Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Emotions or Facts in Death-by-Cop Sagas?


And... here we go again.

Two more black men killed by cops.  Terence Crutcher was killed by a white female cop in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Keith Scott was killed by a black male officer in Charlotte, North Carolina.

And, as has become de rigueur across a broad cross-section of America's moralists following such shootings, pained demands for an end to police brutality have been issued once again.

After years of watching our country lurch from one racially-charged tragedy to another, it has become apparent that we have five distinct reactionary camps:
  • Group 1.  First, we have the traditional, sleazy, white bigots, who mostly view blacks as likely deserving of whatever police brutality may be inflicted upon them. 
  • Group 2.  Second come those fact-seeking whites who want to analyze the actual events leading up to and precipitating the police shooting.  These people tend to infuriate groups 3 and 5, because fact-finding tends to be a relatively emotionless task, and requires some patience and flexibility in terms of the twists and turns our country's legal process can take.
  • Group 3.  In the middle sit America's photogenic white-angst and white-guilt crowd of generally young, generally suburban-raised, generally middle class whites who see racial reconciliation as a matter of emotion.  These folks claim to be kind-hearted, unless they're dealing with groups 1 and 2.  They see racism through an ironically racist prism of white and black.  Either you're grieving over the killing of black people, or you're hostile towards blacks.  If you're a hip Millennial, or a trend-follower, this is likely your group.
  • Group 4.  Fourth are America's growing cohort of  middle-class blacks who simply want the same things most middle-class whites do; they've got a job to keep, a mortgage to pay, kids to get through school.  They've got white friends, they try to ignore the bigots in groups 1 and 5, and they just want peace, just like their white friends do.
  • Group 5.  Then we have the traditional angry black bigots, who mostly view things the same way white bigots do, only with everything reversed according to color.  This is a particularly angry bunch, whereas the bigots in group 1 are generally smug, since history is on their side when it comes to discrimination.

If I've missed anybody, it's probably because you're part of groups 2 or 4 and you keep you head down low, and mind your own business.

For the rest of us, however, think about it:  Of all these five groups, which one - or ones - is/are the healthiest?

I believe groups 2 and 4 are the healthiest groups, because we we know that there are facts and processes to life.  We know emotions are volatile and unreliable.  We don't let the mainstream media dictate our worldview. 

We also know already that racism is wrong.  We don't need to hear sermon after sermon about how to love each other despite our cultural differences.  We work and socialize with people of various skin colors and we barely notice the differences.  To us, racial diversity isn't as scary as groups 1 and 5 believe it to be.  Yet we're also aware that radial diversity isn't as placid as group 3 wants it to be.  There are differences, after all.  But we're working to make those differences less onerous, punitive, and stratifying.

Indeed, how many black people want to completely obliterate their blackness?  Probably the same number as whites who want to obliterate their whiteness.  It's not being different that's a problem.  It's not agreeing on how we should be the same that's the problem.

Wait... "How we should be the same?"

Well, if we're going to live in a productive society, in which we share in the benefits of our society regardless of our skin color, don't we need to agree on a few ground rules by which we'll all abide?  Things like - oh, just to take one example at random - obeying the police?

We have white cops, black cops, Asian cops, Hispanic cops, and female cops, and male cops, and who knows how many other kinds of cops.  We have hard-working cops, and we have lazy cops.  And we have corrupt cops.  We have racist cops.

And then we have cops trying to tell somebody like Terence Crutcher to stop walking when they're attempting to interrogate him.  But Crutcher kept walking.  His hands were on his head.  He was a father to four kids.  He was active in his church.  He was black.  But he refused to obey the police.

Why did he refuse?  Instead, he walked slowly to his vehicle.  But it had tinted windows, and the police had no idea who or what was inside the vehicle.  His hands were raised, but how quickly could he lower them and grab something with which to attack the officers?

