September 23, 2016

Often the most dangerous people don’t carry a gun, they carry a pen (or keyboard)

I’m just going to come right out and say it. While I support the #BlackLivesMatter movement (stridently), I think many of the people who are ranting about police shootings are missing the real point, and, moreover, the real opportunity (assuming there is hope for meaningful change, that is – which, as an eternal optimist, I hold out for).

Here is what statistics (in the only reasonably scholastic study I have been able to find) tell us: police do not appear to have a racial bias toward firing specifically at African-Americans when it comes to discharging their weapons. This is not meant to discount the lives lost or the suffering of the families left behind when an officer does take a life. However, I’ve yet to see any evidence of bias when it come to actually pulling the trigger (while, at the same time, I have seen evidence against the existence of such bias).

But here’s the thing… THAT fact doesn’t matter, THAT fact is not a reason to think things are okay. Because long before the relatively even handed act of a police shooting happens… the acts of systemic racism, and the miscarriages of justice, have already occurred. African-Americans are pulled over twice as often as their Caucasian counterparts, and that disparity grows when you remove moving violations from the mix. More to the point “investigatory stops” – where officers pull a car over for trivial reasons because they suspect something more serious may be going on – are wildly out of balance.

So you have more black people being pulled over, every single day. Once they are pulled over, they are treated more physically in almost every way (the exception, the aforementioned officer shootings), take a look:

Less someone be inclined to suggest that African-Americans are more prone to resist and that is the reason, lets take a look at “compliant” stops (where the person being pulled over obeyed all orders by officers):

The likelihood of police putting their hands on a black person actually increased and the number of times they were pushed into a wall were largely unchanged. These are people who are actively following instructions by police, and yet, they are getting abused at a significantly and consistently greater rate then people of different ethnic groups.

This is where the real underlying problems are, because these things are happening day in and day out. They, unlike police shootings, are regular occurrences… these are our habits. It’s also where – perhaps – some solutions lie as well. The question becomes why do officers treat black people differently than white people when their behaviors are relatively the same? Like many things, the origins of this may be rooted in the generalized action of our society. Culturally, in the United States, we have almost always rendered black people (particularly men) as fearsome creatures. There are many media techniques for doing this:

  • African-Americans criminals are not named in photos roughly half the time (leaving the general classification of their race to be associated with the criminal act), Caucasians are named roughly two thirds of the time.
  • African-American suspects are shown in motion about half the time (showing a suspect in motion humanizes them, and reduces association with general characteristics like race), Caucasians over 2/3′s of the time.
  • African-Americans are depicted being physically held or restrained 38% of the time (images where the accused is being held imply they are more violent), Caucasians are show without restraints over 82% of the time.
  • African-Americans are nearly 4 times more likely to be portrayed as criminals than police officers on television news.

This is just a small sample, there are far more statistical facts available in support of the simple premise that we are systemically creating and fostering a culture of fear when it comes to African-Americans. Let me say that more clearly: we are taught to fear black people.

Terence Crutcher, in the words of police, as he was being shot, was a “big, bad dude.”

Terence Crutcher is probably dead right now because Betty Shelby was trained (her whole life) to be afraid of him. We know she scared, in her own words: “I was never so scared in my life as in that moment right then,” To be honest, I’d be scared too if I thought someone was reaching into a car to pull out a weapon; but that’s not the point I’m making. I believe, and there is ample evidence to support this theory, that officers (and everyone else) are more scared of black men then they are of Caucasian men. I suspect Officer Shelby is no exception, and the reason this is true is because she has been socially conditioned her entire life to react just that way (note: this is not – in any way – offering an excuse for her actions, it’s just a possible path toward minimizing the number of times those actions are repeated by others in the future).

