Welcome back to The County Fare! It’s been awhile – this year has been incredibly busy and in addition to parenting and forging my way through life, volunteer commitments have consumed my available time and so I’ve had very limited time to pursue matters blogospherical. Furthermore, I’m going to do a little road construction here on the site and put in a few extra lanes. Thus far, The County Fare has been a nutrition and nutrition-policy conversation. However, there’s more to life than plant-based eating (I know!! It’s shocking!), and so after extensive discussions with the CEO of the website (who looks a lot like I do), we concluded that other topics might be of interest to the readers, and are definitely of interest to our writing staff (which also looks a lot like I do). Hence, today’s topic.
What in the World Can and Should be Done about the Recent Police Shootings, Whether By or Of?
These stories are omnipresent right now. Two horrifically chilling instances of police officers killing citizens have occurred in just the last few days, and have contributed to what surely must be a retaliatory attack on police at a rally in Dallas. All of these events resulted in a tragic loss of life. All of them are very sad. All are, at the very least, frustrating and disappointing for thoughtful citizens, and all are horrifically world-altering for those with connections to the victims.
And all are verbal hand-grenades waiting to explode. Tension is extremely high – if you’re ever on social media, and everybody’s always on social media anymore unless you’re a curmudgeon like I, you can’t help but see inflammatory and unproductive language everywhere you turn. People are furious. People are defensive. People have some good points. People routinely fail to see the holes in their own arguments.
And so I’m going to view this through a prism which, I think, is applicable to a vast range of political and social topics, namely that most everyone here is partly right, and that’s the good news. But the bad news is that few are willing to honestly acknowledge sound points which challenge favored narratives. And that’s a big problem when the stakes are life and death.
Which they are.
Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. Guess what? It all matters. Guess what else? All these labels are facile, stupid, divisive and ultimately unhelpful, because they minimize very valid feelings of those under intense pressure.
Let’s consider at the facts surrounding the shooting of Alton Sterling, and let’s keep in mind that while there’s all sorts of evidence being bandied about in the media, I don’t pretend to have any special insight over the “true” facts. All I’m working with is what’s available to me, which is news reports (which I generally try to avoid anymore, because the whole world has gone mad). So for those of you who are feeling litigious, please assume “allegedly” or “hypothetically” precedes every sentence.
This situation looks like flat-out murder to me. We have a clear video of a subdued man being shot by police. Perhaps he wasn’t perfectly compliant while lying on the ground with two shouting officers directly overhead and pointing their guns at him – one would think that might be understandable. By all accounts, these two officers have had prior disciplinary actions brought against them regarding inappropriate use of force. Both officers had body cameras, both of which “fell off” and provided no usable footage. The storeowner, outside whose establishment this tragedy occurred, was detained by police so that the store’s surveillance footage could be confiscated. Of course that footage was later determined, by police, to contain no relevant footage. Community activists waited to see if the city of Baton Rouge would provide transparency into what occurred, and subsequently determined that opacity was to rule the day, and so they released the cell-phone footage on social media. This is pretty damning material – it doesn’t look good for the Baton Rouge Police Department.
There are competing claims – some are reporting that Mr. Sterling, who was selling CD’s outside of the store, was menacing other citizens and that he may have had a gun, which he did not by most reports. Was this claim fabricated? Who knows.
What caused this killing? Was it vigilante “justice” handed out by racist cops? Was it a dangerous and explosive situation that spun out of control? Was it inadequate training of the Baton Rouge Police Department? Was the victim at fault?
Judging from the footage, we can rule out the last question above. Whether he had previously been aggressive on the sidewalk, the man was clearly subdued. But the other rationales? Which was the catalyst?
Here’s the problem with the analysis that I’ve seen thusfar – it assumes that there WAS a primary cause, when chances are it was a little of each – systemic racism, stressful situation and inadequate training. And so we have talking heads in the media who are shouting at each other on the basis of whichever rationale best matches their pre-existing narratives. We have human offense-taking machines who make careers out of faux-outrage on TV, and the result of this “un-thought” is an obfuscation of both the situation on the ground and also any steps that might help going forward.
There ARE solutions out there. But they’re all-hands-on-deck solutions. We live in a complex world where simplistic answers don’t tend to get you very far. Cannot body cameras be affixed in such a way that they don’t fall off? Can they be integrated into a shoulder strap so that they’re secure? Cannot we increase salaries of police officers so as to ensure that we’re hiring people who are going to do a good job? Can we use incentives to alter police demographics so that the officers better understand the communities in which they work? Can we improve police training? Can we build community to allow law enforcement and citizens to know each other outside of these intense and tragic circumstances?
And can we please acknowledge that race absolutely plays a factor in this type of event? Notice I’m not saying that this officer or that is a closet klansman who’s out to settle scores. But racism, just like sexism, creedism or anti-this-or-that-ism, is a pervasive force that subtly affects one’s thinking. And that should be acknowledged and addressed in not only police training but also in our communities. In schools, places of assembly, politics, business – anywhere racism occurs. Which is pretty much everywhere.
Clearly, retaliatory killings OF police officers in Dallas are not the answer. Violence tends to induce a never-ending vicious cycle like that (exhibit A – any history book). So what’s the answer? The answer is the kitchen approach – honest dialog, sensible modifications to police equipment, smarter police-hiring practices, better training, better interfacing with the community. If I were a white police captain in Baton Rouge, I’d be filling up my schedule with PTA meetings at majority-black schools, meetings in black churches, block parties in black neighborhoods – anywhere to plant seeds for positive momentum.
If I were a black resident of Baton Rouge, I’d try my best to channel my outrage in a direction that could produce desirable results. This does not include starting fights on facebook and demanding immediate assistance with the oppression of my particular demographic group, while conveniently ignoring the plight of other groups which also suffer. Where was the black outrage in the assault on the gay-nightclub in Orlando a couple weeks back where at least 49 people were killed? Where’s the black outrage for the death toll from the war in Syria, where something like 490,000 citizens had been killed as of February?
The world is an interconnected and complex place. All of these group have legitimate grievances, but it’s rare to hear sufficient acknowledgement of grievances beyond one’s individual experience. But that all-hands-on-deck approach? It requires thoughtful inclusion of other causes. Yes, police shootings of black civilians in America are a travesty, and I don’t think any reasonable person can deny that there’s a racial influence at work. So let’s acknowledge it. Let’s discuss it with one another. Let’s do a better job teaching young people the right way to live in a world where not everyone looks the same. Let’s make common-sense, practical improvements to hiring practices, technology and training.
Let’s acknowledge that there are a lot of ways to acknowledge, respect and mitigate this problem. And until things are better, let’s implement them all.
And “right now” would be a great time to start.