Archive - 2015

December 28th

A Brief Interruption

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Memo to the privileged: YOU CAN BE DUMB.

I'd love to continue the the Dumbass of the Year thing, but I need to take a pause in the wake of the Chicago police shooting and the Tamir Rice ruling to address the people who still think this isn't a problem. It's a problem. And the problem itself is a problem.

Because the problem is a multifaceted one, and it makes it easy for people to look at one facet, and use that to dismiss the entire problem. For example, in the Tamir Rice case, people will, as they have, seize on the "realistic toy pellet gun" and write the whole thing off. The grand jury made the right call because the gun looked real.

And it's true that it's a bad idea to play with a real-looking pellet gun. Because what can happen is in this case what did happen. But it's not ALL that happened, and that's why the problem is so pernicious and the denial of the privileged is so easy.

And by "privileged", I mean people that don't understand what I will henceforth call the YAD Rule of Privilege. Which states that "the system has not fucked me" is not synonymous with "the system is fair". If you don't understand this, then you think the system is fair. And if you think the system is fair, then when the system fails, you will blame the system last, if at all.

And Tamir Rice's death was a failure of the system. First, there was a call to the cops in the first place. What motivated the call? Well, sure, they saw someone with a gun. They also saw a black guy with a gun, which matters, because Ohio is an open-carry state, and it's not a crime to have a gun. And if it's not a crime to have a gun, why call the police? Because open-carry only applies to white people. And, more specifically, fat white dudes in camp. And let's not rule out the post-9/11 idea that people should abandon individual judgment and report everything, because the authorities can accurately determine what's a threat and what isn't.

Then there's the dispatcher, who didn't pass on the caller's reservations about whether the individual was an adult and whether the gun was real. What motivated that omission? Tough to tell. Might have been racism, might have been a more socioeconomic bigotry based on the area, might have been that they were shit at their job. Maybe they were shit at their job because of long hours because of underfunding, maybe they were just a bad dispatcher. Lots of possibilities.

And then there's the cop. Now, everyone's a little bit racist, and that's even more true of cops, who may start out a little bit racist and then, thanks to the very training and Supreme Court rulings cited in the Tamir Rice case, become even more racist. Here's how this works.

As an institution, police are trained to value their lives way, way more than they value yours. They're trained to respond with definite deadly force to perceived potential threats. That right there is gonna get a lot of innocent people killed, because not all potential threats are threats, and not all perceived potential threats are potential threats.

And culturally, cops are trained that black people are inherently more threatening and dangerous than white people. A lot of them come in believing this. A lot of it is reinforced on the job. Some of it is the classic triangle of crime, poverty/marginalization, and race. Add this to the mix and the loss of innocent life due to mistakenly perceived threat is going to impact the community seen as inherently more threatening. And that's why, in America, black lives don't matter.

But this is all complicated, interrelated stuff that explains why the system isn't fair. And if the system hasn't fucked you, and you take that to mean the system is fair, you're going to reject the complicated thing that contradicts your worldview in favor of a simpler thing that reinforces it. Real-looking gun. Stolen cigarettes. Wasn't polite enough. Had a criminal background. Owed child support. Whatever it is, it means you don't have to worry about changing the system, because the system hasn't fucked you. It's fucked other people. And other people don't matter.

And all of this, of course, is based upon giving Cleveland police and the prosecutor the benefit of the doubt and assuming there's no cover-up or fuckbotchery there. Which is more of an intellectual exercise on my part and not a statement of confidence in what happened.