Fearful Cops and Gun Culture

What should I absolutely not do when visiting the USA?

Don’t get out of your car if you get pulled over by police.
by Charlie Knoles
(I have lived in 5 countries and am an Aussie expat in the USA.)

I was pulled over by a police officer while driving in Iowa. It was one week after I had arrived in the USA for the first time. I had accidentally made a minor mistake disobeying a traffic sign. Back home in Australia it’s considered polite to get out of your car and walk over to the police officer’s car and hand him your license* so he doesn’t have to get out of his seat. I wanted to be extra polite so I immediately jumped out of my car and walked towards his car while reaching into my back pocket.

I’m lucky to be alive.

If you come from a gun-free country like the UK or Australia you don’t have any natural instinct for gun culture. You don’t realize that police assume that everyone is armed.

Things got immediately serious. The police officer’s hand went to his weapon and I responded by dropping to my knees with my hands up. He yelled a bunch of things at me but my memory is vague because my heartbeat was suddenly pulsing in my ears blotting out all sound. I don’t know if he drew his weapon or not. I was staring intently at the ground, shaking and trying to project non-threatening vibes. My next memory is that there were three police cars around me and a bunch of cops who’d been called for backup. They were all keeping their hands close to their guns. After some time passed (a minute? 30 minutes? I have no idea) the tensions de-escalated and they told me to get up. I gave the officer my license and tried to explain why I’d approached him. It was completely incomprehensible to him that there was a place where people don’t fear cops and vice versa at traffic stops. It was as though I was trying to tell him that I came from Narnia and our cops were all talking animals.

I’ve spoken to several British people, New Zealanders, and Australians who have shared almost identical stories. They really need to put signs up in all major US airports.

Don’t get out of your car if stopped by police. They will assume you are armed and they might shoot you.

by Bill Null

As the country has gotten safer the police have become more aggressive. It’s now at the point where you are far more likely to die by interacting with a police officer than they are to die by interacting with you.

In 2015, out of the 980,000 police employed nation wide, there were 26 recorded cases of homicide against a police officer, 4 of which occurred during a traffic stop. By contrast, 1093 people were killed in the same year; more than half of which didn’t have a firearm, and 170 were completely unarmed at the time.

Policing in the US has never really been a dangerous job, at least not in comparison to other outdoor occupations. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the job of police and sheriff’s deputy as the 16th most dangerous job, right below grounds maintenance workers. That figure however, includes all officer related fatalities, including traffic and health related incidents. If you compare on-the-job injury rates, the numbers aren’t much higher.

Racists Losing Ground: Moral Flynn Effect?

I’ve been ‘debating’ with the new variety of racist who denies being racist. He claims that it isn’t his fault that he is prejudiced against blacks, because he believes their supposed inherent inferiority means they don’t deserve to be treated as equal.

See? He isn’t racist. He is just being realistic. It’s race realism.

Then again, I’m not sure this kind of racism is genuinely new. Your average Klansman or slave owner probably never thought of themselves as racists. They too surely thought they were being realistic. It was just the way the world was. The races were distinctly different. Some people were just better than others from birth. It requires no modern understanding of genetics to think this way.

Anyway, what blows my mind about this ‘realism’ is how unrealistic it is. This guy will point to a few facts and argue it proves he is right. Yet at the same time he will dismiss or simply ignore the dozens of sources of data that I offer. Then later on he will act like all that contrary info doesn’t exist.

It’s a strange cognitive blindness. In some ways, I think he is absolutely sincere in his unacknowledged racism. He isn’t being a troll. He just lacks any sense of objectivity. He simply cannot see what doesn’t fit his worldview. It is the ultimate form of political correctness. He doesn’t merely deny the validity or moral worth of what he disagrees with, for he denies its very existence. What isn’t politically correct in his mind has no compelling sense of ‘reality’ in his experience.

At times, I’d call this willful ignorance. But as I’ve come to believe, I doubt that such people have enough self-awareness to be willful about much of anything. It is so deep in their psyche that it isn’t a decision they make. Their brains are straight-up incapable of processing divergent information.

He is a perfect example of confirmation bias and the backfire effect, which according to studies does strongly correlate to social conservatism and prejudice. One of the saddest results of this is that it has been demonstrated that white people, when presented with evidence of racism, become more racially biased (and undoubtedly, along with it, more socially conservative).

