How Many Innocent Lives is a Police Officer Worth?

This is a very real question that we’ll have to try to answer in the near future.

Growing up, I had assumed zero.  I guess I was wrong.

I don’t like quoting stats because highlighting a single data point within a pattern can be misleading.  But 66 unarmed people were killed by the US police last year.  Up from 48 the year before.  I don’t know all of their stories.  I haven’t seen all the body cam footage.  But from what I have seen, something desperately needs to change.

I’ve known about the darker places of the internet for a long time.  I’ve watched the Yakuza chop fingers off, I’ve watched public beheadings in the middle east, I’ve seen military executions, and I even watched a Boeing exec get fucked to death by a horse.  I know what’s out there, but I don’t gravitate towards it.  When I watch, I see moments of weakness.  Moments of confusion.  Moments of darkness.  They inform, but they don’t inspire.  This year, I watched more footage of people being killed than any other year, and most of that was body cam footage from police officers.

I don’t watch them expecting to make excuses for the police or the people they’re pointing guns at.  I recognize that for all parties involved, it’s probably the most stressful moment of their entire lives and  people don’t always perform well under pressure.  What I try to do is understand what exactly is happening and how we could’ve avoided the loss of an innocent life.

In each video that I’ve seen, the person who was shot ‘reached’ for something.  Sometimes it was the waistband, sometimes the back pocket, but in every case, there was a motion that suggested to the police officer that they were drawing a concealed weapon.  That’s the moment where the officer went from pointing a weapon to taking an innocent life.  I think that’s a moment worth exploring.

I’ve never faced a situation like that before.  Perhaps it’s like pointing a rifle at a bear that’s getting closer and closer.  You don’t want to kill the bear, but you know that if the bear notices you, it’ll likely charge, and you’re unlikely to survive.  I always warn against making decisions out of fear.  It tends to use the least intelligent parts of the brain.  And I don’t think that analogy holds up anyways.  You can’t have a dialogue with a bear.  You don’t already have the bear in a position of submission.  You don’t have the other tools necessary to de-escalate the situation.  If that’s your state of mind in these situations, then they never should’ve let you out of basic training.  But that’s not what I’m seeing when I’m watching these videos.

I’m seeing people who lack the emotional stability to carry firearms.  I’m seeing people who have yet to grasp the value of a human life.  I’m seeing people grappling with their own issues while pointing a gun at another human being.  I’m seeing the fear that comes with a society who thinks everyone should be armed with deadly force.  I’m seeing a bad problem made worse with military grade weaponry.  I’m seeing a failure of training.  I see a corrupt organizational culture.  Worst of all, I see a problem that could be easily solved and that the police don’t seem motivated to fix.

All officers should be supported with an extensive psychological health program.  That starts with a screening process designed to keep the trigger-happy cosplay-commandos out.  Then it continues with ongoing evaluations and therapy.  We need to accept that the damage officers take out there isn’t just physical.  Rather than putting them through the shit and expecting them to sort things out on their own, we need to give them the tools and support necessary for them to stay healthy, inside and out.  If an officer watches his partner get lit up, or is first on the scene to something you think you’d only see in a Rob Zombie movie, we need to be there for them.  If that’s not something they can come back from, help them find something else.  And this all needs to be done by a third party which doesn’t have to answer to the politics of law enforcement.

The failure of training seems to be the one that everyone agrees on, including the police.  But it doesn’t seem to be working.  Perhaps I can make a few suggestions.  Don’t escalate the situation to the point where the person is so scared that they lose the ability to think rationally.  Don’t ask them to do something that might make them reach for something, when you’re going to assume that what they’re reaching for is a weapon.  I’d like to put that all under humanity 101 but here’s the real change I’d like to see:  If there are multiple officers targeting the same suspect, all with weapons-hot, wait until you can see an actual weapon.  You’re right, it’s only a split second between seeing the weapon and being shot at, but you should be trained to make that split second decision properly.

