Friday, July 8, 2016

Identity, Grievance, Anger and Dehumanization In Dallas

Big Message, or One, Isolated, Shooter?

There is always a temptation to try to draw the big message from an act of violence such as occurred with the tragic loss of lives among policemen in Dallas. There is always, too, the rush to make the killer unique, unconnected with the culture at large, and to exonerate culturally protected groups. The first is not always wise, and the second is deceitful and dishonorable. (Primarily, of course, it is a moment for political opportunism regarding gun ownership.)

The Bear cannot draw any conclusions from one shooter who may or may not have been connected to some larger movement. (He hopes Archbishop Cupich does not trot out the "mentally unstable," or maybe "crazy Afghanistan veteran" defense without evidence, like he did after the last Muslim terrorist attack in the U.S.) We know the shooter said at the scene he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers. We cannot blame Black Lives Matter. As far as the Bear knows, murder is not part of its agenda.

However, it brings to mind some hard truths the Bear learned in both law enforcement and criminal defense. Consider it a "teachable moment" that so many love these days.

Do Blacks Have a Different Perception of Law Enforcement Than Whites?

In the Bear's legal career, he learned that black people often had a different perception of law enforcement than did white people. They are often more distrustful of police. The Bear is not going to go into the whys and wherefores right now. It's a fact of life in the work the Bear did.

The Bear also learned that police often had different perceptions of black people. When the Bear was a LEO circa 1980, he was in a squad car, and the driver went up to a drive-up window, where we were served by a black fast-food worker. "Food untouched by human hands," the officer joked. There was a kind of casual racism displayed by some officers, but it did not seem to affect white officers' relationship with black officers, or the actual job of being a policeman. Oddly, it did not seem to affect the black officers' heightened awareness of the potential for escalation when dealing with young back males. (Drunken college students were perhaps not perceived as the same threat.)

The joke is true that there is the crime of "DWB" or "driving while black." Police are often more suspicious of black people, especially young males. This does not come out of some racist mindset, but, the reality on the streets. Police are equally happy to arrest white people, as well. It's part of their job, after all. The Bear has never met a policeman who did not want to be a good cop. (Not that all succeeded.)

The Bear believes both black people and police had some real reasons for mutual mistrust. Perhaps the single most relevant fact in this conversation are the FBI crime statistics, which are available to anyone online. And, police are authorized to use deadly force under specific circumstances. The Bear would wager that almost no police shootings of black persons is an act of racism.

The Bear has never been in a gunfight. He suspects the body is injecting quite the cocktail of hormones which may make split-second life-or-death judgments in some situations dicey.

For the record, BLM, as a movement, seems intellectually bankrupt to the Bear. But, he is careful to add that one shooter, even if he were associated with BLM, does not a terrorist organization make.

The Racial Element in Picking a Jury

Prosecutors, at least where the Bear practiced, would go to any length to keep black people off juries. (There is case law that requires a neutral explanation for a no-cause strike of a black potential juror, but prosecutors are very ingenious in coming up with those explanations.) The Bear should add that he wanted black jurors, for the exact reason of their different take on police, or so he believed. His black defendants also wanted black jurors, for what that's worth.

If it is standard operating procedure for lawyers in criminal trials to quite seriously take race into account while picking a jury, then, even if it is trial lawyer folklore, it is an interesting fact that admits something about the system. It does not mean, however, that innocent blacks are being carelessly or deliberately gunned down by police as a matter of course.

Ideas Have Consequences

Ideas have consequences. When a low level of toxic radiation sickens a part of the culture, it does not harm only the ill. The Bear knows he has been relying much on Julien Benda and his la trahison des clercs lately. But Benda observed three of the most defining characteristics of the West in our age: (1) "intellectuals" can be found to lend support to any group; (2) people are dividing themselves into ever-smaller segments based on their "unique characteristics;" and (3) politics has become a 24/7 consuming obsession of ordinary people.

As to the last, just as people read "their" newspapers in Benda's day, each of us is our own publisher, tailoring our news to our views. We need never be exposed to anyone with whom we disagree, and we gain instant approval for expressing culturally sanctioned virtues. (Which are actually rootless taboos, not virtues at all.)

The Bear would add that these small, but passionate groups tend to migrate to beneath one of two big umbrellas usually called the Left and the Right, where they form alliances of convenience, and, on the Left, define individuals as culturally virtuous.

Of course black lives matter. All lives matter. But it could not be more illustrative of Benda's thesis to have as a group's slogan, "Black Lives Matter," as if it were somehow a special quality of black people to have their lives matter. (Abortion and gunshot death statistics would suggest that this opinion is not, in any case, widely shared among black people.) Black lives matter, therefore by implication, do non-black lives not matter? Do cops' lives not matter? They apparently did not in Dallas, and that is more than a rhetorical point.

Group, Grievance, Anger, Dehumanization and Killing

The Bear never lost a death penalty case. He had a theory that people will not kill other people. They will kill enemies, monsters, the inhuman. But not people. The Bear's entire trial philosophy was based on this. Force the jury to see his client as a human being and they will never vote to kill him. (Unfortunately, he rarely got to prove his theory, since his trials were usually successfully resolved in more Bearish ways.)

When someone sets out - for whatever reason - to assassinate cops because they are cops, and hopefully white, whatever else is obscure, we know he did not see his victims as persons. Just as the Bear could make a jury see a criminal as a person,  a movement can make someone see a white cop as a non-human. Dehumanization is the historical, common factor in much propaganda, and all politically motivated mass killings.

Unfortunately, the Bear predicts that this kind of behavior, from one group or another, will become more common. It is easy to go on about "polarization," but the Bear has tried to demonstrate that people find value in their association with small groups. It gives them a political voice and cultural protection. They have their own thinkers to provide them with their ideas. This cannot be healthy.

And nothing appeals to identity groups like grievance and anger. The "intellectuals," the financial backers, the Facebook SJWs, all ought to stop and think. No, we don't know if Black Lives Matter played a role, so this is not a murder indictment. But can the rhetoric, the grievance, and the anger, all dehumanize people and legitimize murder in someone's mind? If you have a whole movement based on the idea that black people nationwide are being murdered by police, the Bear cannot see anywhere wholesome this can go.

Everywhere you look, it's us versus them. The Bear is not playing the above-it-all game. There will always be right and wrong, and error has no rights. But if all this anger were organized along clean geographical lines, rather than by metropolitan statistical areas, we would be in full-fledged civil war. It is strange to think of political violence increasing in this country. Nonetheless, the Bear finds all the necessary ingredients, and no cultural brake on it.

Ideas, today, seem to turn into bullets almost by magic.

1 comment:

  1. "When a low level of toxic radiation sickens a part of the culture, it does not harm only the ill."

    Not a good analogy. Low level radiation actually has a hormetic effect. The linear no threshold theory is bankrupt.

    PS, I admit that the blog meister at Atomic Insights is illogically a rabid liberal progressive Democrat (most of whom oppose nuclear energy), but when it comes to matters nuclear, he is usually correct.


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