Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Talking to Journalists

A reporter from the New York Daily News asked some questions:
Hi Clayton,

Thanks so much for getting back to me, I hope your health progressively gets better!

I’ll send over a few questions if that okay with you… I really want to capture the increased incident of  police and armed black men. Activist seem to believe there is racism at the core of these incidents.

1.       What was your response to the shooting of Jemel Roberson two days ago?
I confess that I missed this.  The police officer clearly reacted too quickly and wrongly.

2.       Do you believe racism is something that is a factor in these shootings?
I think it is important to distinguish between racism and prejudice.  A racist would assume that a different race is intrinsically different or inferior, and often that is expressed as hatred.  Many people have prejudices based on race, sex, or other identities that may not be associated with hate.  There are times that those prejudices may have a rational basis when applied to unknown members of that group.  Let me give you an example.

Many years ago, I was walking home from college on a pedestrian path that was pretty isolated.  There was a 10 foot high concrete wall on one side, and a chain link fence with a stream and forest on the other.  Ahead of me about 50 yards was a young woman also walking away from campus.  There was no one else around.  Because I was a bit taller than her, I was slowly gaining on her as I walked this path.  After a couple minutes, I realized that she had increased her pace; soon, she was almost running. 

My first reaction was, "Why is she afraid of me?  I am a nice person; I will not hurt her.  Is it just because I'm a man?"  The answer, I am sure, was Yes.  Nasty prejudice.  But a rational prejudice.  She did not know me.  Effectively all rapists are men.  That means that men are 2x as likely to be rapists as people in general: unknown men are a disproportionate risk.  Few men are rapists; there were 124,000 rapes in America in 2015 ( in a nation of 160 million men, and because rapists are usually serial offenders, there are probably far less than 124,000 men who are rapists.

What if she assumes the worst about a man, and he is harmless (like me)?  She gets a bit of a cardio workout from trying to get away.  What if she assumes a man is harmless and he is a rapist?  The consequences may be quite severe.  So her reaction qualifies as a rational reaction to her prejudice.
Police officers are in a similar situation.  If they know that a black man that they are approaching is a criminal (based on previous interactions with that individual) they will respond one way.  If they know him to be harmless, they will not assume there is a risk.  But what about the unknown person?  A bit more than half of those charged with murder in the U.S. are black (, or about 4.5x disproportionate to the black population of the U.S.  (Victims are also disproportionately black; murder, like rape, is almost entirely within race).  Will a police officer assume an unknown black man with a gun is a threat to him?  Very likely, and based on the same rational prejudice that a woman in an isolated place feels when a strange man shows up in an isolated place. 

Adding to this fear is the widely perceived hatred of police from rap music, at least as it is portrayed in popular media.  Should this officer have waited until there was a real threat?  Yes, but when you afraid, in a very rapidly moving situation, it is easy for your fears to win the battle over your training.  Bad, but understandable.

Training methods also matter.  At one time, pistol targets in human shape were always black, for contrast.  There was concern that this might bias officers to regard a black target as a threat.  Today, most of these targets are blue, not black.  This is a positive change.

3.       What would say about the NRA’s lack of response to shooting like this ae. Roberson, Castile etc.
NRA is dominated by police officers and people on the side of the police.  They tend to avoid public statements on such cases, until the data is fully available.  Tactically erroneous, but unsurprising.

4.       Is there a divide between gun control and the 2nd amendment?
The decision DC v. Heller (2008) recognized that there are a number of gun control laws that are consistent with the Second Amendment: laws intended to disarm those at special risk to public safety such as felons, domestic violence misdemeanants, those subject to domestic violence restraining orders; the severely mentally ill.  Most of the currently popular gun control measures do not fit this framework.

5.       Is there anything else you would like to add that may be beneficial to this story?
The major victims of gun violence are black people, concentrated in cities with historically restrictive gun laws (Chicago, California, New York).  I think it no coincidence that these are the places where black people are at highest risk of gun violence.  Gun control does not cause it; nor does it prevent it very well, but gun control is cheaper than looking at the hard problems underlying this violence: lead poisoning (leaded gasoline, paint in older buildings), poor educational systems, poor or non-existent male role models.

Again, thanks so much! I’m hoping to have this story out in the next couple of hours if time permits for you.

1 comment:

  1. In some of these incidents of police interaction with black persons who are wrongly or rightly assaulted or shot black police officers were involved. This proves that prejudice can included those of the same race. The sad reality that the risk to an officer is so high because of the situation and if the "suspect" does anything to escalate the tension it can go bad in a second and even black officers are conditioned by experience to be suspicious. While I would never argue there are no racist cops, certainly the media and certain activists are blowing it out of proportion and over playing it.

    Everyone needs to understand even if you are being wrongly approached by a police officer you don't argue, insult, threaten or make questionable movements. If the officer is doing something wrong take it up afterwards. Sadly it seems black youth are being taught to argue and resist or not being taught anything so let their temper get the better of them with tragic results.