July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
Dear reasonable black friend:
I know you. Figuratively, and literally, and this is intended to address both. Perhaps we are not ‘best buds’ but we have a cordial relationship, and I respect your opinion, after all you are reasonable (neither pun, nor veiled insult intended). That is not something I intend to disrupt, so do not take offense at my response to your views. I do not aim to offend. My purpose isn’t even to convince you of anything or to attempt to prove you wrong. I merely am offering a reply because, well, I enjoy that sort of thing.
To elaborate, I enjoy debate. I’d rather say “I enjoy arguing” but “argument,” as the term is commonly used, is understood to denote something decidedly negative; more of a confrontation over disagreement rather than a discussion seeking common ground. The truth is “argument,” as in “making an argument in support of a position,” is sorely lacking in our society. We have plenty of talking heads, but they fail to express much in terms of arguments, and instead talk at each other or preach to the choir. Reasoned debate supported by arguments – that is something that has fallen by the wayside.
This is exacerbated by the omnipresent influence of social media. Our information sources, to include mainstream media, focus on superficial coverage of emotionally powerful tidbits, to the detriment of in-depth analysis and reasoned debate.
The former: It demands attention. It receives the all important interaction and feedback to “engage” the audience. It pays the bills. It is efficient.
The latter: no one has patience for that anymore.
Proper analysis and debate, i.e., argument, requires more than our technology-diminished attention spans and sound-byte driven buzzword culture can accommodate. It’s a bit more time consuming. I understand this perfectly. After all, I’ve been meaning to reply to your post for a while now, but work, life, and other pressing needs somehow always get in the way.
Perhaps this is why my posts aren’t nationally syndicated columns. It can’t be the quality of writing which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is extraordinary. It must be that my posts are simply not widely marketable as they tend to be a bit too long for most to read.
I believe the decline of meaningful dialogue (i.e., debate, argument, etc.) puts the continued viability of our “improbable experiment” in democracy at jeopardy. Democracy is based on the premise that reasoned debate, where no voice is silenced, will allow the best arguments to rule, as opposed to the tyranny of force and violence. Hence, we cherish our First Amendment and shun attempts to silence opposing views. It is easy to be the champion of free speech when the voices are in agreement; freedom of speech only matters when protecting voices of disagreement. Perhaps North Korea, or whoever is responsible for the threats that have apparently succeeded in silencing a movie through cyber-terrorism, should try to understand. And it is something that each of us here in the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ should take to heart.
But we must not simply tolerate dissent; we must be willing to listen and be open to the persuasion of reason. Again, as a reasonable man, I expect you agree with this: in any discussion our aim should be to allow the better argument to prevail, as opposed to defending our own turf at all costs. In other words, we must always remain open to the possibility that our own position is incorrect; we cannot assume a position of infallibility.
I do not wish to test your patience with an even lengthier introduction, but a few more words are in order before I get to the ‘meat’ of the ‘argument’ (if that is what this is). I salute your references to logical fallacies, which again indicates your commitment to reason. I can certainly appreciate this, as I have somewhat of a ‘professional’ affinity with logic, having taught Philosophy at San Jose State University. Logic, of course, is a branch of philosophy and I am well acquainted with the discipline.
I may also mention that I am a licensed, practicing attorney. Hence, I am somewhat of an authority on the law as well. This is not an attempt to bolster my credibility by waiving my credentials. But the enormous and ill-advised investment I made in law school should at least come with the fringe benefit of being able to point out: “Hey, I’m a lawyer!” Plus, I often note with a chuckle how frequently I see arguments overcome resistance when bolstered with an appeal to the authority of so-and-so, whom the public deems somehow more persuasive simply by virtue of status or name recognition. Much like a world-renowned violinist playing incognito in a subway, I feel I am an uncrowned king of blogs whose posts will languish in obscurity despite their superior content. Self proclaimed F-list celebrity™ I may be, but I lack the status to lend weight to my arguments simply because they came from me. Take my credentials for what they are worth, which may not amount to much, but perhaps it is still more than most who post online can lay claim to. I only hope you engage my points with an open mind, regardless of what ‘authority’ or lack thereof, supports them.