Which brings us to where I think so many of the protests are missing the mark. While there is a problem with police shootings, it is by and large a small number of people doing (very) bad things. For example, in one study covering 1.6 million arrests, guns were fired in only 507 cases (that is three hundredths of a percent – .0003 – for those of you keeping score at home). By contrast, most of our media is consistently reporting stories in the manner discussed above; specifically, with a significant amount of racial bias. It is this generalized fear-mongering that creates a culture of perceived threats, itchy trigger fingers, and – ultimately – dead black men.

The circumstances around police shootings are almost always going to be to grey, and – case by case – far too unique to form any generally prescriptive solutions from them; however, there is action that can be taken with regard to how the media reports the news. You can call your local stations (or, even the national broadcasting companies) and request (demand?) that they start to uniformly report on criminal cases. When they fail to do so, use the power of social media to call them out on it (when they succeed, call that out as well – their competitors will notice).

Step one is making people realize that African-Americans are not raging violent beasts, but rather, simply Americans, just like everyone else. Once we normalize the perceptions and get over the institutionalized fear, it becomes far easier to correct the issues as we see them playing out on the street. But make no mistake, the root cause of all of this violence and death is not people with guns… it’s people with pens (and keyboards).

July 29, 2013

And another thing… (Trayvon Martin thoughts, cont.)


I do not mean to be insensitive to the Martin Family (or any of Trayvon’s other loved ones), nor do I mean to offend anyone who has taken up or adopted his plight but I am concerned about the singular attention this case has been given and the exclusion of so many other stories and other families who are suffering no less than his.

Over the past two years (for which we have statistics ’10 and ’11) there are an average of 42 homicides a day (roughly 30,000 over that time, 22,000 of which were by gunshot). Which means that during the jury deliberation portion of the trial alone (16 hours) 28 people would have been murdered (if the averages were maintained during that time).

That’s 28 people neither you or I (in all likelihood) will ever know the names of, or the circumstances of their demise. That’s also 28 people who are no less dead than Trayvon, with families no less torn apart than his.

We know that only 10% of homicides victims are under the age of 18, so maybe that makes it a bit more palatable that only 3 children murdered while those deliberations took place. The same source (the U.S. Bureau of Justice) tells us that 48.1% of those murdered are black… so that gets us close to only one murdered black child during that time.

Perhaps that child was Darious Simmons, or Nazia Banks or perhaps it was one of the several hundred other black youths that I was able to find that had been shot to death within the last year or so – none of whom I have heard of (including those in this tribute to the 108 Chicago area children killed in 2012)

My point is that while Martin, his family (along and Zimmerman et. al.) have become (certainly unwilling) celebrities, the circumstances of this tragedy continue to repeat themselves each and every day. So, while I think it is great that there is a growth in national awareness that is coming from the Trayvon Martin case, I fear that the wrong conversations are being had.

All of the conversations are important, but, this case has gone on long enough… lets start talking about Darious now. Lets discuss Nazia (and Kentan, and Porshe, and Sergio… and… and… and so many others from the Chicago list… all 15 or younger), then lets get over the racial aspect and talk about Latino children, and white children and every single child that is in harms way.

42 people a day (30 of them murdered with a firearm, for the record – and before the NRA apologists get into the act, these are homicide numbers, suicides etc. have already been baked out of the equation)…and yet for over a year our nation (and news media) was gripped by the drama generated by just one of these cases.

Trayvon Martin has become the face of the problem, the personification of it, and as such, I fear that when the news about him dies down… so will the associated (and very important) conversations. Put another way, the reality of young black people (or people of any age or color for that matter) being murdered will continue but the national awareness will not because our focus will have moved from the ongoing issue to a temporarily sensationalized example of it.

If we are not careful, the tragedy of February 26th may be re-doubled because we miss out on the chance to talk about the entire forest due to our interest in this particular tree.

July 12, 2012

Freedom of cowardice??? I say no!!!

