But what if I’m wrong, and rioting works? Will we all be safer if cops come to live in fear that if they harm a black man, any black man, they will be dismissed from their jobs—if not sued and prosecuted—and their cities will be burned and looted? Let me illustrate why I worry about this.
Until she retired last year, my wife was an obstetrics’ nurse, and people who work in obstetrics tend to get sued a lot. When caregivers live in constant fear of lawsuits, it doesn’t make them better caregivers. One reason is that it puts them on an adversarial footing with the very people they’re trying to help. Another is that avoiding lawsuits comes to take precedence over patient care both for the people performing the care and for their employers. For example, one-third of births in America is now by c-section. A c-section is major surgery with a great many risks, but if there is even the tiniest chance that it can avoid some problem at birth, and a doctor doesn’t do it, that doctor will look bad in court. The same is true with continual electronic fetal monitoring. It is feared that blips in the fetus’ condition might lead to potentially harmful interventions that wouldn’t have occurred if the fetus was only monitored periodically, but the problem is that if you’re taken to court and you can’t say that you did “everything possible,” you’re likely to lose. The public demands perfection, so when something goes wrong, they start looking for someone to blame, and they tend to blame those whom they perceive to be in control, people like doctors and cops.
This is what I fear about the recent pressure upon cops. They have to make split-second life-and-death decisions, and being fallible, they will most certainly err at times even with the best of intentions. So is it to anyone’s benefit for cops to be distracted by the fear that, even if their judgment is right, they’re going to pay dearly if the person they shoot happens to be black, as was the incident in Ferguson, Missouri, that started all this brouhaha?
Freddie Gray, the Baltimore criminal who died of a broken neck was called a martyr at his funeral. I remember when you had to do something noble—remember Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman?—to be a martyr to the cause of Civil Rights. Now all you have to do is to be a career criminal who comes to a bad end while resisting arrest. Die by the hands of a cop, and 2,500 people will come to your funeral and talk about what a exemplar of virtue you were. This is what remains of the movement of Martin Luther King. Where blacks once had a champion, they now have buffoons like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barack Obama who, come to think of it, has been awfully silent of late. Rationality has been thrown out the window, and I see no end in sight. All I see is that every time a black criminal dies, a cop will be blamed, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, and few demonstrators will care which.