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).

April 30, 2015

The continuing downward spiral of our standards for greatness…

I’m still (quite) bothered by the moniker of “mother of the year” attributed to the woman who used violence to express her disapproval of her son participating in a violent protest. Not necessarily bothered by her, mind you… that’s her family and her business, I’ve not walked a foot in her shoes, let alone a mile. My issue is with the media and their inability to see the problem with sending that message.

There are so many points of failure there. What would the conversation be if it had been his father rather than his mother beating him up over his protesting actions? Play that one out in your mind. I suspect that at best it would be ignored, alternately it might appear as one of many clips of “black on black violence” running rampant on the streets, further evidence of what is wrong with “them.” Two parents, same action, yet completely different responses… why? Are we celebrating her inability to be violently effective?

What of the mothers who children stayed home and read, or did homework, or went down the next day and cleaned up after the looters and vandals. If this woman was mother of the year… what are they? How about the mothers of the peaceful protesters that never turned to looting or violence, but exercised their right (some would say responsibility) as citizens to assemble. What did the parents of these men – who stood with the police, against the violence and criminal activities going on around them – do wrong to be considered also-rans for the coveted media “mother of the year” award?

I’ve wanted to physically interact with my children before… never done it, but I’ve “wanted to.” I’ve been frustrated by my interactions with them or my inability to make them understand something to the point that I felt the urge to “knock some sense into them.” So I get where Ms Graham was coming from, she did what many parents would want to do in that situation. I just think that sometimes there is a difference between doing what you want to do vs. what you should do, and far too often we seem to validate and even elevate folks for doing the former as opposed to the latter… probably because we can relate to their state of mind while they are doing it.

Maybe part of the problem we are having is that people doing the right thing, regularly and consistently, just isn’t newsworthy to us. Maybe we just aren’t inspired by lives well lived. Absent drama, those lives don’t feed into our more base desires or satisfy our need for some sort of action. When I’m angry or upset about looting, it’s easy for me to get motivated by a woman taking her rioting son out behind the metaphorical woodshed… it’s exactly what I want to do to her son (and all the other son’s of all the other mothers out there hurting people and damaging property).

But… that doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it constructive, and I don’t think it makes you mother of the year.

March 24, 2015

Of books, covers and other errors in judgement…

One of my favorite phrases is “I love it when I’m wrong.” I don’t actually love being a dolt, jerk, or simply being ignorant mind you. But I do love the learning opportunities being incorrect present, and last weekend’s NCAA tournament provided just such a chance.

For years, I’ve watched cheerleaders cry after their teams lost tournament games and, for what now seems strange reasoning, thought they were all broken up about their team losing. Part of that was probably my ego or something; since I’ve always been the one on the court it’s easy to look at things from that perspective. The media certainly portrays it as such… the broken hearted cheerleader, the devastated fan, etc.

But thanks to @roxiechalifoxie (Roxanne Chalifoux – ps super twitter handle!), I’ve been forced to re-focus my lens. I’m sure most (many?) of you know who she is by now, the Villanova piccoloist who “played on” through tears after the surprising defeat of her school in the second round of the NCAA tournament (they were a #1 Seed and lost to a #8).

Where my eyes opened up (pun not intended) though was when I heard an interview with her after the fact. During that discussion, she revealed she was crying because, as a senior, she was going to take off her uniform for the last time after that game.

Boom! Goes the dynamite!

Again, I have no idea why it took me this long to realize/process/accept/whatever this… but there it was. Darrun Hilliard (a senior guard on the Villanova team) was crestfallen at the end of the game, and it was discussed how tough it was for him that his career was coming to an end. Roxanne Chalifoux was having the same experience.

Years of practice, sacrifice, and dedication to her craft – a foundational part of her existence – was coming to an end. She was not an extra in the Hilliard/Villanova story, she was a headliner in her own (and the Villanova pep band’s) story. The same can be said for those countless cheerleaders. These events (which also happen to feature a basketball game) are the culmination of their college career and the long effort filled journey that brought them there.

I’ve never felt sorry for the Hilliards of the world. I have certainly felt compassion for what they were experiencing, but my overall feeling was more a celebratory one for what they had accomplished. “He has nothing to be ashamed of,” “when he looks back on his career, he will have much to be proud of,” “this game does not define him,” and other quotes like this come quickly to mind. When I saw Miss Chalifoux crying what came out of my mouth was (and I quote) “awwww.”

