For the wise, there are many lessons that should be learned from the agony of Baltimore that has played out over the past weeks. It does not denigrate any of the points that have been made about racism and police brutality to also add that there is a significant observation that can be made here about public relations: an observation that focuses on the surprising realization that PR does/can/should work at the core of effective policing.
An apparent overlooked dimension of the Baltimore experience is not the death, but the rioting that occurred; not any judgement about it’s morality or usefulness, but rather sociological questions about the breadth and intensity of the riots. A few protests, marches in the street would have been predictable in such a situation; but these riots seemed like widlfire,even volcanic, spreadly rapidly and burning hot. They would suggest that the Freddie Gray incident was a trigger for the expression of suppressed rage, long looking for an opportunity to erupt. In a national context of frequent outrage over the past year, it took very little to trigger the eruption in Baltimore.
Such rage, especially such evidently deep and widespread suppressed anger, is clear evidence of public relations failure. In its best moments , public relatons is about relationships between organizations and publics, positive relationships in which there is mutual respect. Rage is antithetical to such relationships, and an indication that the Baltimore police had put insufficient effort at promoting positive relationships with a significant percentage of its citizen publics.
In such a situation, the reminder is clear that positive relations, postive public relations, is both moral and practical. Morally, because racism, brutality, and the like against any group is self definitionally wrong. But practically, as well: it takes seconds of commonsense to realize that effective law enforcement requires willing citizen cooperation: police are outnumbered significantly by the citizen population, and there is no way that they coerce the population to cooperate by force. Willing cooperation requires respect for the police and the law, something that can only be accomplished by ongoing work on positive relations with all demographics of the citizen population of any city. The rioting in Baltimore strongly suggests that these efforts were far too inconsistent in the city for an extended period of time. A significant component of the tragedy is that it took death and widespread destruction to dramatically demonstrate the point.
One can only hope that the Baltimore police can recover two lessons from this smoking mess:
- Don’t wait, hoping it won’t happen to you. In an national environment where incidents of police racism seem to emerge every week, it is difficult to comprehend why the Baltimore police had not taken steps to clean their own house. Certainly the sensible step, now, for the police in any major city would be to read the writing on the wall, and “don’t let Baltimore happen here.”
- Don’t forget, you are on camera in a social media-ted world. The other thing that is difficult to comprehend, after Ferguson, after the incident in North Charleston, SC, etc., is why police officers aren’t catching the obvious point that, a world of smartphones and youtube, anything can be filmed and published at any time. Police public relations relations in the 21 century requires officers assuming this, and organizing their behavior accordingly. Practically speaking, all morality aside, if police officers cannot realize this, then the repeat of Freddie Gray incidents in the future is all too predictable. The clear solution is to , if one is to want to practice effective police public relations, assume that your every action is being filmed and act in a way to promote positive esteem
If both police and public relations are inevitable in this fallen world, then the only sensible long term solution is to work in the 21st century world, as it is, to promote positive relationships.