Is it my white privilege that sees how the cops would be concerned for their own personal well being at that moment?  The cop who killed Keith Scott in Charlotte for reportedly not following orders (to drop his gun) was black.  So my white privilege works for both white and black cops?

The hipsters in Group 3 immediately pounce on questions like that and accuse me of lacking empathy.  Racial justice depends on white empathy, according to the peaceable moralists.  But why should I be empathetic for a person who defies police orders?

And is "empathy" the right word here?  According to Merriam-Webster, "sympathy" would be more appropriate, since it's "the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else's trouble, grief, misfortune."  "Empathy" is "the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions."

But why should I want to share a person's experience of refusing to obey a cop?

By this point, our friends in group 3 would be fraught with frustration:  "But God tells us to mourn with those who mourn, and weep with those who weep!"  And sure enough, He does, in Romans 12:15.

But first of all, this is written for us in the context of both persecution and community.  In nearly all of the cop-involved killings of black men across America recently, in a variety of settings and scenarios, no court of law has found the officers guilty of violating any laws.  Is that persecution?  And if it is, why hasn't the President of the United States called for a sweeping reform of our Justice Department?

And in terms of community, the concept of law and order is an essential component of our ability to live in a productive society in which we share in the benefits of our society regardless of our skin color.  Didn't we agree on this just a few moments ago?

Let's not take Romans 12:15 out of context, but consider it in full:

Bless those who persecute you.  Bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but enjoy the company of the lowly.  Do not be conceited.  (BSB)

Live in harmony.  Don't be proud.  If a cop asks you to do something, do it.  If you're a cop, and you've no specific reason to be questioning a black man, leave him alone.

As for Crutcher and Scott, if these guys were white, how many of their defenders would merely consider their refusal to cooperate with the police more belligerence than persecution?  And how many cops go out of their way to kill black men?  Is this really an activity that police officers plot?  Have you ever met a cop who enjoyed shooting people, let alone killing somebody, no matter their skin color?

I'm sorry that Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott were killed. I'm sorry that the cops who killed them felt like they had to shoot.  I'm sorry for all four families involved.  I'm sorry that so many Americans consider these tragedies proof that a vile conspiracy of police brutality pervades law enforcement.  I'm sorry that some cops seem to be more trigger-happy than others.  I'm sorry that they don't perfectly execute every single traffic stop and investigation.  I'm truly sorry.

But do you know something?  Proportionately, considering the percentage of black men in America, and comparing that to the number of people cops shoot, black men die by cops in higher numbers than white men.  After five Dallas cops were ambushed earlier this summer, I wrote about how it appears as though there's something going on with this situation between black men and cops, but all we know right now are the numbers.  And they appear to indicate that, to a certain degree, the folks in Group 3 have a point

Nevertheless, pandering to platitudes and glossing over the facts will not reveal truth.  Ignoring the commands of cops will still likely get you killed.  Do black men ignore cops more than white men do?  Do cops feel more justified shooting a belligerent black man than a white man?  Does their definition and tolerance of "belligerence" vary by race?  Does the violence that wells up within the black community whenever a black man is shot have more to do with latent anger over other issues that have little to do with police brutality?  Is it just the trauma of a cop shooting that provides a tipping point?

These are the types of questions many whites in Group 2 are asking.

Some people - especially in groups 1, 3, and 5 - think we know the answers to questions like these.  But do we really?

We won't know for sure as long as we focus on emotion instead of facts.
_____

PS:  I tried to share this viewpoint of mine on a Facebook thread today regarding the Tulsa shooting.  This is how one young African-American replied to me:  Tim You are ignorant to African-American daily life. YOU ARE BLINDED BY WHITE PRIVILEGES, you'll never see the world we as BLACK MEN in America do, you should spend more time reading and shutting tf up instead of spreading your unwarranted opinions on a post that calls for empathy. And you wonder why we have a race problem, white men won't STFU and listen to the victims of these HIDEOUS AND DEPLORABLE crimes, instead "let's look at the facts" BITCH LOOK AT HUMANITY.


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