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , , — sbj @ 11:25 pm

Make no mistake, I am a fan of (equally distributed) freedoms, civil rights, etc. So it may come as a surprise to those that know me that I agree completely with an Idaho court ruling ordering a newspaper to help identify someone who had commented anonymously on their web site. I’m into freedom, even freedom of speech…but not freedom of cowardice.

bill of rights

I would defend, to my last breath, a newspapers right to protect their sources or an individual’s right to speak freely (and have other people respond to them equally freely, cause, yep… it works both ways) about that which vexes (or pleases) them. However, when you hide behind a screen name and lob hate bombs at someone else you get no quarter from me.

You are not a source for the newspaper; you are a coward, and I’m sorry to say, that’s just not a protected right. You are also not speaking freely, so guess, what… freedom of speech does not apply to you.

What do you typically see when you read a comment section in a newspaper, a blog, or anywhere else? How often does it improve your reading experience? I am actually only half-rhetorically asking this question because for the most part I have stopped reading them. Comments (typically) are a cesspool of hatred and discontent, and, while I’m happy (I guess) people have a non-physical venue in which to let off some steam… I seldom see any value there for me.

If you want to argue (usually about one of 4 or 5 issues that keep coming up no matter what the topic of the piece is) this is the place for you. But, if you are looking for some open, insightful dialog about the topic, you might as well head to the local strip-club (no offense to the workers there, I’m sure many of them are quite intelligent, but the patrons are rarely lively conversationalists… at least while they are there).

Commenters are not adding value (read: sources) nor are they speaking freely (rather hiding behind a screen name) and as such I couldn’t be happier that a court has ruled that they are not only unprotected, but that the newspaper much cooperate in identifying them.

With any luck (I’m not holding my breath) this will have a trickle down effect on comment sections all over the net. It has no bearing on freedom of speech…but could strike a major blow against the perceived right to freedom of cowardice… and that would be fantastic.

November 2, 2011

Judging William Adams…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 9:58 pm

By now most of you have probably seen the video. Allegedly a Texas Judge beating his then 16 year old daughter with a belt. It is not a friendly “spanking” so you might not want to, but if you haven’t seen it… here it is.

Much like yesterday I’m going to skip the formalities of talking about how obviously offensive and unfortunate this incident is. I’m quite sure there is nothing I can say that will add any value, understanding, or positive influence to any of the parties directly involved; and if I can’t help ‘em… I probably should leave ‘em alone to work it out (along with the help of the fine Texas justice system).

However, what I am feeling inclined to talk about is this. I have heard, over and over again today, how he deserves to get beaten down himself, how he should be taken out behind the woodshed, and how he should receive a blanket party. Further, I have heard he should be put to death (legally or illegally if necessary).

I have a serious problem with this. That type of thinking, responding to bad behavior with violence is exactly what he was doing that has all of us so upset… to coin the old phrase… an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

The scale is clearly different, and the victim far less vulnerable, but the action is essentially the same. As such, I cannot condone any retribution against him without, in doing so, condone his actions in the first place… which is not something I am ever going to do.

Don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying he is, was, or ever should be justified or vindicated for his actions. However vigilante justice went away for a reason and there is absolutely no reason to stage a come back now, over this.

We have a criminal system to handle this, a system that, as its stewards, we need to either trust or change. What we are not entitled to do is attempt to supplant it with our own individual notions of what should be done. they have a word for that… anarchy.

More importantly though, if we take this approach – advocating violence as a result of this (or any other) transgression, even by just talking about it… we are modeling the same behavior that we are sickened by in this video. There’s a word for that also… hypocrisy.

I prefer “Hillary’s” twitter position on the matter, pleading for help and justice for him and repentance from him… but no revenge toward him (other than the re-election barb… which, I think probably is a logical outcome from all of this). It’s nice to think that someone who grew up in such an apparently troubled environment might have overcome that and that they at least appear to have a constructive, balanced, and healthy view on the big picture.

We create and recreate the culture that we live in by our words and actions… a call for non-violent justice seems like as good a place as any to effect change.

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