Mistakes will still be made.  Waiting until you see the weapon might mean a few extra dead officers.  But it’ll also mean that just about every single unarmed civilian who was murdered by a police officer this year would still be alive.  That’s the trade off.  A few brave souls who put their lives on the line so that the innocent may live in peace.  That’s what you signed up for.  That is your glory.  That is your honor.  Own it.  That is the proud and noble history of law enforcement.  What we’re seeing now is gang violence.

But that’s not going to change anytime soon.  Especially with the commander and chief excited about deploying more military grade equipment into local municipalities.  I can’t help but think that the general anxiety that the country is experiencing plays into this as well.  Protests, riots, terrorism, political instability, cultural divisions… maybe everyone is a little on edge.  There’s gotta be something else we can do.

I often say that if both people are looking for something reasonable, compromise is just a lack of imagination.  I think this qualifies.  Police officers would like to not be shot by a suspect who may or may not have a concealed weapon.  Suspects who are trying to comply, would like to not be shot whether or not they have a concealed weapon on them.  Police officers would like to not be at risk of being assaulted by a weapon as they try to place a suspect into custody.  Suspects who are trying to comply would like to not be shot by an officer while being placed into custody.  There’s always that risk that as soon as an officer takes his finger off the trigger, things go sideways.  There’s always a chance that when the suspect makes an unexpected movement, things go sideways.  So we need a way for officers to subdue suspects, without having to close the distance or take the finger off the trigger.  Tranquilizer darts.

I’m not going to bother looking up what’s on the market right now that might work because I think that if this was going to be deployed, it would have to be a custom job.  You’d need a compound that worked quickly, effectively, and left no side-effects.  When you approach the scene, and you can’t determine whether or not the person has a weapon?  Tell them that.  Tell them to go belly down with their arms where you can see them, and that you’re gonna shoot them with a tranquilizer dart.  When they wake up, they’ll be in cuffs in the back of a squad car and everyone can figure out what happened.  Crazy junkie on bath salts?  Tranq dart.  Guy pulls a knife from 20 feet away?  Tranq dart.  In just about every scenario short of someone firing live rounds at you, tranq dart.

The other solution that’s crossed my mind is gender equality.  The ratio of male to female officers in American law-enforcement is about 9:1.  I can’t help but wonder if the boys in blue would be a little less trigger happy if there were a few more girls around.  But women aren’t as big and strong as men, and etc., etc.  True, but are we so sure that size and strength are the most important qualities of a law enforcement officer?  Maybe thinking that size and strength are the most important qualities is an issue unto itself.  If we saw a 1:1 ratio of men to women in law-enforcement, I can’t help but think that the police would see a dramatic improvement across the board.  Reduced discrimination, reduced police brutality, and fewer shootings of unarmed civilians to start.  Right now, I see police walking the streets like the foot soldiers of law-enforcement.   In some of the uglier scenarios, they look like gang members protecting the turf of the police state.  I can’t help but think that if we encouraged gender equality within the police, they might just find their way back to protecting and serving.

r/The_Donald

Perspective is important. Even when I’m confident in what I know, I remain critical of any potential bias. No echo chambers. No thought bubbles.

Fox News and Sinclair have been letting me down as a source of counter-points. The agenda has been too obvious. They now seem to be playing into willful ignorance instead of delivering a valid counter-argument.

I’m a big fan of Reddit. I’ve found most of the posts in the_mueller to be factual and balanced. I knew The_Donald wouldn’t be the same, but I had hoped it was similar. it wasn’t.

My home feed was flooded with The_Donald posts. Probably about 15-20% of my feed and most earning under 2k up votes. I was hoping for facts and nuggets I wouldn’t find anywhere else. I was hoping to better understand their perspective and what they were dealing with. I couldn’t. If the post wasn’t designed to be inflammatory, the comments would pick up the slack. There was no rational discourse, just hate and toxicity.

But nobody wins while it’s still us versus them.  We need to bridge that gap and that’s not the same as them conceding.