I’d bet a similar pattern is even found with white liberals. It might be along the lines of how liberals who saw video of the 9/11 attacks became more supportive of Republican policies of War on Terrorism. Liberalism gives some protection against such reactionary stances, but even liberalism has a tough time resisting the persuasion of fear.

The difference is important, though, in that conservatives live in a near permanent state of fear that is just below the surface. This takes the form of a background sense of anxiety, a need for order, and a strong disgust response. It is why social conservatism isn’t just correlated to prejudice, but also repulsion toward rotten fruit and hypochondria.

It is also why social conservatives and racists have on average lower IQs. In the studies, it is shown that conservatives have less capacity for abstract thought and cognitive load. To put it simply, they can’t deal well with either complex thought processes or anything that demands too much simultaneous cognitive activity.

This is why conservatives prefer highly focused activities. Conservatives do have a talent for excluding things from their focus, what is called a thick boundary (and for some activities this is an advantage; e.g., surgery). This is obviously related to such things as racism and xenophobia, as a thick boundary also means excluding people from their psychological experience and social identity.

Categories seem more rigid to those on the political right, and racists embody this most clearly. They take reification to heart. An idea like race is never just an idea to them. It doesn’t matter to them that a scientific consensus has formed in support of the view that the folk taxonomy of races is a social construct, rather than a scientifically valid category.

Those on the political right are constantly complaining about liberal political correctness. I’m not saying that political correctness isn’t found on the left, but I don’t think that is what is fueling the complaint. There is an obvious component of projection involved.

I’m not being politically correct when I disagree with racists. I’m not denying the data they cherrypick. I simply point out that they are ignoring a lot of data and alternative interpretations. The data doesn’t speak for itself. There is nothing about the data that forces one to become a racist. Prejudice is what we bring to the data, not what the data proves.

I’ve often argued with racists that I’m not arguing for any particular position. I don’t have a dogmatic ideology to defend, as does the racist. I’m open to multiple perspectives. I’m even open to genetics and culture playing a role, but I’m also open to there being a complex interplay between those factors and everything else, from epigenetics to environmental conditions. Anyone who has to defend a preconceived conclusion and deny all that contradicts it isn’t taking the issue seriously on its own terms.

The problem is there isn’t an even playing field in such ‘debates’. The average non-racist is more intelligent than the average racist. It isn’t even about education, as even when confounding factors such as education are controlled for, this IQ disparity persists. Even more well educated racists tend to have lower IQs than those of comparable education levels.

The ironic part of this is that this phenomenon is largely environmental. As Stephanie Pappas over at Live Science explained:

“People with lower cognitive abilities also had less contact with people of other races.

“”This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice,” said Hodson, who along with his colleagues published these results online Jan. 5 in the journal Psychological Science.”

So, interacting with those who are different not only decreases prejudice but also increases intelligence. The two are inseparable. This supports the argument for the Moral Flynn Effect, rising cognitive capacity parallels rising moral capacity, for both depend on brain health and mental development.

The other irony is that it is low IQ racists who are prone to dismiss blacks because of their lower on average IQs. The two demographics are similar, as both demographics have higher rates of social conservatism. The hatred racists feel toward blacks probably is closely linked to an awareness of their similarities. It’s the reason my working class grandfather hated blacks. It’s why so many groups in American society have clung to their group identities, of course seeing their group as better than all others.

Social conservatism also correlates to lower economic class. When one lacks economic security, a sense of group solidarity becomes all the more important, be it solidarity of race, ethnicity, religion, or whatever. Furthermore, the conditions of being on the poorer end of the scale are less conducive toward optimal brain development. The lower classes are more likely to have nutritional deficiences, to live in food deserts, to miss meals because of lack of money, to be exposed to toxic environments, to experience more social stress and child abuse, etc. Studies again and again show the massive impact this has on the developing brain.

An example of this is that social conservatives, both white and black, have stronger support for spanking children. Studies have shown that spanking children correlates to lower IQ. I’m not sure the causal link is proven, but it seems plausible that the regular stress of being hit by one’s parents could cause stunting of cognitive development. It is known that other forms of stress have a direct causal impact on brain growth.

