The Damage Done By Ignorance: The Public And The Police

At some points in our lives, most of us become “experts” on why people do what they do.  We witness people doing things that, on the surface, seem inexplicable or badly done. We drive by a road repair crew consisting of eight guys, all with shovels, seven of them, either talking to each other or giving directions to the one guy actually patching the hole.  “Ah!” we say to ourselves, “the union at work again.” Maybe so, maybe not. 

We don’t really know, but that doesn’t stop us from speculating.  And most of the time, it doesn’t really matter, because we’re not going to do anything about it, anyway.  But sometimes it does matter, because our speculations and judgments can impact on the lives of others.  One group that’s regularly impacted is the law enforcement community. 

Without exception, every time a person is shot by the police, the issue of “training” is trotted out, as the underlying culprit.  The police profession is painted, with a single stroke, as run by amateurs and brutes, who are always on the lookout for people to victimize.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Lack of “training” has nothing to do with the tragic loss of life, involving cops and civilians.

Early in my consulting work, I was engaged by a large, suburban police department to look at a variety of issues, amongst which, was their training.  I suggested that it would be important for me to go through the training in order to see what was helpful and useful, as well as what was extraneous and useless. My request was granted (I participated in classroom instruction, but not the physical fitness training – I was too out of shape to punish myself). 

Part of the training, and perhaps the most intensive was in understanding the use of firearms – the legal, the technical, and the moral aspects of having an instrument that could take a human’s life.  I want to zero in on one exercise that profoundly changed me, and my understanding of a police officer’s life.

Picture yourself in a dimly lit room, about 10 – 12 feet from a wall with a very large screen on it.  You have what looks like a standard issue handgun, and your instructions are to react to the scenario that comes up on the screen.  You’re told that your weapon shoots a laser, and that the technology connected to the screen will produce feedback on every aspect of the encounter you will be having. 

The first scenario comes up – on the screen, a car has been stopped by you and you are walking toward the driver’s side telling the driver to put their hands out of the window.  You tell the driver again, and stop about halfway to the car.  There is no response to your commands.  Your stress level is thru the roof, and you can feel the weight of your gun in your hand.  In a flash, the car door is flung open, and an individual wheels around, faces you and shoots.  You’re not sure exactly when, but sometime in the last few seconds, you discharged your weapon.  The lights go on, and the instructor grabs a printout, which shows that you were late to fire, and took a fatal shot to the chest.  The lesson:  You Took Too Long To Decide To Discharge Your Weapon.  You get two more opportunities, involving a robbery in process at a convenient store, and a small group of gang members walking toward you, with one of them waving his gun and talking unintelligibly.

You fail two more times and are “killed,” as are all the others in the training class.  So, what’s the point – you have to make a judgement call that can cost you your life, as well as another person’s.  (The numbers on this type of situation, are sobering.  It take 1.4 seconds to wheel around and shoot.  On average, it takes the person being shot at, 2.6, to 2.8 seconds to decide to shoot.) 

How would like to have to make this decision, in the line of your work?  Does this happen often, of course not.  But it happens, most often in highly visible situations which get a lot of media attention from people who have no idea of what they’re talking about. This is not confined to law enforcement.  This is embedded in the military, the intelligence agencies and many others.  And as we become, unfortunately, a more violent society, it may well become a part of many of our lives.

When you make your judgements about what people have done, or are doing, make sure you understand what drove their decisions, and what would drive yours.

January 30, 2023

4 Responses

  1. From another angle: that simplistic police training is conditioning the police to shoot first and ask questions to the bereaving families later, because it paints everyone as a deadly threat. What a barbaric culture we have.

    1. Hello Lionel, Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry and disappointed that you failed to read my blog about the Public and the Police, with any discernment. I said nothing in the blog about police being trained to “shoot first and ask questions later,” nor did I imply that the training was “simplistic.” There is nothing “simplistic” about being trained to make decisions about lethality, in a few seconds time. You ought to contact your local police department and ask if you could “ride along” and experience the demands and stresses on officers, 24/7. In my earlier years of consulting I was involved in informing the wives of officers that their husbands were ambushed or shot point blank on a routine traffic stop. Police are not waiting outside churches for innocent young black men, so that they can follow them home and kill them. You’d also be advised to read up on FBI statistics on what percentage of black men are killed by other black men. The figures are staggering and are at the opposite end of the spectrum, of how many white cops, shoot black men. If you want to play a role in diminishing the deaths of black men, work toward radically lowering the number of black men, with criminal records (involving, in particular, violence) who are released time and time again, to commit murder and mayhem. You’d be well advised to do some research, and drop the platitudes and cliches.

