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On Ferguson and fear - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Zoethe

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On Ferguson and fear [Aug. 21st, 2014|11:52 am]
Zoethe
I remember the first mass hysteria about child endangerment: the news was filled with stories about razor blades and needles being pushed into apples and candy at Halloween. Parents were urged to check all of their children's candy before allowing them to eat it, and to discard anything that hadn't come packaged from the store.

That was the end of caramel apples, popcorn balls, cookies, and brownies as Halloween treats. But it was all based on absolutely no reality whatsoever. No case of anyone accused of trying to poison Halloween candy has ever turned out to be true. And yet the notion persists to this day that hand-made treats are dangerous.

I also remember a childhood where we rode our bikes a long way to friends' homes, and no one thought anything about it. Where we slept out in the back yard in the summer and no parent felt it was necessary to stand guard over us. (Well, okay, my Gramma always fretted that we'd be kidnapped by "the Indians" or if it was harvest season "the Mexicans," but no one took her seriously on this or pretty much any topic.) Then came Code Adam and the fear that random strangers were just trawling the streets looking for small children to kidnap. And now there are kids who aren't allowed to walk two doors down in their neighborhood without an adult watching from the porch to make sure they arrive safely. Parents who allow their kids to ride their bike around the block alone are considered reckless or foolish or even neglectful by some.

And yet the incident of actual stranger abductions is only about 115 a year, and 60% of those children are recovered alive. So your child is statistically at much more risk riding in the family car than walking a few blocks to a friend's house. Yet we are so afraid of that uncontrollable factor that we instill fear into our kids. There are entire websites devoted to instilling paranoia in parents about all the danger their children are in if they don't keep them in sight every minute. We are so risk-averse that we smother our kids, all based on a fear hysteria that has nothing to do with real life.

Which brings us to Ferguson, cop killing, and cops who kill.

I don't think Darrin Wilson woke up on the morning of August 9, got in the shower, and thought, "Think I'm gonna go shoot myself a black kid today." But I do think he--and many, many cops like him--went onto the street with a mind filled with fear. The fear that cops get killed in the streets <i>all the time</i>. The fear that every confrontation, particularly with a black male, puts a cop in real danger of being shot, possibly with his own gun, and left to die in the streets.

And once again, this is fear hysteria. Last year only 33 police officers died of gunshot wounds, the lowest total since 1887. Yes, 157 years ago. In the 2000s police gunshot deaths have annually have steadily declined from about 50.

So far this year, police have killed over 400 people. And yet crime is at an all-time low.

Now, I'm not saying that the death of any officer is justified. It's always tragic when someone is killed in the line of duty. What I'm saying is that the perceived risk that is being instilled in the training of police officers in our very risk-averse and very bad-at-statistics world is leading to cops getting out of their cars already jangling with fear. And fear can burst into panic with very slight provocation. Being handed military-grade equipment to patrol the streets only increases the perception that this equipment must be necessary, so the fear must be real.

I don't think Darrin Wilson was out looking for a black kid to kill with impunity. I think Darrin Wilson got out of his car expecting an altercation, and whatever happened between him and Michael Brown, he actually did believe that he was in danger. I also think he made terrible decisions out of panic, and that those terrible decisions should not go without some kind of consequences.

More importantly, though, I think that police officers need to be trained to better understand that they are at relatively little risk from the general populous, and to stop treating the citizens they are sworn to protect like enemy combatants. The risk-averse panic mode is endemic in our country, and it needs to stop.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2014-08-21 04:10 pm (UTC)
amen
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[User Picture]From: veedub
2014-08-21 04:48 pm (UTC)
wow. i'm feeling a little of the trauma just from watching it on MSNBC, which has been covering ferguson intensively since the beginning. (bad dreams--the other night i dreamed i was at a football game or some other big group assembly, and a guy was pointing a rifle at me.) i can't imagine the dreams/nightmares undergone by people who are actually there or who have strong aka connections to the place.

it's encouraging to see that the police chief and the mayor of st. louis are apparently learning from the ferguson authorities' stupidity, not to do the same thing. this may only be clever politicking, but it's at least a bit more thoughtful than the apparent knee-jerk reactions of the locals and the county. it's almost as if the ferguson chief set out deliberately to make the situation as bad as possible. i do believe it's true that when you outfit police like soldiers they begin to think of waging war on the citizenry rather than being public servants and protector. yet more horrible harvest of the wars on drugs and on terror, which only serve to cause more terror. this militarization of police has got to stop. the USA is occupied territory now, and i don't know what it will take to get our freedoms back.