Sure, poor minorities get hit the worst by these dire conditions. But it’s not as if all whites are middle and upper class. Poor whites show all the same kinds of cognitive issues and social problems.

Racism is a bit different, though. The more overt forms of bigotry are more common among the lower classes. Yet, even when poverty is controlled for, racists still show lower IQs. Other aspects of the social environment are just as important as poverty. For example, white flight to the suburbs and later gentrification created the conditions of low diversity, the very factor most closely associated with prejudice. What these wealthier whites share with the poorer whites is this racial homogeneity of their respective communities, as even poor whites tend not to live around as many blacks, poor or otherwise.

On the opposite side, it doesn’t take wealth to make someone more likely to be socially liberal as an adult. It only requires a diverse environment in childhood, especially in the context of a large peer group. The more friends a child has and the more diverse are those friends the more that the child will likely be socially and cognitvely challenged, which is to say that later on they will more likely be less racist and more intelligent, specifically fluid intelligence that includes abstract thinking skills.

When dealing with racists, you are on average dealing with people who have less cognitive capacity. They aren’t pretending to not understand what seems obvious to the non-racist. They really don’t understand.

Dogmatic ideology and groupthink are heuristics. They are ways to simplify thinking. When someone has less capacity for complex thought and abstract thought, they need to rely more on heuristics. A lower IQ racist doesn’t treat people as individuals, which would require greater cognitive load than they are capable of. Instead, they just have to see the outward physical features and apply the appropriate ideological category. This allows for easy pre-formed responses to complex realities.

The Moral Flynn Effect gives us some hope. Even the average conservative has a higher IQ than in the past. They are also less overtly bigoted. I think there is a connection between the two. Racism, if it is to continue to decrease, will have to lessen across generations. Those who are racist right now will likely remain racist, but their children will on average be slightly less racist than they are. This is particularly true as the younger generations move into more diverse urban areas.

However, there are other factors moving in the opposite direction. Some police departments are intentionally refusing to hire anyone with IQs that are too high. This means that they are purposely selecting for police officers who will be more prejudiced. Research has also confirmed that police with less education are more likely to abuse their authority and to support violent tactics used in their departments. It is disturbing to consider that the average police officer has an IQ lower than that of the average secretary and the police profession has an IQ range about the same as that of auto mechanics.

It’s unsurprising that one of the results seen is all the data showing that police have racial biases, which they act on (e.g., more likely to shoot an unarmed black person than an armed white person, and this with the data showing whites are more likely to carry illegal weapons). I’m willing to bet the higher IQ officers act in less biased ways. The problem is that policing plays right into racist beliefs. Racially biased cops arrest more blacks even for crimes whites commit at higher rates. Then racist whites point to this arrest data as proof blacks are more violent and criminal.

An interesting point to consider is that studies show, as lower educated police are more abusive, lower educated and lower IQ people in general are more abusive. Most hate crimes are racially motivated. I’m sure lower IQ racists are on average more likely to be violent and criminal, or at the very least more condoning of the violence used against minorities (both private and state-sanctioned). Stand-your-ground laws, for example, have been shown to increase the number of blacks who get legally killed and the number of whites who get away with such murders. Of course, social conservatives, in particular the most racially biased, are fine with this.

There isn’t much we can do about the present generation of racists. The best response is to promote the factors that decrease the dynamic of low intelligence and high prejudice. For certain, we should make sure that the most important positions in society are filled by the most intelligent people, even as we seek to raise up the intelligence of the entire population.

I disagree with race realists that IQ is genetically determined. Even the average low IQ of racists isn’t simply a fate we must accept. Racists are as much victims of their environments as are the minorities they are racist against.