That was wrong, I was wrong, I get that now. Roxie Chalifoxie deserves more than “awww” for all of her effort. Those tears will not define her, she has nothing to be ashamed of (to her credit, she appears to have the “not ashamed” thing figured out), and she has much to be proud of. She is an accomplished piccoloist (who as of this publishing has played with The Roots on Jimmie Fallon) who appears to have a very bright future in front of her. One she built herself, the culmination of which we were lucky enough to experience with her.

I do love to be wrong, and in this case I really did learn (or at least recognize) and for that I’m grateful to the Villanova pep band and Roxanne Chalifoux… best finish of the 2015 NCAA tournament so far.

April 20, 2013

It’s not what you know…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 4:47 am

As many of you have been around for a while know, I listen – almost exclusively – to NPR while driving my car. Today, while picking up my son and subsequently heading to the store I learned more about Tamerlan Tsarnaev (26) and Dzhokar Tsarnaev (19) than I have learned about Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson combined since I graduated from high school.

I learned about their college party years, and how the degenerated. I learned about their sports careers, boxing and wrestling mostly. I got to hear about their twitter accounts and the types of things they posted in the past, from this I know they were Guns N’ Roses fans. I’ve heard about their homeland, and its attempted rebellions and subsequent struggles. I heard from their mother, their uncle and various friends as well.

In short, I know all about the two men who tried to kill as many innocent bystanders as they could last Monday. I know more about them than I do some of my cousins (which is more an indictment upon me than anyone or anything else).

What I don’t know anything – or at least very little – about; however, are any of the victims, first responders, or hospital staff that worked on the victims. I don’t know anything about the family and friends who sat and waited for hours during surgeries and other procedures (for all I know some are still standing vigil over their loved ones).

I understand why we don’t hear much about the victims, they last thing they need are their lives rocked by media right after being victimized in a senseless act of violence. But why don’t we make a bigger deal about the people that help, why don’t we have hour upon hour of coverage on the positive side of humanity?

I don’t care to glorify, or even learn about two man who’s lives went so horribly wrong that they turned to an act of terror as a means of self expression. What I want to know more about are people that I can look up to… people who act heroically, or at least selflessly.

While listening to the coverage driving home today, my son said to me “why do people want to hear or see this stuff… it’s just depressing.” And they way it is typically portrayed I can’t really argue with him.

What said to him, though, was that while it is true that these situations can be very depressing, they can also show you the beauty in people as well. True, there were two boys that demonstrated the darker side of humanity, but there were hundreds of people who showed compassion, caring and courage as well.

There is a Mr Rogers quote that has been making the rounds recently. Not just this week, but in the aftermath of other tragedies as well. It it popular to the point that I am hesitant to use it. However, I think it eloquently articulates what I was trying to say to my son:

As with most things in life, what you get out of something is often very much hinged on how you view it and what perspective you use to interpret it. There is a good positive message in the reporting of these stories. I just wish it was as easy to find as a slideshow of Mr. Tsarnaev’s golden gloves boxing history.

December 5, 2011

FTW!!! (For The Win)

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , , , — sbj @ 5:58 pm

This morning on the radio I heard that the results of one of the congressional public opinion polls showed that the notion of a communist takeover was more popular than our current elected legislature (I’m not making this up… they really said that).


Moving on… one of the refrains I have heard time and time again recently is the well thought out and solutions based answer of “throw the bums out!”


Well, I agree… kind of anyway… although I think my target is a completely different group of “bums.”

So hear it is, without delay… step 1 in my (at least) 1 step plan for “fixing” our country’s political system.

Fire each and every member of the media who has used the word “win” or “lose” (or any derivative word of those words) regarding a political action (special exemption for election results) at any point in their career. No severance if they used it in reference to the governing actions (or inaction’s) of a particular political party (i.e. “passing this legislation is a real win for the ******’s”).

Governance is not a sport or a competition. It is the process of setting the rules, climate, and societal norms under which we live as a nation. It should not be decided on a scoreboard, but rather through thoughtful deliberations by people whose primary concern is the best interests of the nation they serve. How can this be accomplished when the actions of elected officials are constantly being graded out as wins and losses… not for the people they serve, mind you, but for the political party with which they are affiliated.

