Saturday, November 29, 2014

13 cold, harsh truths most people are unwilling to accept

I mostly compiled this list from various Reddit comments, but I did write a few of the entries myself.

  1. Just because it’s not your fault doesn't mean it’s not your responsibility.
  2. There is no promise that the person you love will ever love you back, nor that the person who loves you now will always love you.
  3. There is not someone for everyone.
  4. Having a serious disease or disability does not make someone a good person, entitle them to perpetual sympathy, or render them immune from criticism.
  5. Not every soldier, veteran, policeman, or fireman is a hero.
  6. Not all of you are special, and half of you are below average.
  7. You are not able to do anything you want with your life. There are some things you can't do, even if you put your mind to it. The sky is not the limit. Your personal limit is directly proportional to your intelligence, drive, charisma, ability to network, genes, environment, and a variety of other factors which may or may not be under your control.
  8. Accordingly, you should not always follow your dreams.
  9. Not all body types are beautiful. That’s okay.
  10. America is not a democracy. That’s good.
  11. Sometimes, it’s the size of the dog in the fight.
  12. Nuclear is the safest, cleanest and most efficient way of generating electricity.
  13. Some truths make you feel badly, but it’s still important to seek, know, and say them.

Are white people morally obligated to "say something" about Ferguson?

First, read this article. Next, read my response letter below.

Dear “Race ya” blogger,

I agreed wholeheartedly with the first 75% of your post, and want to commend you for spreading insightful truths about such an important topic. That said, the last bit about Ferguson did not follow from the observations you made in the majority of the post. As a fellow white person, you asked me to consider an awful lot in that section that I’d already considered, without satisfactorily explaining how those considerations led to your conclusion. I’m now returning the favor with the same rhetorical device – not under the illusion that I’m introducing you to ideas you’ve not yet encountered, but with the intent to prompt a respectful and productive exchange of ideas from which participants and observers alike can benefit.

I’m asking you to consider how racism exists in degrees, not absolute binaries, such that pointing out how “America is a racist place to live,” without specifying just how racist of a place it is, is somewhat meaningless. Furthermore, I’m asking you to consider the possibility that, just as some white people may unknowingly underestimate the extent of that racism due to their privilege, other people may unknowingly exaggerate it, for a variety of complex social, psychological and political reasons. I’m asking you to consider whether constant suspicion of racism can lead people to attribute normal, everyday events that happen to people of all races – like being unsuccessful in their attempts to hail a cab – as proof of something that was not actually in play.

I’m asking you to consider that the existence of a degree of racism pervasive enough to warrant our attention and concern does not preclude people from simultaneously “playing the race card” in certain situations. While it’s absolutely true that “just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it is not there,” it is not always there in all cases. I agree that racism exists in many places where it is especially difficult for white people to detect, and that this is the most important message to spread; but, I’m asking you to admit that it is not “everywhere.”

I’m asking you consider the socioeconomic and cultural disparities which underlie statistics like “schools suspend black students at triple the rate of their white peers,” and, based on those disparities, consider how likely it is that black and white students commit equally many offenses worthy of suspension.

I’m asking you to consider that many defenders of Officer Wilson, and supporters of the decision not to indict him, truly sympathize with the justifiable anger bubbling over in Ferguson and elsewhere. And then I’m asking you to consider how even people with good cause to be angry can misdirect that anger towards innocent people. I’m asking you to consider that being unarmed does not render you incapable of doing serious damage to another person, especially when you are 6’5” and 290 pounds. Consequently, I’m asking you to consider whether killing an unarmed black teenager is truly incompatible with a claim of self-defense. I’m asking everyone involved to research the actual facts of the case before passing judgment about who is guilty of what, so that the due process rights in our constitution are not overruled by mob anger.

I’m asking you to consider whether all words can have racist and not-racist applications, including the word “thug”. I’m asking you to remember that very many people use that word and others to decry the violence and destruction at sports riots or rallies – especially for the particularly thuggish fans of Philadelphia sports teams.