and i'm speaking from a bastion of white privilege. can't imagine what it's like to be black and have to deal with this shit all one's life. it doesn't take a whole lot of soul-searching to realize that i have been privileged as an immigrant from the UK as immigrants from many other countries have not. the quota system was still in effect in 1947 when i came to this country. and there was an agreement between the US and the UK that immigrants could retain dual nationality, so i could still travel on a british passport if i wanted to. and thus i have been privileged in ways that many native-born americans can never hope to be. (not to mention native americans!)

still, the turmoil in ferguson, as well as the shit that is happening worldwide, is deeply disturbing to me. all i can think to do is to burn the occasional candle and dedicate the merit of daily practice to ferguson, and express a hope for peace to all beings. not very practical, but better than ignoring the whole thing, as some are able to do. hands up, don't shoot...
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[User Picture]From: bunny42
2014-08-21 05:58 pm (UTC)
In the end, this all comes down to the advent of 24/7 media and the need to have something, ANYTHING, to film, expound upon, repeat, interpret and generally escalate, until how could anybody not believe that all cops are thugs and jackboots? We're fed a constant stream of things that go wrong in the world, even though the vast, VAST majority of things that happen in the world are not the way they're being trumpeted and portrayed. If it bleeds, it leads, right? Nobody wants to hear the good parts. Who can blame people for becoming somewhat paranoid, when all they hear about are the single incidents of violence or improper actions.

I'm not for a moment condoning the actions of the Ferguson police. However, I think people forget about the existence of a branch of law enforcement called Internal Affairs. Their job is to monitor and police the activities and behavior of enforcement personnel under their jurisdiction. IA in Ferguson has its hands full, right now. Do not for a moment believe that these escalations will go un-investigated and/or punished. People live in fear? Well, so do cops. I've been hearing talk shows, where police officers have been expressing their frustration at the image people want to have of them. Many have said they are considering turning in their badges, because this kind of disrespect and abuse isn't worth it. Maybe if the media were willing to provide some statistics on the number of cops who do get disciplined or fired for inappropriate reactions, then some of this would cool down. But that wouldn't be "newsworthy," would it.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2014-08-21 06:18 pm (UTC)
Except if you look at the record of IA investigations and how many of them have done nothing but declare the cop not to be blamed, it's horrifying. I was reading an article about it the other day, and it's worth reading:

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/08/what-i-did-after-police-killed-my-son-110038_Page2.html#.U_Y3WPldWSo

The impunity with which the police work, combined with the fear factor, is creating a very dangerous situation.
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[User Picture]From: bunny42
2014-08-21 07:43 pm (UTC)
Huh. That wasn't my experience when I was a law enforcement officer. We all lived in fear of Internal Affairs investigations. They were quick, thorough and ready to mete out punishment as needed. What they didn't do was blab their business all over the media. So, often, the public isn't aware of the final disposition of a particular case.

I've noticed that, when I read or hear about a spectacular case in the news, I almost never hear about how it came out. Seems like that part isn't newsworthy. All the roaring and screaming is over, and I guess nobody really cares, after that. Say there's a story about a hit and run driver flattening a bicycle rider. First-page above the fold news. Outrage over bike riders in traffic, as well as over careless drivers who hit bikers. Then poof. It's old news. Did they ever catch the driver? Who knows? Moving right along to the next sensational story. People are responsible for this phenomenon, not cops. But it's circular, because it riles up the public sensibilities, who demand more of the same, etc. Once in a while you'll come across a little weekly newspaper devoted to positive, uplifting news stories, but the paper doesn't last long. Nobody wants to read the good stuff. Somebody like CNN actually gets criticized for day after day coverage of the plane crash.
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[User Picture]From: sacramentalist
2014-08-21 06:44 pm (UTC)
Panic, or a need to assert dominance? I'm not so certain. I don't know him. But there's a growing rift between the two solitudes of the police and everyone else which needs to be addressed.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2014-08-22 02:02 am (UTC)
The two are not necessarily incompatible. When my dog is scared, she is aggressive and tries to be dominant.
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[User Picture]From: sacramentalist
2014-08-22 12:20 pm (UTC)
Your dog hates black people, too!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2014-08-22 05:30 pm (UTC)
My dog *is* black!

Amusingly, though, the one dog in the neighborhood that she *hates* is a big white Samoyed. His owner jokes that my dog is a racist.
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[User Picture]From: blessedrelease
2014-08-22 08:10 am (UTC)
I'd just like to point out that "the police" is hardly one, unanimous body. There are many law enforcement agencies and each region is very different. This means not only is each LEO a human, but they are dealing with different attitudes as well as different general experiences. This influences how they deal with a situation. I think this fact is being forgotten by a lot of people when discussing this. Any time you generalize "the police" you are grouping all the good and bad together, and generalizations are never fair.