A Brief on Spectral Thinking

I’m sure I’ll dive into this again at a later date as my understanding of it continues to grow but I wanted to unload some of these thoughts for now.

There seems to be a natural evolution of thought from binary, to categorical, to spectral.

You have men and you have women.  It’s one or the other.  Except for intersex.  So 3 categories and everyone fits into one of those 3.  Except there’s at least 9 distinct categories of intersex.  So 11 categories, and that’s it.  Except these traits are expressed differently in each individual so it’s as if everyone ultimately ends up in their own category and it’s way too complicated to have infinite categories so why not just a spectrum?

You’re either gay or you’re straight.  It’s one or the other.  Except for bi.  So 3 categories and everyone fits into….

You’re either smart or you’re not…

You’re either privileged or you’re not…

It’s either black or white…

You’re either good or bad…

So if spectral thinking is next level, what’s after that?  My guess is another axis.

Duality of Privilege

When you apply the concept duality to privilege, it creates a rather interesting perspective.  Consider example A:

John is the child of a wealthy family.  His grandfather did very well, and John’s parents never had to work.  John grows up knowing that he won’t have to work either.  John’s parents lead a lavish lifestyle and give John is given everything that he asks for.

As a result of his unique circumstances, John has a unique perspective on life.  In that environment, I could see it being extremely challenging to develop qualities like a strong work ethic, perseverance, or the ability to deal with scarcity.  I could also see it being difficult to develop healthy relationships with others for a variety of reasons.  This doesn’t sound like a life of privilege to me.  Consider example B:

Jane is the daughter of two working class immigrants, and is raised in a rough neighborhood.   Jane grows up admiring the work ethic of her parents, knowing how their sacrifices let her grow up in a better place than where they were from.  Jane doesn’t have much growing up, but she appreciates what she has and learns how to work towards the things she wants.

In that environment, Jane was given several obstacles and challenges which John would be unlikely to face.  I’d like to think there are two ways to look at this.  You could say that John is privileged to not have to work for anything.  Or you could also say that Jane is privileged to have learned a great work ethic when she was young.  Perhaps there’s a key difference between these two though, in that Jane earned her work ethic while John didn’t earn his family’s wealth.  While that may be true, neither Jane nor John earned their circumstances – in this case, their family.  Had Jane been born to John’s family,   would she have turned out any differently?  Had John been born into Jane’s circumstances, would he have developed Jane’s work ethic?  Who’s life would you rather be born into?  If you’re like me and picked Jane’s life because it would probably lead to a more balanced, fulfilling, successful, and healthy life, wouldn’t that be the more privileged life?

When you think about our greats, from Muhammad Ali to Connor McGregor, from J Lo to Jay Z, from Abe Lincoln to Narendra Modi, from Indra Nooyi to Oprah Winfrey, from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs, and from Charles Dickens to JK Rowling, you start to see a pattern of overcoming a more challenging set of circumstances from a young age.  You know who I don’t see?  I don’t see the children of billionaires.  How often do we see the children of wealthy families behaving as inspiring leaders that move the world forward in a positive direction?

I think that inheritance doesn’t exist in a meritocracy but that aside, I genuinely don’t have any issues with someone inheriting a fortune and then settling down and living a comfortable life with their family.  I just know that’s not the best environment for producing good human-beings.  It looks easy, and nice, and better, but it lacks the struggle, and it’s the struggle which defines us.

The most challenging moments of my life directly preceded my most significant moments of personal growth.  If this pattern stays true for others, is adversity not to be embraced as the fuel of progress?  If so, perhaps privilege represents someone who’s arrived at the destination without having made the journey.  If so, perhaps there’s an argument to be made for an empathetic approach to this whole ‘privilege’ thing.  If we’re lucky, it might be contagious.

The Popularization of Victimhood

I grew up in a low income neighborhood where things were probably a little rougher than average.  It was mostly immigrant families who came here with very little, in search of better opportunities.  In neighborhoods like these, opportunities were scarce so you learned to fight for every opportunity and every advantage.  Sometimes that meant finding ways to sneak two lunches at school.  Sometimes it meant stealing part of the lunch from the person who got up to go to the bathroom.  Everyone was always being tested – if you left an opening, you got hit.