* * * *

Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes:
Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact
by Gordon Hodson and Michael A. Busseri

Do Racism, Conservatism, and Low I.Q. Go Hand in Hand?
Lower cognitive abilities predict greater prejudice through right-wing ideology.
by Goal Auzeen Saedi

Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice
by Stephanie Pappas

Intelligence Study Links Low I.Q. To Prejudice, Racism, Conservatism
by Rebecca Searles

Liberal or Conservative: Study Finds Childhood Influence
Did you talk back to your parents? Were you fearful or focused?
by U.S. News

White People Are Fine With Laws That Harm Blacks
The futility of fighting criminal justice racism with statistics.
by Jamelle Bouie

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science
How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.
by Chris Mooney

High IQ = Liberal, Atheist, Monogamous
by James Joyner

Can Someone Be Too Smart To Be A Cop?
By Katie Rucke

Too smart to be a good cop
By Razib Khan

Police Brutality and Deadly Force; How Bias, Power and Lower IQs Kill
by Thomas Parisi

Ferguson And Keeping High-IQ Folks Out Of The U.S. Police Force
by Gary Robinson

Do You Have A High IQ Score And Want To Be A Cop?… Forget It!
Submitted by SadInAmerica

Modern IQ ranges for various occupations
By IQ Comparison Site

Average IQ by occupation (estimated from wordsum scores)
by Audacious Epigone

The Impact of Higher Education on Police Attitudes Regarding Abuse of Authority
by Cody Webb Telep

Use of Force in Minority Communities is Related to Police Education, Age, Experience, and Ethnicity
by Christopher Chapman

State Violence For Hire And Profit

Nicole Flatow, in a recent Think Progress article, brings up the topic of recent developments in police power. Police officers increasingly moonlight for private corporations, a practice that had previously been banned in some places.

This is put into new light with the emphasis on how pervasive has become police brutality. Most Americans didn’t realize how little oversight exists. The police are in the position of policing themselves, which generally means that the problems of the system get ignored by those in authority and hidden from public view.

There is no official data collection in place to even determine how many Americans are regularly killed by cops. The federal government claims to not know and demonstrates no concern about this self-proclaimed ignorance. I find that disturbing to the extreme, especially in an age when the government is keeping massive data on almost everyone and everything. I’m not sure if I’m bothered more by the fact that the government is probably lying about what it knows or that it might actually not know and not want to know.

“Individuals employed as police officers typically carry their police powers 24 hours a day in their jurisdiction, whether they’re on the job or not. That includes the power to arrest, use force, and the power to shoot. But they are explicitly hired to use this power “off duty” when private firms contract with them to perform security work.”

It is a strange world where public officials with the full authority of the state can moonlight as security for corporations. It demonstrates the thin line between state and corporate power. The revolving door between big gov and big biz isn’t just about politicians, regulators, lobbyists, and corporate management. State violence is for hire and that should concern us.

“When the St. Louis officer stopped Myers on the street, he was working a second job for a security company. The vehicle in which he followed Myers was marked with the name of the company, not a police car. And scenarios like this are increasingly common. Police officers are desirable for private security jobs precisely because they carry their training and police power wherever they go, and many police departments encourage their cops to take on secondary employment, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminology professor David Klinger explained to ThinkProgress.

“At least in most major cities and counties, officers are typically required to have those jobs cleared with the police department, which may set its own rules about how and when cops can take second jobs. This means police departments consent to have officers acting as law enforcement officials in these other capacities, Klinger said.

“In some cities, police departments even set up a database in coordination with local employers that officers can access if they want to work extra hours.”

This type of thing brings back the historical memory of the bad ol’ days of the Gilded Age. The labor movement and other movements fought against often violent force being used to oppress dissent and protest. This was part of a broader use of force. At one time, private security companies employed more field agents than did the federal and local governments.

These and other companies not unusually worked closely with the government officials. It went hand in hand with political corruption and crony capitalism. It was also an even more violent time when public transparency and accountability was almost nonexistent. We should worry about our society drifting back to old kinds of oppression.

This is even more distressing as the America has increasingly become a police state and a militarized empire. The violence used toward other countries always gets turned back against the citizenry at home. This is inevitable, but patriotic propaganda has blinded Americans for far too long. It is the same difference if our military guarantees easy access to cheap foreign oil for big biz or police departments guarantee state violence for big biz back in the states.

Oppression and violence is the same no matter where it happens. There is either freedom for all or freedom for none, a simple truth that can never be repeated too often.

“While officers may be subject to the same criminal rights and liabilities regardless of who they’re working for, firms may be subject to different rules and different levels of civil liability. As the New York Times explained in a 1989 report on the phenomenon, “These private forces .. are not bound by all of the regulations and civil liberties concerns imposed on the public police to protect both complainants and defendants. Yet by hiring off-duty city police, these companies gain access to the power of arrest and the mantle of official authority that other agencies lack.””