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[User Picture]From: sacramentalist
2014-08-22 12:39 pm (UTC)
#notAllPolice ? ok, Andy Summers is a great guy, but Stewart Copeland and Sting are dicks.

My comment is about how there is a growing difference between LEOs and citizenry. We're seeing police officers can't distinguish demonstrators from rioters from reporters. But these LEOs have tanks. Unchecked power scares me.
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[User Picture]From: blessedrelease
2014-08-22 01:21 pm (UTC)
But LEO doesn't equal "police". There are several agencies that don't lways work together. Police, sheriff, FBI, State BI, border patrol, highway patrol. They all have their own chain of command, beaucracies, and for lack of a better word, cultures. It's not meant to be unchecked power.
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[User Picture]From: wilhelmina_d
2014-08-21 10:01 pm (UTC)
Wonderfully put!
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From: (Anonymous)
2014-08-21 10:20 pm (UTC)

*applause*

I'm actually using your posts and Ferrett's to try to teach myself to think. After a lifetime of being told "authority knows best, don't question" it's difficult without an example.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2014-08-22 02:03 am (UTC)

Re: *applause*

Gosh, thank you!
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[User Picture]From: usmu
2014-08-22 10:24 am (UTC)
Don't forget about the Satanists that were supposed to be everywhere, conducting human sacrifices. That was a "nice" one as well.

Whatever you think, however you feel about the man, Micheal Moore hits the nail right on the head when he contrasts the US and Canada at the end of Bowling for Columbine and blames a lot of the problems with gun culture on the culture of fear that seems to be part of the American psyche. This just another piece of that particularly nasty puzzle.

The disconnect between actual statistics and public perception is another thing that needs a lot of attention. It's not just crime, it's also about things like income disparity, immigration, it's just about anything. This is why populism, and all forms of pandering to public opinion, are so problematic. Specially when they're systemic. Most of the time it leads to decisions that have no basis in reality.

In other words: what you said. And more so.

Concluding: I'm quite surprised we managed to make it this far without ending up blowing ourselves up.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2014-08-22 05:33 pm (UTC)
Some days I sort of wish we'd just get on with it so the planet would be rid of our stupidity.
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From: anonymousalex
2014-08-23 02:52 pm (UTC)
We pay attention to life-threatening danger. It's a deep, deep survival instinct from the time where those who didn't notice the tiger quickly enough got eaten by it.

There's no benefit to playing the odds, here. Better to assume the stick is a snake and run (no harm, no foul) than to assume the snake is a stick (fatal snakebite), so this instinct has nothing to do with odds.

So if someone wants to get our attention, say perhaps because they want us to watch the commercial that comes on next? Well, the best way is to pretend you're a tiger. "The five items in your kitchen right now that could kill you! Film at 11."

So we watch because we nearly have to, and we don't absorb the odds, and why does anyone wonder why we think the world is much, much more dangerous than it is?

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: bunny42
2014-08-24 12:09 pm (UTC)
Interesting. You got to the same conclusion I did, but you gave the sheeple way more credit than I do. If it bleeds, it leads, to me, indicates a mass craving for sensationalism. The idea of instinct never entered my mind. Huh.

But yeah, either way, it comes down to 24/7 news reporting of anything awful. The soft stuff is ignored. The inevitable conclusion is that the world is going to hell. Every man for himself.
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From: anonymousalex
2014-08-24 12:38 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't know that I'm giving anyone more or less credit than you are. It seems to me that I'm just looking at the next question: why does sensationalistic journalism succeed? And I am not claiming that I've come to an original conclusion on that point.

On the other hand, this interpretation at least allows for the good spin conclusion that things are in fact much better than they seem. The bad spin conclusions will be left as an exercise for the reader. :-)

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2014-08-26 04:45 pm (UTC)
A good point, but something counterproductive at this point since it is getting people killed.
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From: anonymousalex
2014-08-26 05:52 pm (UTC)
I'm a bit puzzled by your response, which makes me think I wasn't expressing my point well. Because I agree that this is a problematic feature of people's psychology, yet you introduced that idea with "but," which makes me think you think I disagree.

Anyway, I don't. Disagree, that is.

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: noshot
2014-08-29 03:56 am (UTC)

I think the razor blade stories were invented so people would buy candy rather than make it.

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[User Picture]From: beckyzoole
2014-10-14 06:08 am (UTC)
Excellent post, one I agree with completely.
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