I too am angry, upset, and striving to understand. I too consider myself an ally, and seek to be compassionate and empathetic. But I’m asking you to consider whether empathy requires you to put your life on hold for every racial saga that makes the nightly news; whether compassion is really incompatible with concurrent excitement over a great sale, or frustration at FedEx, or disseminating weight loss advice, or Instagramming photos of other topics.

I’m asking you to consider how there is more injustice in the world than any one individual can possibly pause to reflect upon, and how productive it is to mire oneself in perpetual woe because of this. I’m asking you to remember that at any given time, many parts of the world face injustices which exceed those faced by the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, making them at least as worthy of our attention, but that going about our own lives is not ordinarily seen as an indication that we don’t care about those places.

I’m asking you to question just how “particularly concerned” I would be over an incident of questionable police violence even if the bodies in the street did look like mine – as they often do. I’m asking you to consider whether terrorist attacks killing thousands of people are perhaps more of a “national fucking tragedy,” than the death of one kid in Missouri, especially when it is entirely possible that kid had it coming. I wonder whether the deaths of 4,000 civilians on 9/11 are perhaps more worthy of commemoration for reasons that have more to do with absolute death tolls than they do with racial bias. I wonder if the particular thing we ought never to forget is that the criminal justice system in this country is biased against blacks, not the murky circumstances of this particular story.

I’m asking you to realize that very often, our voice is NOT welcome in the conversation. I’m asking you to acknowledge that people can disagree with you without being immoral or afraid.

I am sad that such hatred and tension as Ferguson showcased exists in the world. I am sorry that Michael Brown is dead. I am not grieving, because I didn’t know the kid, but the people of Ferguson are in my thoughts. I am thinking about what all this means, grappling with challenging issues, and often unsure what to think.

But I feel no obligation to say any of that publicly, because the particular anecdote around which these people are rallying is not noteworthy enough of an injustice to require comment. Because if I want people to listen to me when I speak, I have to reserve my words for occasions that warrant it. Because I pick my battles, and when it comes to calling out people for the timing of their OK Cupid posts, you should consider doing the same.

(PS – 1030 of my 1278 Facebook friends are white, for a rate of 80.6%. I don’t think that matters, but to the extent that we do not see things alike, it’s not because my “number is closer to 99% than 91%.”)

List of recent police killings – caught on tape – that warrant more outrage than the killing of Michael Brown