  2. “If you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners corrupted from infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded, sire, but that you first make thieves and then punish them?”
    – Sir Thomas Moore

    Sounds eerily familiar and goes back generations. Few white men can crawl into the skin or mindsets of a people of color and grasp, understand or even care what they have been historically exposed to, but keep striving to rise up from it despite meeting harsher and deadlier resistance seemingly intended to keep them contained. You write about black on black crime. Few white people may understand the politics or the physics of their behavior, privilege rarely does and weaponized privilege in the wrong hands rarely will on the front-side. But you know that for every action in nature there’s an equal and opposite reaction. It’s not the 50s or 60s and we’ve gained some ground, but we’re losing some of that now because of a similar attitude of privileged mindsets. Black people also are not monolithic, we’ve fought long and hard to be treated fairly and it has not been an easy road to walk down. Many law enforcement agencies have continuously added white supremacists to their roll call rosters and like those wives who you sadly had to inform, there are Black mothers and wives being informed as well many where there was no weapon on the decedent, but killed for running away, or shot upwards 20+ times by a gang of cops. Why, because their adrenaline was hype? There’s heartbreaking stories on both sides with unimaginable victims.
    Justice hasn’t changed for the better. There are many good cops, but if the good ones say nothing, that’s not complicated, it’s complicity. We are far from the ideological stance of equality being a human right at birth foot is all. We’re still fighting for that, because even our civil rights are now being gutted, again.
    When people can’t look upon one another and see a fellow human being versus someone less than them, identifying someone who looks like you can be problematic because you’ve never been shown or told that you are important, relative, qualified, special, loved, appreciated, as good as, equal to because it wasn’t something anyone else may have felt you deserved, even in your own home. Such attitudes have no set expiration time and the psychology is over my head regarding law enforcement agencies and the way they police white communities vs areas where POC reside. But if even Black cops treat Black residents as white cops do, that’s a brand of psychology that needs to be investigated because I understand the fear at being stopped, being approached, being sure I do nothing to give a Blue uniform the impetus for them to fear more for their life than they think mine is worth that I lose mine for no reason. It’s as palpable as much as the words from the mouths of men with badges and guns. The dehumanization of a person by the cops isn’t a stretch, it’s well documented and perhaps your cops were on their best behavior during those ride-alongs.

    I hope there are many more good cops than the bad ones we’ve seen on video, but there are just as many bad ones with racist tendencies who have a badge and a weapon and will shoot because THEY fear for their lives, don’t care about yours or believe they can justify it. Ironically those are the gangs I fear most these days. I personally haven’t had any bad encounters, but all it takes is one rogue attitude weaponized.

    Other than my long vent, I often enjoy your writings. Thank you. Also, I hope my language wasn’t accusatory, historically white people always seem to comment on a POC not complying no matter their distress, mental issue or fears, they always negatively stress if they had only done a they were told thus that person’s death was justified. It’s truly demoralizingin in this current political climate.

    1. Hello Justd’fied,

      Thank you very much for your feedback, and for taking so much of your time and effort to communicate your feelings. For the sake of brevity, and I hope, clarity, I’m going to frame my reactions in the form of bullet points (no pun intended):

      — Everything I do, and say, is underpinned by one inclusive assumption: Every Situation You Find Yourself In, You Are Partially Responsible For. Whether it’s crime or poverty, failure or success, you played a role in creating it; and nothing will change until you take your ownership of your part. Success and failure are not meted out fairly. Someone, somewhere, has a greater opportunity than you, to partake in society’s goodies. You can either feel resentful or competitive – your choice.

      — There Are No Make-Ups In Life. Once you get screwed, you can’t change what happened. All you can do is grieve what happened to you, and move on. Forgiveness is simply a form of denial. All it does is keep you stuck with feelings that cry for expression.

      — There Are No Limits To Human Kindness And Human Cruelty. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I come from the children of the Holocaust. Early in life, I had the choice of living with bitterness, hate, and revengefullness; or working to accept the reality of evil, and its impact on me.

      — I Have No Capacity, As A White Man, To Get Into Your Skin And Understand What’s Happened To You. All I can do is hold myself accountable to living my core values. There is no trophy for suffering. My grandparents (and much of their generation) were emotionally and psychologically destroyed by State sponsored, anti-semitism, displacement, torture, and murder. I have grown up in the shadow of a cosmic horror show, and refuse to blame others, long gone, for what happened.

      — There Is No Country, No Job, No Profession, Nor Any Belief System, That Has A Monopoly On Bad People. They are literally, everywhere – thank goodness, not in great numbers. All you can do, is to try and minimize their influence.

      — Resist The Temptation To Become A Professional Hypocrite. Don’t get righteously indignant about being treated as a member of a “monolithic” group, and then, turn right around and apply the label to people you don’t agree with.

      Best regards, Morrie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *