What Can We Learn from “Spotlight”? Part 2

In my last post, I ended with the statement that United States Law Enforcement is racist. This is a grievous charge, but not, unfortunately, an outrageous one. 

In the movie, Marty Baron, the incoming editor of the Boston Globe (played by Liev Shrieber) insists that the Spotlight team continues its investigation until it has unearthed a system of abuse as opposed to simply rooting out one or two “bad apples”. 

Ah, those perennial “bad apples“. 

The question I have is not whether African Americans are targeted disproportionately by law enforcement. This is a question that can be approached from many different angles and suffers from partisan political outlook. For example, while whites are more likely to be killed by police, we also make up 71% of the population, whereas blacks make up 12%. Depending on how much one chooses to omit the whole story, the story changes. Nor is it the reasons why Law Enforcement might target African Americans unduly. 

Given the history of slavery in the US, I would suggest that the answers to these particular questions are not nearly as elusive as the question of why the Catholic Church has fostered and protected pedophiles among its ranks.

The main question for me is how can the targeting of blacks be quantified to the degree that people will no longer be able to dismiss these cases as anomalous, but rather as symptomatic of a flawed system, in the same way that the system of sexual assault on minors has been exposed within the Catholic Church. 

At the end of Spotlight, the phones begin to ring off the hooks as victims dial in their stories. The proverbial flood washing away a culture of silence.

But what if a similar thing were to happen, if black people were to call in and confide that they had experienced police abuse of power? Would there be the same sort of fallout? 

The question at the heart of the matter is why is racism more acceptable than child molestation to our culture. 

The Catholic Church has recovered and will continue to bring spiritual succor to untold millions. But it will never be the same. It has been tarnished. It is no longer irreproachable. Because in this day and age, the sexual abuse of minors is considered deviant behavior, and punishable by law.

But it wasn’t always that way. And it isn’t always that way. 

A History of Violence

Children have been used and abused throughout history. In countries to this day, girls are still married off to husbands older than they and raped as a matter of course, as part of their marital contract.

In our liberal society, the rights of women and children have increased dramatically. Even hitting your child in public, once a regular part of child rearing, is now punishable by the system. Child abuse is no longer something that can be done in public without serious ramifications. Other adults may intervene or even report a parent to the authorities.

Perhaps we take the designation “minor” as a fait accompli . However children’s rights in the West only began to appear in the mid-19th century, initially as laws to protect children in the workplace. This would have been the height of industrialism, of course, when little hands were important for certain tasks.

What I am driving at is that the enormity of the violation done against these Catholic children is premised on the social division of children from adults. Likewise, their protection against it is contingent on this social division.

It is possible, given that the Catholic Church’s long title is the Holy Roman Catholic Church and given that the Roman Empire is well-documented as one in which authority and profligacy went hand in hand, that sexual abuse of minors inside the Church predates the designation of children as a discreet social entity. 

In other words: in certain systems historically, children were abused as a matter-of-course. Particularly if they were poor. 

In A Tale of Two Cities in Book the Second, Dickens writes of the Parisian upper classes, of their disdain for everyone, including their own children. One Marquis upon leaving an opera hurtles through the streets in his coach, heedless of the “scarecrows” as Dickens calls them. This deplorable man, made inhuman by his absolute privilege, thinks nothing of it when his coach runs over a baby, killing it. 

It is a marvel of liberal humanism that we have accomplished so much for our little people in the last hundred years, making abuse of children, which once was commonplace, an abhorrent abomination of character and behavior. 

But can the same paradigm shift be effected to combat institutionalized racism? 

I will try to tackle this question in my next post. Wish me luck!