Sounds like a rough place, but it wasn’t without ethics.  Those with disabilities were always off limits, and often befriended by most popular kids.  If someone targeted them, they were immediately protected, and often by the toughest kids.  Others were simply known for being too nice to be picked on, and were supported for taking the high road.  The rest of us.. were fair game.

The appeal of victimhood doesn’t resonate with me and recounting through my childhood, I might I understand why.  When you grow up in an environment where just about everyone is starting at a disadvantage, working your ass off to get to the status quo is the status quo.  Drawing attention to our circumstances for the sake of sympathy or outside intervention just isn’t where we choose to put our energy.  Instead, we work hard in school, become productive members of society, and give back to the community so that we can solve this problem for future generations.  Today, our community center has the largest food security program in the city, one of the best basketball programs in the region (NBA Cares just redid our gym), and gets 75% of it’s funding through fundraising – largely from community alumni.  This is how I learned to deal with disadvantage.

The other remarkable thing that happens in this neighborhood is that we produce great people.  We’re not without our bad eggs, but generally speaking, we’re polite, kindhearted and well intentioned.  Even the friendships made there are more like family than friends now.  We were terrible to each other, but only when it didn’t matter.  When it mattered, we would fight tooth and nail for each other.  Perhaps it left me with a different perspective on when things mattered and when they didn’t.

This is why I struggle to relate to what appears to be a developing culture of victims.  Where I might see an opportunity to redeem myself, it’s as if they see an opportunity to draw attention to themselves.  It’s often under the premise of ‘raising awareness’ which seems well-intentioned but it’s a somewhat incomplete strategy on its own.  There’s a wide gap between being aware of something and understanding it.  Fortunately for all of us, awareness generates dialogue and dialogue helps to develop and circulate good ideas which ultimately help us understand what we’re actually dealing with and how to make progress.  The problem though, is that the solution is to popularize redemption.

Redemption isn’t just inspiring, it’s informative.  It says yes, you can get dealt a shitty hand and still come out on top – here’s proof.  It says look at what I just did, take what you can and apply it to your situation.  The better the story, the more viral that information becomes.  Some of the greatest stories in human history are based in redemption, but you can’t have redemption or all that fantastic personal growth that comes with it without adverse circumstances.  I can’t help but think that with the right perspective, adversity can be seen as positive.  It’s when we suffer that we learn the most about ourselves and the universe around us.  Adversity is that fuel that pushes us forward in the most meaningful of ways.  For the record, this is all from personal experience.

The problem with popularizing victimhood is that it’s encouraging the wrong behavior.  It’s like celebrating the loss rather than celebrating the win.  It’s also creating a sense of pessimism where people are spending more time looking for ways in which they’re being harmed than they are looking for ways in which they’re being loved.  And by the time we’ve all identified as a victim of something, what have we accomplished?  Do we still make a conscious effort to sympathize for a victim when everyone’s a victim?  Do we continue to use the word victim, both for someone who was killed in a mass shooting and for someone who was whistled at on the street?  Where I grew up, the word victim was often reserved for a drug overdose or a homicide, the kind of event you couldn’t overcome.  Now it’s a hashtag, part of how we identify, and indicative of social virtue.

Identity politics, where your social status and implied virtue is linked to your level of victimhood.  A racial minority? 1 point.  Female? 1 point.  Gay? 1 point.  Disabled? 1 point.  Straight white male? – 3 points.  I have to admit, there is some irony in how the popularization of victimhood has systematically marginalized straight white males.

As much hate as they get, this isn’t as much of a white guy thing as it is an old people thing.  They want control because they’re afraid of what will happen if they’re not in control.  They’re intolerant because they’re afraid they don’t know how to deal with change.  In a world of uncertainty, they’re afraid and are desperately trying to keep things the same.  In a world of change, we’re quickly taking over.