Reform happened over this past century. It happened for good reason.

“When officers are working second jobs for which they have gotten approval from their departments, they typically still wear their police uniform, as the St. Louis officer was when he shot Myers. This means that individuals perceive these cops as being on duty even though they are working private jobs. In many instances they are. At one time, New York City didn’t like the look of this perception, and prohibited officers from wearing their uniforms while working in the private sector, and also banned them from working in their own precinct. In fact, until the 1960s, New York City banned “moonlighting” altogether. But the practice of officers taking second security jobs is now exceedingly common. And today, NYPD oversees the “Paid for Hire” program.”

It is long past time for a new era of reform. Or failing that, what other option is left in the fight for freedom and justice?

John Bior Deng: Racism, Classism

This post is some commentary that initially was a part of the post John Bior Deng: R.I.P..  So, my thoughts here are about the social context of a white officer shooting a black homeless guy.

 – – –

Racism is very central to this topic, but it’s mixed with classism… and the two can’t be entirely separated.

Would Bohnenkamp aggressively confronted a clean-cut white guy in a business suit if that person had dropped a bottle?  Probably not.  Would Deputy Stotler have shot a clean-cut white guy in a business suit if he was holding a knife after being beat up by a homeless black guy?  Probably not.  If this case had been investigated by an all black (or even just a mixed race) group of officials instead of an all white group of officials, would they have written a different report about the justification of a white guy shooting a black guy?  Probably so.  If Deputy Stotler had been a black guy who shot Bohnenkamp because he was beating up Deng after disobeying his commands, would racism have been considered more seriously by the all white investigators?  Probably so.

People constantly complain any time race is brought up, and it’s almost impossible to explain racism to someone whose racism is unconscious.  We’re all prejudiced in various ways.  It’s just human nature.  Are these racism deniers ideologically motivated?  Are they being disingenuous?  Or are they some combination of naive and ignorant?

Polls show that a large percentage of people believe that racism is an issue in the US and that a large percentage perceive racism in themselves.  Think about that, and then consider that the extremely racist people are the ones who are least likely to admit to it (even on a poll).  Research has even proven people are racist.  It’s mostly unconscious, of course… even for those who are aware of racism.

Psychologists have studied in great detail how people form social identities, how people create a sense of belonging, and how people exclude those who are different.  Humans (like any other animal) identifies with those who are most similar to them.  Studies have shown people tend to have spouses and friends who are like them.  People tend to help and hire those they can relate to.  This is commonsense (which just so happens to be supported by science).

Even if a police officer intentionally tries not to be racist, he is still going to profile.  It would be difficult to do his job without profiling.  If Deputy Stotler hadn’t profiled Deng and Bohnenkamp, he wouldn’t have been able to act.  He had limited information and had to make a quick decision.  He was forced to simplify these people in front of him into stereotypes according to his cultural biases and past experience (we all do this all of the time and research shows that first impressions don’t easily change).  Anyways, he isn’t going to stop in that moment to ask himself whether he is being racist… but it’s obvious in hindsight that his judgments were influenced by various prejudices.

I don’t know how such implicit racism can be changed.  Maybe it never can be fully ended.  Still, there seems to be something worthy in at least just being honest about it.

Let me go into more details by citing some sources.

I was listening to an interview of Dan Ariely who is the author of Predictably Irrational.  He pointed out one particular statistic which is significant.  Different type of people were tested on honesty.  Police officers only came out as average on honesty (meaning they’re no more trustworthy than the rest of us), but police officers perceived themselves as being more honest than others (which implies that officers are better than average at ignoring, forgetting, and/or rationalizing away their moments of dishonesty).  So, if the police are as honest and dishonest as the rest of us, then what is the norm (and shouldn’t we expect officers to be above the norm)?  Here is an article about the commonality of dishonesty in everyday life:

Dishonesty in Everyday Life and its Policy Implications by Nina Mazar and Dan Ariely

My point being that the police aren’t above the typical self-deceptions, rationalizations, and situational morality that are common to all of humanity.  The police aren’t, by virtue of their profession, therefore moral exemplars for all of us to blindly trust.  We should question the actions of police as we would question the actions of anyone (be they rich or poor, black or white).  Therefore, in an incident involving the police, the witness acounts given by the police should be given no more weight than the witness accounts by the general public (but I’m willing to bet that most investigations do give weight to the former).  The question of honesty vs dishonesty is very relevant to racism because there isn’t as much overt racism these days, but racism still has great influence on us as individuals and on society as a whole.