(Bear in mind that this list is woefully incomplete, as it includes only those questionable shooting videos I happen to have stumbled upon during my online browsing, and is by no means a comprehensive database of such incidents).
  • January 1st, 2009 – Police officer shoots an apprehended black man lying on his stomach in the back from point blank range at a bus station. The officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but acquitted of second degree murder. Full video, with audio, can be seen here:
  • May 16th, 2010 – Police shoot a 7 year old black girl in the head, killing her instantly, within the first 6 seconds of a no-knock raid on the wrong house, without a warrant. They then tie up her father and make him lie in his daughter’s blood until they finish the raid. Two mistrials later, nobody has been convicted of any wrongdoing. The timing and audio of the shot was caught on video for the reality TV show “The First 48,” (there’s suspicion the raid only took place so that they could have some cool action footage for the show), so you can watch it here:
  • September 16th, 2010 – Police shoot and kill a drug addict armed with a golf club in the early seconds of a nighttime no-knock raid. The Weber County Attorney’s Office found no wrongdoing. You can decide for yourself here:
  • July 5th, 2011 – Policemen beat, taser and strangle a homeless man to death after a brief physical altercation, while he lies helpless on the ground screaming “I’m sorry,” “I can’t breathe,” “Help me!” and finally “Dad!”. Moments before the altercation began, a policeman is caught on tape saying “you see my fists? They’re getting ready to fuck you up,” before which time the homeless man had given the cop some attitude but showed no signs of aggression. The policemen then began beating the man with batons, causing a struggle that lasts about 25 seconds until the subdued man can be heard yelling “okay, I’m sorry!” and stops struggling. Over the next four minutes, the policemen taser him 4 times, beat his face with the front of the taser, strike him with their fists, and perform a variety of body-weight choke holds, eventually inducing a fatal coma due to “mechanical suppression of the thorax.” The video defies description, and you can watch it in its entirety here (physical altercation begins at about 15 minutes): A picture of his face in the hospital, days before his parents decided to pull the plug on his life support, can be seen here (though it’s not for the faint of heart). The officers were found not guilty on all charges this January.
  • July 1st, 2012 – 8 policemen standing in a ring shoot 45 bullets into a mentally handicapped black man armed with only a pen knife. The shooting is caught on dash-cam video, which shows that the officers had time to deescalate the situation, and that the man never comes within 3 meters of an officer. No charges are filed against any of the officers. You can watch it here:
  • September 14th, 2013 – Police shoot into a crowd, trying to hit an unarmed and mentally disturbed man who was throwing himself in front of traffic in Times Square. They hit two bystanders. Assault charges are filed…against the unarmed man, for supposedly causing the situation in the first place. The policemen face civil lawsuits but no criminal charges.
  • April, 2014 – Police break up a house party, and when a 19 year old girl tries to drive away with three other people in the car, an officer jumps on the hood of the car and shoots her 4 times. He claims it was self-defense because she was going to run him over, but multiple witnesses say he jumped on the car trying to get it to stop. The seconds immediately preceding the shooting are caught on dash-cam, in such a way that it’s pretty easy to see what must have happened. The Grand Jury decided not to indict just a few weeks ago.
  • July 17th, 2014 – Police put an asthmatic, obese black man, whose only crime was being peacefully uncooperative, in a chokehold until he yells “I can’t breathe!,” goes into cardiac arrest, and dies. The entire incident is caught on video. The grand jury will release its decision of whether to indict in a few days.
  • August 5th, 2014 – Police shoot and kill an unarmed black man in a Walmart when they, following a tip from a concerned bystander, mistake the BB gun he was attempting to purchase as a gift for his son for an actual rifle. The man committed no crime. Surveillance video catches the entire incident on tape, and appears to refute the officer’s claims that the man – who was talking on the phone at the time he was shot – knowingly defied Officer’s orders to drop the weapon. Nevertheless, a grand jury declined to indict the officers after a month-long investigation. You can watch the whole incident here:
  • November 22nd, 2014 – Police shoot black 12 year old Tamir Rice while he was holding a toy gun they mistook for a real gun. Surveillance video shows they shot him immediately after leaving their patrol car, and shows no indication Rice directed the toy towards them. You can watch that video here:
Each of these incidents were met with local outrage, and some received brief national publicity, but nothing like the sort of extended media drama unfolding in Ferguson. Further examples of unjust police shootings in recent years that lack video proof can be found here, here, here, herehere and here. The last one happened 2 days ago on Thanksgiving, when an innocent, unarmed black man was shot in a stairwell for no apparent reason. Overall, policemen kill 10 times as many American residents as vice-versa.

I have only two pieces of commentary to add to this list. The first is a question for those protesting the recent developments in Ferguson, Missouri: don’t each of these videotaped incidents offer a much clearer example of unjustified and unnecessary police killing – often with racial overtones – than the murky circumstances surrounding the death of Michael Brown? And as such, might it have been a more productive expenditure of our awareness-raising efforts to focus on one of these injustices instead? If we're going to go "all-in" on just one of many examples, shouldn't we choose that anecdote pretty carefully to ensure it's actually an instance of the injustice we seek to highlight?

The second is a question for those lamenting the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and getting defensive about accusations of broad, systemic bias in the criminal justice system, on the basis that it's plausible Michael Brown had it coming: might you be missing the point? Does the possible or even probable innocence of Officer Darren Wilson really permit our society to sidestep the uncomfortable but necessary discussions about racial bias in the criminal justice system? And even apart from race, don't incidents like the ones above occur entirely too often, with the culprits far too rarely being held accountable?