Appeal to authority, of course, is also an informal logical fallacy, as arguments should be judged on their own merits, not their sources. By the way, a fun way to point out logical fallacies is by including a link to www.yourlogicalfallacyis.com/appeal-to-authority (substitute the appropriate fallacy after the ‘/’; my favorite is the ‘Texas sharpshooter’). Please, use with discretion…
Now then, I suppose we agree that we are both against injustice (who isn’t?) and we are both committed to rational debate. The essence of critical thinking is not critiquing others (which I may be accused of doing now, but let’s not digress…), but the ability to critically assess one’s own position. As reasonable people, we must be open to the possibility that there are faults in our arguments; that our views may lack adequate support, in which case, we must abandon them.
Without further ado, I would like you to consider a few things. Consider the way the same events that led to the death of Michael Brown can be described in a variety of ways; each factually true (more or less) but with differences in focus and effect on the reader. For example:
“Unarmed black college-bound ‘gentle giant’ teen gunned down by white police officer.”
“Minutes after alleged strong-arm robbery, suspect is shot while assaulting police officer.”
Technically, both of the above statements are true (more or less). “College-bound gentle giant” is more-or-less a verbatim quote from a major news outlet. Unarmed black teen shot by white police officer is pretty much the exact phrase most major news outlets covered the events, as I’ve noted elsewhere. These describe things that can be considered true, as Michael Brown was 18 (teenager), unarmed, black, perhaps described as a ‘gentle giant’ by some, and perhaps college bound.
The second statement can also be seen as literally true, as the surveillance video depicting Michael Brown forcefully taking merchandise from a store and physically pushing and seeming to threaten the owner can fairly be described as “strong-arm robbery.” Eyewitness accounts agree that there was a struggle with Brown standing outside, leaning into, the police car. The physical evidence proves that the gun was fired in the vehicle, and Michael Brown’s blood was also recovered from within the vehicle. I discount any eyewitness testimony that states the officer was attempting to pull the 290 pound Michael Brown into the vehicle as pure nonsense that flies in the face of physics and reason. I find it much more credible that the reason Michael Brown was leaning into the window when the struggle was occurring was because he was assaulting the officer, perhaps fighting over his weapon, or for reasons unknown. It is simply not reasonable to interpret the sometimes contradictory eyewitness accounts and all of the available evidence otherwise.
A note on assault: it does not even require physical contact. That is battery. State laws vary, but battery is generally understood as the harmful or offensive touching of another. Assault is basically a threatened or attempted battery. Thus, if I raise my hand so as to threaten to hit you, I have committed assault. If I then actually do hit you, I’ve know committed assault and battery against you. If I move toward you in a menacing, intimidating manner effectively threatening you with imminent battery, I may well have just committed assault, too. For an example, see the video of Michael Brown moving toward the store clerk (at about 0:57) after he has already committed battery (at about 0:54) by pushing him, then threatening another battery with his aggressive manner to chase the frightened clerk. This simplified discussion is in the interest of brevity and with the hope that comments (should there be any) from would-be and actual lawyers will not start an annoying, nit-picking dissection of the elements of assault and other irrelevant technicalities. But I digress.
The point is, it can truthfully be said that minutes after a strong-arm robbery Michael Brown assaulted officer Wilson, whether during the assault and battery he (likely) committed while leaning into the window of the police car, or when he was moving toward the officer as he was shooting at him, as definitively proven by the blood trail on the ground.
Hence, both statements can be said to be factually true.
Yet the media focused on descriptions that more closely resembled the first. The narrative was of a white cop shooting an unarmed black teen. That’s what makes a better headline, because it is upsetting. It is so upsetting that it causes protests, and riots. It stirs our ‘righteous indignation’ as a reaction against abhorrent racism and basic unfairness. Precisely that is the reason why we should treat such headlines with an abundance of caution.
You say that the riots took place because “we are tired of the murder of our friends, our children, and our fathers being excused and swept under the rug.” If by this statement you mean that ‘we’ (i.e. the black community, as understood in the context of your post as written by a ‘reasonable black guy’) are tired of murder, by police – as the police are the ‘targets’ of the riots – of black men, I find your statement very troubling. Regardless of whether or not there are instances of excessive force, or even murder, i.e., intentional, premeditated killing, by certain individual members of any of the 18,000+ law enforcement agencies around the nation, I categorically deny and refuse to believe that “the police,” whatever that label is supposed to encompass, is set out to “murder” black men, and perhaps more disturbingly, that this is being excused and swept under the rug.
