The United States has a very meager safety net for an ‘advanced industrial society’.
There is very little support for individuals and families in any area of life if they cannot pay for the support themselves.
Die. American People Series #20, oil on canvas, 1967, and details.
Faith Ringgold, born 1930, American. MOMA, NY
What safety net there was has been shredded further since the 1980s.
The consequences result in public disturbances and public expression of private disturbances.
The homeless have grown in numbers as homes have become too expensive to buy or rent in major metropolitan areas.
Mental illness for whose treatment there is very little or no public support has increased homelessness.
Opioids and other drugs for whose treatment there is little public support have increased the number of the homeless.
As factories have closed down and been replaced with 0-hours contracts or with minimum-wage jobs or with no jobs, tax revenues which are the primary support of public schools, have declined.
The streets beckon young people, functionally illiterate and with futures difficult to see.
Political decisions have been taken over decades to turn over the handling of these publicly expressed private disturbances to the police.
Untitled (Policeman), 2015, synthetic polymer paint on PVC panel with plexi frame.
Kelly James Marshall, American born 1955. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
The police are expected to keep order on the street, in schools, in the encampments of the homeless, in private homes. Everywhere.
Police Beating (Untitled), 1943; ink, graphite, watercolor on paper.
Norman Lewis, 1909-1979, American. I do not know where this painting, exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia in 2015/16, is.
The police. And with what tools and with what training? With what back-up resources?
Police have very large immunity from prosecution in the United States.
While this derives from the activity of police unions and from the famous ‘omerta’ of the police, the primary source of this immunity are the rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1967 onwards.
The Supreme Court has said, over and over again, that the police cannot be prosecuted for enforcing the law ‘in good faith and probable cause’.
Further, for a police(wo)man to be prosecuted, a court somewhere has to have already ruled on similar circumstances that the police(wo)man involved there was not immune.
No two cases being similar means that police are rarely prosecutable.
On the ground and in reality, these two sets of facts amount to institutionalized forms of discrimination against those communities who make up the population in most need of public services, of a healthy safety net.
In reality, black and brown populations in metropolitan areas.
But not only and not only. We are speaking here of the poor of all races.
And so, periodically, the cities – the fabled cities on the hills – burn.
Photo taken during looting, fire-setting and widespread damage to an area of the center of Philadelphia on May 30, 2020 after peaceful demonstrations
precipitated by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a policeman on May 25, 2020. The police had apprehended George Floyd for suspicion of a forgery in progress said to be the use of a fake $20 bill.
Photo by Jessica Griffin/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP) (Jessica Griffin/AP. May 30, 2020
And so, also, the United States is probably the only country where there is a category of suicide known as ‘suicide by police’. A death which occurs after an individual has positioned himself (usually him, usually young) to be killed by the police.
This is not the reason why the majority of black Americans who die at police hands die.
But it occurs. That it occurs speaks volumes.
Are you with me?
Confrontation; and detail; 1971; oil on canvas.
Norman Lewis, 1909-1979, American. I do not know where this painting, exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia in 2015/16 , is.