Monday, July 11, 2016

Lives That Matter

It has been a time of mourning for the country, since the mass shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas, last Thursday. Five were killed; seven others are in various stages of recovery. And the country is in turmoil.

Dallas police, early July 8, 2016, following sniper shooting
photo AP/LM Otero, found here

When the wicked rule, the people mourn.

The president, who was voted into office in a post-racial world, has been the most racially divisive president since Woodrow Wilson. Saying we told you so won’t help, but…

In Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the principles is “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” So, with that in mind, I’m trying to understand.

There is NO valid reason for sniper shooting of police officers doing their duty in their professional way, which was the case Thursday. They were calmly and professionally escorting protesters—protesters were claiming that police were unfair to black people. They disregarded hatred and misunderstanding aimed at them and did their job. There were heroic acts on the part of police to keep the protesters—the public—safe once the shooting started.

So understanding the perpetrators amounts to this: These were angry, hateful, evildoers who wanted to murder innocent police officers.

Because some police officers somewhere at some time may have been too forceful against particular black people? That’s the story. But so what? What if some police officer somewhere had been in the wrong? That is in the range of possibility, whether you believe the sensationalized news stories of police-on-black-brutality or not. That would still not justify murder of random cops. It wouldn’t even justify murder of any particular bad cop; such a person would be handled through the justice system.[i]

Unless you do not believe in the justice system—and since the FBI announcement last week that Hillary Clinton would not be prosecuted for the long list of crimes the director laid out, maybe there’s reason not to trust the justice system.

But if we don’t trust the justice system, is being more evil and murderous going to get us to justice? Of course not.

So what we need to understand about the evildoers is that they choose to do extreme evil. And they must be stopped. We don’t need to offer sympathy or justification or rationale. There is no rationale for doing what they have done.

The ones we need to share understanding with are the protesters. I believe many of them are horrified by the violent mass murder of police officers. That was not their goal. Their goal was to raise awareness to an issue they are passionate about—an issue that may only be an issue because of bad media storytelling, because the data does not support their claims.

But stirring up anger and fomenting violence was the goal of some leadership. We need to separate out those who are merely reacting from those who are causing.

Because, among those protesters, and others across the country who sympathize with them, there may be some who can be brought to the truth when the truth, rather than lies, is what they hear and are surrounded by. Just since Thursday, I think many of them are saying, “Not all police officers are bad,” which ought to be obvious to any sentient being, but this is nevertheless progress.

Maybe, while this bit of truth has penetrated, they can also accept other truths.

As Matt Walsh put it in a July 8th post,

It takes 17 seconds on Google to discover that more white people have been killed by cops this year than blacks and Hispanics combined. White people are almost twice as likely tobe killed by cops than black people.[ii] There were twice as many whites killed by cops last year than blacks. Yes, it’s true that black people are a smaller percentage of the population, but they also commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes, which means they are involved in a disproportionate number of altercations with police.
There were over 900 people killed by cops last year. The vast majority were not black, and the vast majority were armed. 
The false narrative they’ve been told is that police officers are racially prejudiced toward blacks, and are likely to use brutal force or even fatally wound blacks, just because they hate blacks. The data doesn’t bear this out, but something in their experience leads them to choose to believe it’s true.

I want to look for a moment at how preconceptions change our experience. And as an example, I’ll use interactions with police officers.

I don’t have a lot of experience with police; I’m not well connected with the criminal element. But I have experienced the rare but occasional traffic stop. And it is my experience that, while we are respectful to one another, police officers have never let me off with a warning; I always get the ticket.

My son Political Sphere has similar experiences. He even believes that it’s particularly important for him not to speed or roll through the stop sign—because he will get caught. And he will get a ticket. Never a warning.

Why? The mind tries to find reasons. It’s not because of gender, because we are one of each. It’s not because of race, because we don’t find this to be the standard case for others of our race. Even others of our family. It’s not even because we drive sporty cars, because I have a small SUV, and he has a minivan.

We feel a little picked on for no good reason. Even if we were speeding a bit, it wasn’t to the point of endangering others, or even out of intent; usually it’s just momentary carelessness at an inopportune moment. Can’t the police officers tell that we’re the kind of law-abiding citizens who would correct any error in behavior just by giving us a warning?

But if we were black, and we had people telling us the cops had it in for us blacks, and we read news stories and got filled with the repeated narrative that there’s something to this thing about blacks getting picked on because of race, we might think that was the cause. Even when it might be no more the cause than whatever it is in my life and my son’s.

If I were black and had that narrative surrounding my interaction with police officers, and it colored my experience, how would I come around to seeing without that inaccurate filter?

The shocking murder of five police officers might be an opportunity for clarity. Because, like we said, the internet if full of sources for the data. If, among these black protesters, there are those who love the truth, they may react to the facts with, “Oh, I didn’t know that before; that changes what I think.”

That is what should happen among civilized people.

If acceptance of the truth doesn’t happen for all, then among the unaccepting there are a couple of possibilities. One is that individuals personally have experienced something really negative, and they have generalized that such a situation happens to everyone like them. If we’re willing to say, “We understand your experience was bad. You shouldn’t have had to go through that. We’re willing to work on training and on improving the system to correct that so others don’t have to experience what you did. But can’t you see, from the data, that your experience was an anomaly and not the common experience?”

To some people, changing their point of view, even in the face of facts, is difficult. But if they really want society to be better—more civilized—then they must be accepting of truth. We all must.

If they prefer to remain angry, ignore facts, insist that the story of racism in America—and especially among cops—is what they claim it is when reality is otherwise, then they might just be race baiters. People trying to stir up anger and hatred for their own power-seeking agenda.

Until those people are willing to change, there’s no amount of non-racial-bias perfection we can live or think or do that would be perfect enough for them to admit we’re not all racists. And a blog post isn't complete enough to cure what ails them.

I’m still puzzled by those who use violence against innocents as a way of persuading the public to come join their side. This is true for terrorists of any stripe. Do they think that blowing up women and children, or using sniper fire against police officers is going to make us say, “Hmm, maybe they have a point; they’ve persuaded me they’re in the right. They’re the kind of people I want as my leaders”?

I can only assume they really think, “If enough people fear us, they will cower and succumb to our rule.” But a free people, a civilized people, will not give in to evil. Our souls and the lives of our children and grandchildren depend on our not giving in to evil.

We will stop the evildoers, because we must. We prefer to stop them by persuading them to change their hearts away from evil. But that choice will be up to them.

[i] I wrote about the Ferguson situation here, and violence against the police here and here. You might also want to read The War on Cops, by Heather MacDonald.
[ii] This piece by Larry Elder is worth reading in its entirety. He also spoke about the issue at length on his radio program Friday and Monday. Larry Elder grew up in South Central Los Angeles, and he is black.

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