Describing the governing process as a series of victories and setbacks is divisive at best, grossly negligent at worse, and should not be tolerated from those entrusted to keep the public informed of the goings on in Washington (or state capitals, or counties, or cities, etc.). The only “team” anyone involved in government should be playing for is The United States of America; and the only wins and losses recorded and acknowledged, should be for the nation as a whole.

As for all of those newly out of work political reporters… ESPN must have like 37 channels by now right? Seems right up their alley…

April 15, 2011

Kids these days… (spoonful of sugar not included)

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 11:39 pm

I have written several times before about what I view to be an eroding society.  I have commonly placed that compromise in quality of character squarely at the feet of the media, and the general public, who so blindly gobble up what they serve.

What I do not intend to do today is contradict that; however, I do want to take a look at some (one, perhaps) of the other sources of this condition.  I recently found myself in the unusual, dare I say unique, position of being a parent feeling completely unable to impart a moral lesson to my child… can you imagine?!??!

As I tried to impress upon my son the importance of 1. thinking before he acted and 2. acting on the results of that thinking (you’d be surprised – or maybe you wouldn’t – at how many people stop at the first step) we continually hit a impasse.  He would state that he did think before acting, and his actions would indicate very clearly that he hadn’t.  Clearly he was lying… right???

Not really.

Further conversation revealed what, to me, was a rather terrifying discovery.  He had considered his actions and alternative options; he had sorted out, based on his priority system the best options from the worst; and he has acted accordingly.

The problem is, his logic tree took him down a different path than mine did.  For him, the value of making other people laugh was greater than the value of maintaining his own personal quality of character (my summary of the conversation, not his).  Based on his evaluation of the situation, he hadn’t done anything wrong, and the fact that I disagreed didn’t matter.  He had his opinion and I had mine, and that’s all it was, a matter of different opinions based on different priorities (his summary of the conversation).

Dose of reality: it’s not that he’s incapable of making solid moral decisions, it’s that they are not important enough to make.  There are more pressing matters at hand, like making people laugh.

How did this happen???

Two sources, I believe; the first one, in short… is me.  My way of dealing with stress is to joke.  The tougher the situation, the more I assault it with humor.  It works for me; however, part of why it works is that I am aware of the context dictating how and why I am using this particular mechanism to deal with the stress surrounding me.  Others observing me are not privy to this knowledge, and to whatever degree, may well perceive that I am not taking the situation seriously.

I have been known to pop a joke (or 12) in the middle of a serious conversation with the kids when the environment seemed to be getting a little too heavy and productivity (meaning the kids attention) was starting to plummet.  I don’t view this as a bad thing, it helps… and often extends conversations that would otherwise die a horrible conflict addled death to the point where something constructive comes from them.  However, it also implies that serious conversations (and situations) are ripe for comedy and- at least the appearance of – a lack of respect for what is going on… not so good.

The other problem (and this is the good part… for me) is my old nemesis, the media and its adoring followers.  When I think of the type of programming my son enjoys, really think about it… it’s a bit scary.

He loves house (more so in the past, but still now as well), and, honestly, I often have enjoyed turning off my brain and watching the drama/mystery unfold before me.  But, let’s be honest (and blunt), the guy is a jackass.  His moral compass is not just broken, I think it’s actually missing a couple directions and has had its magnet switched and replaced by stale toothpaste.

Speaking of jackasses (apparently my word for the day) he loves that show (and the movies) as well.  I wouldn’t even give these guys a compass… they’d likely use it as part of some sick torture device or as a piece of drug paraph…wait… that might not be such a bad idea… never mind that part…

(see what I mean about me and jokes)

Anyway, the point is, these shows – and so many more like them – generate their ratings and popularity by creating victims for others to laugh at.  The guiding principle is that, if you can get a big enough laugh… well then being a bit of a douche is “acceptable loss.”  In fact, I’m not sure it really registers as a loss at all, I’m pretty sure you have gained some sort of hipster equity in the process.

They establish a culturally acceptable vetting system whereby poor moral choices can receive a favorable assessment and a green light because morality is a secondary criterion in the evaluation process.

Between my relaxed standards for serious moments, and the decaying character representations on tv etc. my son is simply growing in the fertile soil my generation has provided.

So, I guess at the end of the day, the problem with kids these days is, largely, adults these days.

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