Here We Go Again by Charles M. Blow

It doesn’t have to be that way. Most Americans know that racism is an issue in this country. The question is how much (that’s where the arguments start) and if — and to what degree — that racism animates critics of the president.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in January found that 71 percent of whites and 85 percent of blacks think that racism in our society is at least somewhat of a problem.

How much discrimination is there? The world may never know, but we admit that we misjudge it.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted in January of last year found that 60 percent of whites agree that they underestimate the amount of discrimination that there is against blacks and 59 percent of blacks agree that they overestimate the amount of racism against them. How can we measure truth when everyone’s twisting it?

A better question might be how much racial prejudice are people aware of and willing to acknowledge.

An ABC News poll released in January asked, “If you honestly assessed yourself, would you say that you have at least some feelings of racial prejudice?” Thirty-eight percent of blacks answered yes, as did 34 percent of whites.

Then the question becomes whether this racial prejudice plays a part in the opposition to the president. Again, it’s impossible to know, but a 2003 study by Rice University researchers and published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies offers an interesting insight into its potential to be present: “One of the greatest challenges facing black leaders is aversive racism, a subtle but insidious form of prejudice that emerges when people can justify their negative feelings toward blacks based on factors other than race.” Sound familiar?

I put in bold a very important insight.  On the Iowa City Press Citizen online comments section, people constantly talk about taking care of the problem with public housing on the South side.  It just so happens that many black people happen to live in that neighborhood.  It’s useless for people to deny racism because most biases work unconsciously.  Going by the statistics, I feel particularly mistrustful of anyone who outright denies racism.

The Deng case has to be understood in the lager context.  America, obviously, has a long history of racism which lingers on.  However, the larger national context relates to the local context.  Iowa City isn’t just mostly white but also mostly upper middle class (I’ve heard it’s the highest concentration of educated people in the US).  At about the same time Deng incident, another supposed homeless guy (who was white) died by falling from a construction site.  What became clear was that some people considered the homeless to be less worthy than other citizens.  Some people even expressed happiness that there was less scum in the world.  It was questionable whether the other guy was even homeless as he was a local guy with family in town who may even have been working at the construction site, but the paper labelled him homeless and so he officially was.  To be poor, homeless or simply a minority is to stick out in this town.  You’re inevitably going to get more attention including attention from the police.

The racism/classism issue became even more clear with the news reporting (and online comments) about violence in one part of town.  Relative to many places, the violence was extremely minor and it was only a few troublemakers who were causing most of it.  But, to many Iowa Citians, this was a crime wave that was destroying our entire world, our safe little haven.  The blame was rather distorted because people don’t bother to look at facts, but fear without facts just makes some people feel even more certain (and makes them louder) about their opinions.

The problem that was focused on was public housing.  Despite the fact that public housing is based on laws set at the state and national level, people wanted to blame the evil liberals on the city council.  I find that rather funny.  Last year, 2 white professors were charged with sexual misconduct (both which led to their suicides) and at that time the evil liberals at the university were blamed.  It’s always the liberals fault in this town.  Furthermore, last year a white banker was caught stealing money which led him to kill himself along with his family and a white mother killed her children.  Did any of the fear-mongerers now complaining about the poor and homeless ever complain last year about the crime wave of upstanding white citizens?  No, they didn’t.  Did the people now arguing for a curfew for teenagers argue for a curfew for middle-aged people?  No, they didn’t.

