Solatia: A possible urban connection

An oft-used phrase heard during this past decade-plus of warfare is that America has to “win the hearts and minds” of the civilian populations that it erroneously harms during active conflict and occupation.

Under the Foreign Claims Act, such civilians have recourse for compensation for damages caused by U.S. troops.  However, the law doesn’t cover what occurs during active combat.  This is where solatia comes to bear.

America began awarding condolence payments early in the Iraq war.  Such expenditures only began in Afghanistan in 2005 from cash funded by Congress.  Before that, such solatia payments generally came out of a unit’s operating budget.

Currently in Afghanistan, condolence payments can be up to $5,000 for a death or injury or $5,000 for property damage.  In certain cases they can be much higher and in fiscal year 2012, the U.S. made 219 payments, totaling $891,000 (ProPublica).

But as another civilian grand jury refuses to indict another police officer for the death of another unarmed black man, I wonder just how hard our government is trying to win the hearts and minds of African-Americans involved in situations such as those in Ferguson or New York. 

“An expression of sympathy toward a victim or his or her family.”

A phrase of the Army regulation regarding solatia

So how can condolence payments begin to solve this problem?  It’s a matter of inevitability and expectations.  Just as we accept and pay for the certainties of warfare on foreign soil, so too should we begin to do so in our own land.

The urban landscape is some areas of the country is something akin to a battleground for all who live there.  Disenfranchised, many have already accepted the probability of their own demise; especially the young people.  In their minds they put their lives on the line every time they interact with their local law enforcement.

I’m of the mind that in order to convince America of a problem, you do so most readily by hitting her in the pocketbook.  Solatia payments to the families of police shooting victims, where the victim was unarmed and the case un-litigated, would be a tool to do just that.

Consider that such payments would take place as a matter of procedure in the same way funds are paid out to families of victims of the conflict overseas.  They would not replace any civil litigation brought about due to the untimely and unwarranted death; families would still have the opportunity to pursue those actions.

Solatia awards would be the government’s way of saying in effect that while it accepts no blame, it does recognize their grief and want to give them a token of that recognition.  The money could then be utilized as the family saw fit; either for their own personal use or to donate to charity.

But the solution comes from the discovery; a discovery of loss and reduction.  Once the flow of money becomes truly evident-and if current police behavior is any indication, there would be a fast, flow of cash-and the government coffers become strained because of funds siphoned from needed projects due to lack of police self-control or good judgment, the problem that’s so long plagued urban America would finally be seriously looked at with intent to address the core issues; police behavior and procedure.

Paying such communities for their suffering dates back to ancient times but America has been doing so since the Korean War.  With a practice in place for so long, it’s disconcerting that government can recognize the need for such remuneration in populations across the globe but fail to appreciate the necessity for such right here at home.

Not only that but in doing so, they fail to understand the expectations of Americans, black and white.  Like her foreign counterparts, Americans have expectations first that they will be kept safe in their homeland.  In the absence of that, they have further hopes that any subsequent loss would be valued and duly respected.

Moving forward, a new mindset is needed; one that says what’s good enough for citizens abroad, is good enough for us.  It’s a sure way to solve a reoccurring aberration unless of course it’s as many suspect and those in government don’t really want to solve the problem, anyway.

Sources: U.S. Government Accountability Office, The Department of Defense’s Use of Solatia and Condolence Payments in Iraq and Afghanistan; ProPublica, Hearts, Minds and Dollars: Condolence Payments in the Drone Strike Age, Cora Currier, April 5 2013

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