Let’s focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we’re going to create.

Solutions that Create More Solutions

I was reading a Harvard Business Review article a while back and it was talking about the dynamic of a self-perpetuating business.  An easy example is the classic ‘customer first’ strategy:

If you always put the customer first, the customer is always happy and if the customer is always happy, then they’ll keep coming back and every once in a while, they’ll come back with a friend.  As more friends become shoppers, the business grows and more locations can be opened to serve more friends.  As more locations are opened and the business scales, it can reinvest in itself, ultimately leading to better customer service.  And the cycle continues.

Good customer service is a solution to the problem of bad customer service, but it’s also a solution that creates more solutions.  There are other solutions that create more problems.  Cost cutting can be an example:

Revenues are down so you look to cut costs  to maintain profitability.  You realize you can fire your top performing employees who are being paid the most, and replace them with new talent who will work for half as much.  Next year’s forecasts are now back in line with corporate targets.  Solution?

Probably not.  Firing your top performing employees is a quick way to decimate your organizational culture and that leads to lower levels of acquisition, retention, and production.  It was a solution in that it was able to achieve reduced costs, but it also created a problem by way of significantly reduced revenues over the long-term.

This isn’t a business concept.  It’s a universal concept.  It persists in the laws of physics as well as in the truths of philosophy, and it’s one which the world desperately needs to understand.

You have the compassionate crowd who actively fight racism with racism, and actively fight against free speech to protect free speech.  It won’t work.

You have the intelligent crowd who spend most of their time picking apart bad solutions, and then defer to whatever benefits them personally, lacking the understanding that this is all a collective effort.  That won’t work either.

I’m still trying to understand why intelligence and compassion are at odds with one another, because they also share a very significant connection:

The most intelligence decision you can make is a compassionate one, and the most compassionate decision you can make is an intelligent one.

This isn’t neutral territory between the left and the right, this is the guiding star that we should all be following.  Compassion is the compass, intelligence is the map.

 

Me Too?

I appreciate the perspective that I have on sexual harassment, not because I understand it, but because I am making progress in understanding it.

Back when I was working at the banks, we had a training program that they would send us out to Toronto for. By the third trip, our cohort had gotten to know each other and one night we were on the hotel rooftop having drinks. A bunch of us were standing in a circle and one of the ladies decided she would show some interest. She walked over to me, started whispering things in my ear, then started rubbing my chest, then her hand went in the shirt, then down the pants.. all while I kept up a conversation with the others in that circle. I was obviously getting a lot of looks, but I kept pulling her hand out my clothes, politely told her to settle down, and laughed it off. It took about 20 minutes, but she eventually moved on and took someone else back to her room.

This was 5 years ago and I want to share what I’ve learned. It was only recently that my experience occurred to me as an example of sexual assault because it didn’t feel like it.. and I think I know why.

Part of it is that I’m quicker to compassion than I am to fear or hurt. She had a husband and kids at home, but she was on a work trip, drunk, tying to bed a guy half her age in front of a small crowd of coworkers.. I knew she was probably going through a rough patch so I tried to handle the situation with dignity. I wanted her to be better off than when we met.

I genuinely think we could all use a little more compassion in our lives, but it’s important to understand that it was easy for me to arrive at compassion because I never lost power or control of that situation. I was twice her size. Even if she were twice my size, I wouldn’t be concerned that she could force herself on me. In my mind, I was safe from what she was trying to do, and it let me act with compassion.

Most women aren’t twice the size of the men in question. All that safety that I felt likely wouldn’t exist for a woman in that same situation. For many, I’d wager that safety becomes fear. As we continue to discover/understand what gender equality really means… physical stature and the physical safety that comes with it is still a very real inequality.

That doesn’t mean that we should feel bad for being men, but it is a reminder that as men, we need to step up.  If you have the power to harm, you probably also have the power to protect.  Imagine if instead of hearing about a high profile sexual harassment case once a week, we heard about how the men around that person stepped up and shut it down?  That’s a future I’m willing to help create.