This is a topic that could be written about endlessly and deserves much deep consideration and analysis, but I’ll end it for now.  For more of my thoughts, the following are some blog posts of mine inspired by these recent local news events:

Officer Shoots Homeless Man: Comments

Homelessness and Civilization

Cultural Shift: Generations, Race, Technology

If you wish to study the issue of racism for yourself, Wikipedia always a good place to start (as always check out the links at the bottom of the Wikipedia pages):

Racial profiling

Race and crime in the United States

Race and inequality in the United States

And here are some interesting articles about unconscious prejudices:

Scanning Brains for Insights on Racial Perception by David Berreby

Harvard’s baby brain research lab by Roger Highfield

The Implicit Prejudice by Sally Lehrman

Researchers Try to Cure Racism by Brandon Keim

Officer Shoots Homeless Man: Comments

My local “newspaper” has an active community of commenters, and I must admit I rarely read the paper version.  To tell you the truth, I find the comments online more interesting than most of the articles.  There was a homeless man shot by a police officer and it attracted many comments including my own.  Since the paper allows users to also blog, I wrote my first post about some of these comments.  Even though this is more local news, I’ll also post it here since it applies to humans in general.  If you follow the link, it will bring you to the post where there is discussion in the comments section.

Posted 7/29/2009 10:30 PM CDT on press-citizen.com

Recent events in Iowa City have got me thinking and so I’ll write my first blog post here. I normally blog on Word Press, but this topic directly relates to the articles and comments on the Press Citizen that are about the police shooting of a homeless person. Even though I don’t comment here that often, sometimes a topic captures my attention and some of the self-righteous comments annoy me so much that I feel compelled to respond. I just can’t let mean-spirited and ignorant statements to go unchallenged… although I realize I’m mostly just wasting my time. 

I’m not a liberal softy who believes judgments are never justified. I’m fine with a righteous attitude as long as it serves an empathetic sense of compassion, but righteousness serving it’s own purposes is serving no good purpose at all. Righteousness seems rather infantile when it’s used to exclude certain groups of people and make oneself feel superior. So, self-righteousness is one of the few things that makes me feel righteous in turn.

Certain topics really draw out some ugly comments. In the articles about the shooting, some people weren’t even trying to hide their gleeful joy that a less-than-worthless homeless person had been removed from the population. It’s just mean. I find it very strange how some people are incapable of comprehending that the homeless are people too and not rabid dogs to be shot down. Why is it wrong to care about people who’ve had difficult lives? Do these people want to dismiss the homeless because they don’t want to accept their common humanity, don’t want to accept that they could easily end up in the same situation? It’s easy to be righteous when you’re life is relatively easy and when you’ve been fortunate enough not to have hit rock-bottom, not experienced the extremes of suffering.

Also, there is all kinds of ignorance. Many want to portray all homeless people as mentally ill drunks invading from the Big City who come here simply to cause harm to people and property… . The homeless get lumped together with all of those black gangsters taking over Iowa City and incidents like this get lumped together with every criminal activity that happens downtown. It’s hard to take these kinds of opinions seriously, but sadly the people who voice them take them all too seriously. People were stating reactionary opinions with no basis in facts, and they’re ready to condemn the homeless guy even though he is conveniently dead and unable to give his own view. The homeless guy is automatically guilty and the police officer is automatically innocent. Oh yeah, and the bar patron is a good Samaritan by hassling the homeless to the point of starting a fight that ends in death. People were coming to conclusions about it before the police had even collected all of the witness testimony.

And then there are the people who always try to dismiss the views of others or make every discussion into black and white conflicts. Why can’t there be multiple perspectives? Why do we have to jump to ideological conclusions before the facts come in? Why if you question anything, you must hate America, the troops, and the cops? Why can’t I care about everyone and not pick sides? Why is the life or rights of one person worth more than another?

It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about genuinely caring about other people. I’m truly appreciative of the cop trying to do the right thing as is true of most people in the world. Still, that isn’t any reason that the public shouldn’t question the facts and the interpretation of the facts. Also, what is wrong with seeking to improve police procedure so that more lives can be saved in the future? The problem is that many of the commenters don’t want certain lives saved. Isn’t it a good thing to suggest that violence should be the very last option. Guns, of course, should still be an option for the police… but when dealing with a man with a knife who wasn’t near anyone at the moment a taser would probably be more appropriate. At least, let us have an open discussion about it.

This kind of issue is just another thing that depresses me about the world. I wish more people would stand up to such mean people. I know it’s tiring to respond to such comments, but it tires me more to think of people spreading their hatred and bigotry without being challenged.