Sunday, July 10, 2016

This White Guy Has Questions About All Those Police Shootings

Police officers comfort each other at an Dallas
area hospital after a sniper killed five officefs
Thursday night during a Black Lives Matter
 demonstration. Photo by Ting Shen/
Dallas Morning News.  
Here we go again with the deaths of black men during encounters with cops.

Even worse was the violence we saw in Dallas Thursday night when that sniper opened fire on cops who were protecting peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Five officers died.

It just goes on and on in such a sickening fashion.

The whole week made no sense. All these good people dying for no good reason.

As is always the case in these too-often mass killings,  most of the nation was shocked, supportive, and wanted to help, but also felt helpless.

Unfortunately, again as always a few people took the tragedy as another opportunity to Not Help. There's always a few morons to make a situation worse. Thank goodness they're not in the majority.

As you no doubt heard on the news, this latest episode all started with  the deaths of two African-Americans during police calls this week. One in Baton Rouge, one near St. Paul, Minnesota.

Understandably, the nation erupted in protests because of this new batch of sorrowful shootings of African-Americans who were not doing much of anything wrong to begin with.  Black Lives Matter organized demonstrations in dozens of cities. The demonstrations were all largely peaceful.

I'm a totally naive white guy, so I hope somebody can answer some questions that came to my mind during this terrible week.

Question 1. Please explain and put in context and the reasons behind the all-too-frequent incidents of black males dying at the hands of white police officers.

I have found some facts that partly help, but still, it's all so unnerving.

We know from the Washington Post that nearly 1,000 people died in police involved shootings in 2015. Most of those shot were wielding weapons, were mentally ill or suicidal, or ran when officers told them to stop.

Four percent of those who died in police shootings during 2015 were unarmed black men, the Post says.

That doesn't sound like much until you realize, as the Washington Post did, that black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police in 2015.

Says the Post:

"In the majority of cases in which police shot and killed a person who had attacked someone with a weapon or brandished a gun, the person who was shot was white. But a hugely disproportionate number -- three in five -- of those killed after exhibiting less threatening behavior were black or Hispanic."

OK, there's obviously some sort of racial problem going on here.

In the Minnesota case this week, the state's governor, Mark Dayton said:

"Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and the passengers, were white?......I don't think it would have. So I'm forced to confront, and I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront, that this kind of racism exists."

Question 2. The officers involved in the deaths are not KKK white hood wearing cross burning bigots. But there seems to be some sort of terrible racism going on. What's up?

I have the displeasure of knowing a couple awful racists/bigots. I never hear even these asshats saying black guys ought to be hunted down and shot.

Which surely means police aren't hunting down and killing black men for sport. Were many of us white guys - some of whom became police officers - sort of semi-subconsciously instilled with the notion that African-Americans are somehow "scarier' and "more of a threat" than white guys?

Does that make some police officers more ready to shoot a black guy?  Regarding the death of Philando Castile last week in Minnesota, the lawyer for the cop (who is Latino) involved said he was reacting to the presence of Castile's gun rather than his race. (Castile had a conceal carry permit, and had the gun with him but did not threaten officers with it.)

Would the cop have reacted to such an extreme had Castile been white? Quite possibly, I think.

 If so, how do we erase this ingrained, perhaps rather involuntary racism? Or do a small minority of police officers just plain hate African Americans?

Beyond that, there almost alwasy seems to be acquitals when police officers get in trouble for causing a death. Fair justice or is something wrong with the judicial system too? I don't know, but it's worth asking.

Question 3: Is this issue with black men dying during encounters with cops a new thing, or has it always been going on?

Obviously, we've been hearing more and more about these shootings in recent years. But how long has this been going on? Decades? We probably weren't aware of these white cop on black man shootings until everybody suddenly had a smart phone with a camera in their pocket.

Castile's girlfriend posted the immediate aftermath live on Facebook, which ensured no corrupt cop could erase her video. (That sometimes happens, though I have no idea whether that would have happened in this case.)

Are all these cameras bringing a long-standing but "quiet" crisis to life?

Question 4: Isn't it possible to be both pro-cop and pro-Black Lives Matter?  I am.  So why do some people think the two ideas are mutually exclusive?

I'm stating the obvious here, but most cops are incredible people. It's an unbelievably tough, dangerous job, requiring life and death split second decisions.

Many police departments are excellent, but none are perfect. They're run by humans, after all. All cops are human, so they can  make mistakes.

Isn't pointing out that there are too many incidents in which white cops kill black men in a way supporting cops? Isn't that in part an effort to improve policing in the United States? Don't we all want our great police forces to be even better?

On The Daily Show the other night, Trevor Noah said it best:

"You know, the hardest part of having a conversation surrounding police shootings in America, it always feels like in America, it's like if you take a stand for something, you automatically are against something else....

"But with police shootings, it shouldn't have to work that way. For instance, if you're pro-Black Lives Matter, you're assumed to be anti-police, and if you're pro-police, than you surely hate black people. When in reality you can be pro-cop and pro-black, which is what we should all be."

Question 5: So why do some so-called leaders fan the flames of division when we have a terrible week like the one we just had?

As note, there are always asshats out there. The biggest meme among these idiots who are so-called political leaders is that Black Lives Matter wants all cops dead.

It seems like there's a competition among these merry band of asshats to outdo each other with their outrageousness.

Perhaps the winner of this sweepstakes was Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, who had this to say about the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas that ended in that fatal sniper attack on the police who were protecting the protesters:

"All those protesters last night, they ran the other way expecting the men and women in blue to turn around and protect them. What hypocrites!"

In other words Patrick is so stupid he thinks that the demonstraters hate all cops and should just protect themselves. How the hell did he get to be lieutenant governor?

Another question for the top brass and union chiefs of all the cop shops around the country: When someone criticizes the actions of a particular police officer, will you please stop getting your panties in a wad and saying that these criticisms are attacks on each and every police officer out there?

Here's one response, as noted in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

"'Gov. Dayton's extraordinary presumptive conclusion that the tragic incident in Falcon Heights was motivated by race is the height of political malfeasance that could lead to a miscarriage of justice, if not more violence,' Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association said Friday."

Yeah, we don't know exactly what was in the officer's head, but Governor Dayton was right to at least consider some form of innate racism a possibility.

I have to repeat and emphasize police officers have incredibly tough jobs and sometimes have to make life or death decisions in milliseconds.  Mistakes are inevitable.

But it's the job of the citizenry, and investigators, to hold our public servants accountable. Did a particular officer do anything criminal? Or should we beef up training?

These aren't questions that indict every police officer in the country, many of whom do amazing work. Including on the behalf of racial minorities.  So, union bosses and police chiefs: Will you quit ordering us to stop asking questions already?

Question 6: Are we, the citizenry supporting the police enough through our tax dollars? If we're indeed stingy, do we share the blame?

 I know you get what you pay for. Is one reason for these police shootings inadequate training? Are some cops not adequately trained to handle highly charged situations when guns are around?

Do they also have training on how to deal with those subtle and not-so-subtle racial undercurrents that seem to stew in some (most? all?) jurisdictions?

That takes money.  And time. And commitment. Are politicians too ready to embrace trying to do things on the cheap and not pay for adequate training and policing? Are taxpayers, who understandably can't pay all of their income for services, also trying to get police services on the cheap?

Are we paying in the long term with lives so we can save a few bucks in the short term?

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