Thursday, December 4, 2014

What is the Real Problem and Can it be Fixed?

The news that the Staten Island grand jury failed to return an indictment in the death of Eric Garner has come only a week after the Ferguson, MO ngrand jury's failure to indict policeman Darren Wilson. As aspect of these cases that hasn't been getting enough attention is the training the policemen involved in these cases had received, as well as their personal beliefs regarding race, among other things. Eric Garner communicated his distress, and at any time, the police officer who was choking him could have released his hold. Was the police officer even paying attention? Listening?

A blogger I follow, Daughter Number Three, published an interesting and probing post last week about the Ferguson case, but I suspect it could apply as well to Eric Garner's case.  I've reblogged her post below:

An (Unreaonable) Explanation of Darren Wilson's Actions

I've spent way too much time reading transcripts from the Darren Wilson grand jury. Ezra Klein's summary and comparison with Dorian Johnson's testimony (and Chris Hayes's on-location interview with Johnson) provide a somewhat clear picture of what happened, if you keep one important thing in mind.

First, watch this three-minute video of an August police shooting at a South Carolina gas station. I wish I could embed it here, but CNN won't allow that. But it's crucial to watch it.

Then listen to how the white state trooper in that shooting saw that situation:

"I pulled him over for a seat belt violation," [trooper] Groubert can be heard saying on the tape. "Before I could even get out of my car he jumped out, stared at me, and as I jumped out of my car and identified myself, as I approached him, he jumped head-first back into his car."

"I started retracting back towards the rear of his vehicle telling him 'Look, get out of the car, let me see your hands.' He jumped out of the car. I saw something black in his hands. I ran to the other side car yelling at him, and he kept coming towards me. Apparently it was his wallet."
Does that match what you saw on the video? (And remember the way the whole situation got started: the "seat belt violation" was the driver removing his seat belt just as he was about to park in a parking lot. Ooo, danger, Will Robinson! Kind of like jaywalking on Canfield Drive.)

Both this South Carolina trooper and Darren Wilson are badly trained and/or paranoid about black men hurting them. They don't see what a reasonable person would see. People with guns in their hands are more likely to think other people also have guns. Black boys are perceived as older than they are, compared to white boys. Whites see blacks as having super powers in terms of strength and not feeling pain. And statistically, a civilian is much more likely to be killed by police than the other way around.

Darren Wilson backed his car almost into Brown and Johnson, and then couldn't get his door open because he had pulled so close to them. He was angered by that and grabbed Brown through the window. But Brown is both larger than Wilson and standing up, while Wilson is sitting down. Brown doesn't want to be pulled in and struggles with Wilson. And because of Wilson's paranoia he perceives enough danger to pull his gun -- which was the first fateful moment.

Then he pursued and shot Brown for no real reason, because he thought Brown was a danger to others as Brown had been a danger to him. It has implicit bias written all over it.
...the same part of the brain that activates when we feel fear, threat, anxiety or distrust also is at play when Caucasian participants viewed African-American male faces versus Caucasian male faces in the race portion of the landmark Implicit Association Test. ...subjects who demonstrated more bias against African-Americans, as measured by the Race IAT, had "matching higher amygdala or fear reactions to African-American male faces."

"Nationwide, statistically significant samples show that 70 to 87 percent of Caucasians in the United States demonstrate bias against African-Americans on the Race IAT," Papillon writes.

More known "shoot/don't shoot" studies show that the overwhelming majority of players -- less so trained law enforcement personnel -- made more mistakes and fired at unarmed African-Americans than Caucasians.
It's good to hear that trained law enforcement personnel are less likely to make this type of mistake in a shoot/don't shoot study. But clearly, less likely to is not the same as unlikely to.

Wilson's testimony is riddled with phrases that show his bias. Brown had the face of a demon; his 6'4" 280 pounds seemed like Hulk Hogan relative to Wilson's 6'4" 210 pounds; he was "bulking up to run through the shots" like a superhero or a mad bull.

The difference between Darren Wilson and trooper Sean Groubert is that Groubert had a camera rolling on his dashboard, and it showed that he had no reason to shoot. He was fired and has been charged with aggravated assault. I hope he's found guilty.

Oh, and Groubert's victim, Levar Jones, is alive to tell his side of it. That matters, too.


The city of Seattle has dealt with its own police-use-of-deadly-force issues, and as a result has entered a consent decree on reforming their policies. A former U.S. attorney wrote in today's Star Tribune to describe some of what caused it and the measures they are taking:
Now, every aspect of reform must be reviewed and approved by the federal judge and his appointed monitor. This ensures independence, helps insulate the process from political and budgetary pressures, and increases public trust and confidence.

New policies and training on using force, dealing with the mentally ill, and biased policing were developed. A Community Police Commission, made up of a broad cross-section of community members and police officers, was created to oversee the changes and foster positive dialogue. The parties are in the process of agreeing to and measuring outcomes. One significant benefit: There already is formalized collaboration with the mental health provider community, and all dispatchers and officers have received training on how to deal with people in crisis.
Sounds like the beginning of a plan that should be adopted everywhere.

1 comment:

Daughter Number Three said...

In some ways the Garner case reminds me of the St. Paul skyway arrest of Chris Lollie, where a black man is being confronted for no good reason by a cop, and another cop comes in and escalates the situation to violence.

Lollie, I'm glad to say, wasn't killed, though he was tased. Garner is a bigger guy and the cops in his case were smallish; Lollie is average size and one of the cops in his case was much larger. Another thing to wonder about in the dynamics of the situations.

My posts on the Chris Lollie case