated that an end was not achieved at all, then perhaps we will have greater success advocating for its abolition.

I’ll Ride With You

It’s been a rough few hours for Sydney, Australia. Monday morning an Iranian refugee and self-styled Sunni cleric (with a long rap sheet) took a cafe and its occupants hostage. While the situation was unfolding, a social media movement also began to take shape. The hashtag #IllRideWithYou began trending on Twitter as Aussies offered to ride public transportation with those wearing religious attire in a preemptive counter to bigotry and Islamophobia.

Embed from Getty Images

It apparently began when a woman noticed a fellow train passenger removing her hijab. She responded by reaching out to the other woman and offering to walk with her. Someone else offered to do the same on their commute and the hashtag was born. According to Twitter Australia, there were 40,00 Tweets within two hours and it has been growing since. I hope the movement isn’t purely viral and that those wanting or needing support on the streets of Australia today are finding it.

From my perspective, as I sit far away watching the news, it’s comforting to see such displays of empathy, solidarity and clear-mindedness as tragedy unfolds. It reminds me of the incident in Cold Lake, Alberta after the Ottawa shooting in October where community members came together to wash away hateful words that vandals had sprayed on a local mosque.

Of course, it isn’t the answer to radicalization or bigotry or violence. But it’s a much needed reminder that compassion exists, even in the face of such ugliness.