Of course, my beliefs are not legitimate arguments in and of themselves. However, I find it irrational to give credence to an argument on behalf of some cultural conspiracy against the black community (or any other group) contravening the myriad of safeguards in the American justice system, the most basic being public trials by a jury of peers, each of which, much like the Constitution itself, grows from and is thoroughly permeated by a fundamental distrust of government and prevention of tyranny. Individual instances of failure of an imperfect justice system do exist, to be sure. But I find this conspiracy theory even less credible in today’s day and age, where the headlines about an incident of deadly force by police state as the most salient features of the incident the identity of the ‘victim’ (versus decedent) as a black, college-bound, gentle-giant teen, and the officer is pointed out as ‘white.’ I might be more willing to listen to arguments about the CIA may or may not have conspired to allow crack cocaine to engulf primarily black neighborhoods. Some such secret conspiracy may sound more credible because, after all, the CIA deals in secrets. The justice system is public, transparency being one of those safeguards against government overreaching. For my part, I resist any unsupported and unrealistic notions of some grand design whereby the police are out to murder members of the black community, or any other group, no matter how emotionally compelling such theories may be.
You also state: “There are riots because it’s an increasingly disturbing trend that black people have lived with, and is a gross disrespect of what we stand for as humans and Americans.” While I agree that we probably share beliefs as to what we as Americans, and human beings, should stand for: namely, justice, equality, and all those ideals we routinely profess but often fail to live up to. But is there any such trend? And is it increasing? And what, if anything, does that tell us?
I do not care to get into statistics, and I do not proclaim to be an expert on that topic. Statistics can be misleading, but as a matter of fact, those quoted by Bill O’Reilly, of whom I am no fan as indeed I am not a right-wing Faux news apologist, are acknowledged by CNN to be true: whites are killed in greater numbers by the police than blacks. This, of course, is explained by population differences – and the opposing view argues that per capita, blacks are much more likely to face a deadly police encounter.
It is an oft repeated statement that statistics can be manipulated. I have no intention of doing so. I am willing to acknowledge the statistics that indicate that on the average, black people have more interaction with the police, to include deadly shootings, and there are likely various examples of demonstrable differences along racial lines with regard to law enforcement supported by statistical evidence.
But statistics do not exist.
They are just ways we choose to represent something else that does not exist: data. Data is simply our way of organizing the features of reality we deem to be relevant for certain specific purposes. If we look at statistics of deaths involving police shootings, we may choose to see race as a relevant feature. It is just one factor among many. Even if we acknowledge, as I did above, statistical indicators of disproportionate consequences and/or interaction with law enforcement along racial lines, that on its own is an insufficient indictment of the justice system or “the police” as such. Correlation is not synonymous with causation; assuming so is the ‘false cause‘ fallacy. There might be other reasons to explain why the statistics, if they are correct, are what they are.
For example, there might be a general anti-police attitude that is more pervasive in certain subcultures, which leads to more hostility toward and a higher rate of more significant consequences of encounters with law enforcement. I am not claiming that this is to, I am merely suggesting it as a hypothetical example to show how statistics do not necessarily establish causation, though they may indicate some correlation.
More to the point, even if statistics indicate racial discrimination (intentional or otherwise) in law enforcement, that should not be used to attack “the police.” As stated above, there are over 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country. Lumping all agencies into one lot, or even condemning any one agency based on an individual officer’s actions, is exactly the type of thinking we as Americans and humans should resist and fight against.
Individuals exist, unlike statistics. Their individual actions must be judged on the particular circumstances relevant to the incident in question. Whether officer Wilson acted wrongfully when he shot Michael Brown must be judged not based on some purported statistic indicating a hypothetical general notion of police injustice toward the black community, but on the facts that are available. Although I have reviewed as much of the evidence as reasonably possible, I am not prepared to unequivocally affirm that the shooting was completely justified, though I do lean toward that conclusion as it is more reasonable than the contrary. The evidence proves that there was a struggle in the vehicle, and it defies reason to accept any account claiming that the officer was trying to pull Michael Brown into the vehicle through the window. It is much more credible, and supported by physical evidence, to believe that Brown assaulted (battered) the officer, during which the gun went off and may have wounded Michael Brown, who then first fled, then subsequently moved back toward the vehicle and the pursuing officer (as shown by traces of blood on the ground), and was then shot and killed in the process. There are different accounts, some more creditable than others, based on which there is at least some support for the notion that officer Wilson was reasonably in fear of serious harm at the hands of a suspect he was otherwise legally bound to pursue, whom the physical evidence proves to have been moving toward him. That is enough to explain the use of his weapon as self-defense.
While this does not completely eliminate the possibility of inappropriate use of force, the inconsistent and discredited statement are not sufficient to establish the contrary conclusion. But, more disturbingly, sworn grand jury testimony also contains accounts of witness intimidation indicating that some whose testimony did not support the “hands up don’t shoot” version of events felt threatened by members of the community. These days, the focus is on a different witness who also appears to have been discredited, and whose testimony supports officer Wilson’s version (as does the physical evidence) of events. That, if true, is not nearly as disturbing as the intimidation experienced by a witness whose testimony does not comply with the mob mentality that is out to get an officer, a white police officer, at seemingly any cost.
The point is not to evaluate whatever evidence was made available to the public. Evaluation of evidence is not the role of the public; there is a system for that. The justice system should be transparent, but not ruled by popular sentiment. The point is for the public not to jump to conclusions, no matter how conveniently they may confirm our biases. I know the foregoing sentence presents itself as a convenient one to use against me. I simply discount any such attempt ahead of time, by simply pointing it out. Moving on.
You say: “I fight just as hard against the discrimination you are ranting about, don’t let the ignorance of race bating divide us.” I agree. Though your above statement refers to counter-examples of racism, etc., that is irrelevant. In any manner, we should not let ignorance, nor race divide us. As reasonable people, we should stand up for reason, and justice. We should engage in reasoned debate with an open mind. We should resist the urge to be swept into an emotional frenzy based on scant evidence (if any at all) of racism in the actions of one police officer, and worse yet, to allow outrage over one incident to cloud our judgment and cause harm to the general community and police elsewhere.
The actions of officer Wilson and any other police officer, right or wrong, should be judged on the circumstances of the act concerned. They should be treated and judged as individuals, not statistics. And so must the actions of that individual who coldly murdered two innocent police officers in New York just recently. Not only that individual, but the individuals responsible for the rhetoric that led to his actions. What has your outrage accomplished?
This is what the recent frenzy and racist rhetoric has led to. If I were to use similar rhetoric and appeal to righteous indignation, I would be justified in describing this rhetoric and those who perpetuate it as racist, with “The police” as proxy for white oppression preying on black victims, regardless of the race or even the conduct of any particular officer in question. I might also justifiably paint a more visceral picture with a statement such as: The blood of those innocent officers is on the hands of the agitators who perpetuate this narrative.
You state: “Instead of trying to find reasons to justify yet another murder of a citizen by a police offer, stand with us.” Read literally, I agree with you, as would any reasonable person. No one should justify murder by police. But, there’s the rub. Your statement is a conclusion. You are not examining whether the use of force was justified, be it Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or any other person who tragically died during an interaction with police, whether involving an assault of a police officer or while resisting arrest. Any loss of life is tragic, because all life is sacred, at least in my view. I will never celebrate death, even the death of an enemy. But not all killing is murder. In the interest of brevity, I will not elaborate on that point. So, although I can agree with the principle, I cannot agree with the application. I cannot jump to the conclusion that a murder occurred in either case, though I am open to it, given sufficient proof.
There is one thing we can both completely agree on. Those two officers killed recently in New York while they were minding their own business in their patrol car were innocent victims of a contemptible act. They were victims of a warped viewpoint that paints all police as evildoers. We can also agree that we need police to enforce the law and protect innocents, and if police engage in wrongdoing they should be punished. “The police” as such is not our enemy.
These days, the temptation to be swept away by emotions, especially in this social-media-created epidemic of confirmation-bias where our prejudices are ever more accurately verified and reinforced by personally targeted behavior-based material calculated to cater to our biases, is increasingly more difficult to resist. Precisely that is why I ask you to join me in making a statement against rash judgments and in favor of reasoned debate. I ask you to take a stand along with me to show that violence is not the rational way to resolve our differences, and to resist an “us versus them” mentality, by condemning the recent acts of a disturbed individual as well as any generalization vilifying “the police” and instead affirm that the rule of law, as much as freedom of speech, is one of our most cherished ideals, by posting the below 180 x 180 image perfectly sized for a Facebook profile picture in support of the innocent police officers gunned down by a crazed madman who himself used the recently publicized deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner as justification for his acts. Do it as an act of solidarity and affirmation of rule of law. Do not let divisive rhetoric win.