Thursday, December 31, 2015

Words without Substance – ‘Solving’ Problems by Lying

The Congress and state legislators United States of America have become a “reactive” bodies, fearful of preparing for the future, worried about poll results, scared of taking stands that could prove expensive and wrong and terrified of spending money on anything until it is a problem that will now cost billions or even trillions to solve effectively. Congress worries about a president overstepping his authority, even as they will not deal with the most troubling issues of our time: global terrorism (anyone see Congress authorizing the president to do anything about ISIS?), global warming as floods, drought, fires and storms decimate our land (“it’s not proven science”?), infrastructure crumbles and under-serves all of us, and education as our test scores plunge against international values (“Our graduation rates are going up”).
If we say the right words, create catchy slogans, change the standards that measure success, or outright lie, we’ve bought ourselves a couple of nights of rest. But when we wake up, things have gotten a bit worse. While we are ready to pass legislation, from de-regulation to tax cuts, that benefit only the highest reaches of the economic ladder, it is simply to remind those who fund campaigns that spending that money has direct and immediate benefits for the big contributors. Spend more to get us elected, and we will sacrifice spending on those who simply cannot afford to spend enough to buy influence and kick the can down the road on everything else.
So much of the grassroots support for non-professional-political candidates is a backlash against this trend. Unfortunately, the utterance of the new demagoguery from these candidates is little more than more simple “solutions” to complex issues. We’re now falling into the populist scapegoating patterns, venting anger broadly against Mexicans and Muslims for example, thinking that if can just get rid of these groups from the United States, we will be a great nation again. What, we’re not great now? We’re still the richest nation on earth.
Behind all of this is a disquieting feeling that our greatness is failing, that we are facing challenges that are so massive to solve that if we can just create meaningless shortcuts and simplistic slogans, bolstered by mythology, reinforced with desperation, and if we can just buy some time, stuff will just get better. At least it will be someone else’s problem. Year after year, as a deficit we can never repay escalates, we kick the can down the road. Cyclical patterns occasionally give us hope that this theory applies. As unemployment rates move towards normalcy, as stock market values rise, we don’t have to drill down as to the “real” story behind those statistics. For those at the top of economic ladder, how wonderful. For those who make their livings by working or running small businesses, not so good.
Amazon and Big-Box disruption hammers retail, as outsourcing continues unabated and the jobs we’ve been able to keep for the most part require long hours, afford lower pay and questionable benefits; 70% of Americans have been earning less in true buying power, year-after-year, for decades. Our middle class is contracting, our lower classes expanding… but if we just pick the right words and measurements, we can convince ourselves that all will be better without reinvesting in our future, biting the big tax bullet and reconfiguring our efforts for the future. Instead, we insist on living on the investments of past generations (think our Interstate highway system), thinking that somehow we don’t need to reinvest now.
We’ve prioritized high school graduation rates as the metric for educational success. They are rising, to be sure. Unfortunately for the nation, too many of these new graduates only have a piece of paper without the underlying education. The December 26th New York Times puts this trend into perspective: “A sign in a classroom here at Berea High School [Greenville, South Carolina], northwest of downtown in the largest urban district in the state, sends this powerful message: ‘Failure Is Not an Option. You Will Pass. You Will Learn. You Will Succeed.’
“By one measure, Berea, with more than 1,000 pupils, is helping more students succeed than ever: The graduation rate, below 65 percent just four years ago, has jumped to more than 80 percent.
“But that does not necessarily mean that all of Berea’s graduates, many of whom come from poor families, are ready for college — or even for the working world. According to college entrance exams administered to every 11th grader in the state last spring, only one in 10 Berea students were ready for college-level work in reading, and about one in 14 were ready for entry-level college math. And on a separate test of skills needed to succeed in most jobs, little more than half of the students demonstrated that they could handle the math they would need.
“It is a pattern repeated in other school districts across the state and country — urban, suburban and rural — where the number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower. This has led educators to question the real value of a high school diploma and whether graduation requirements are too easy…
Few question that in today’s economy, finishing high school is vital, given that the availability of jobs for those without a diploma has dwindled. The Obama administration has hailed the rising graduation rate, saying schools are expanding opportunities for students to succeed. Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced that the national graduation rate hit 82 percent in 2013-14, the highest on record.
“But ‘the goal is not just high school graduation,’ Arne Duncan, the departing secretary of education, said in a telephone interview. ‘The goal is being truly college and career ready.’
“The most recent evaluation of 12th graders on a national test of reading and math found that fewer than 40 percent were ready for college level work. College remediation and dropout rates remain stubbornly high, particularly at two-year institutions, where fewer than a third who enroll complete a degree even within three years.”
If we’ve fallen, by not reinvesting and believing in ourselves, our future – at least for the vast majority of us – will only accelerate downwards as time passes. All those chickens are coming home to roost… and there is no more room for them to land. Lots and lots of chickens!
I’m Peter Dekom, and we need proactive leaders with a willingness to do what really needs to be done to restore our greatness… we need leaders!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hide and Go Sikh: Are We Stupid, Racist or Both?

Historical persecution of minorities is an ugly pattern that never seems to fade, no matter how “sophisticated,” “educated,” “evolved,” or “enlightened” humanity may think it has become. That poor, illiterate people have deeply suspicious feelings against unfamiliar, unknown persons entering their world may draw snickers from urban sophisticates or citizens of well-developed economies, but such prejudices are fairly well-entrenched even among those theoretically more “enlightened” people. When things go wrong, scapegoating seems to be an innate human failing.
Cultural anthropologists, animal behaviorists and historical biologists have traced the fear of the “different” or “unfamiliar” to atavistic survival instincts. “Curiosity killed the cat” sums it up nicely. Animals facing an unknown being, particularly one that appears large enough to hurt them, typically do not rush out to find out what the new beast might be. They stare, circle cautiously, occasionally attack, or even back-off and run away. Rather than taking the time to discover what that unfamiliar presence might really be, it is so much safer to reject it, challenge it or just avoid it entirely. That ancient instinct is still embedded in all of us.
Throughout history, there has been predatory discrimination, toxic scapegoating and mindless bigotry, all in the name of fear or trying to explain why a powerful negative force has entered the relevant social structure. Blaming others, suspecting and eradicating those who are visually different or hold themselves out as different, is nasty human reaction to social challenge. Skin color (darker is often seen as more dangerous or less desirable) is an easy identifier. Alternative dress codes, religious patterns and even language, speech patterns and accents can help implement that evil perception of unacceptable differences. As an accelerant to bias, if there are social groups with truly dangerous factions, it is often easier to tag the entire social group as toxic and act accordingly.
Chinese immigrants. Jews. Black Americans. Shiites. Muslims. Mexicans. Palestinians. Japanese Americans. Arab Christians. Sikhs. Each of these groups has been identified, often repeatedly, and blamed for everything from economic hegemony, murderous practices, criminal tendencies, stealing jobs and collapsing economies, rape and savagery, deviousness and untrustworthiness. The list appears to be endless. Those evincing the fear feel justified in killing, deporting, enslaving, slamming them with second class citizenship (with lots of restrictions and severely limited rights), imprisoning them or simply discriminating against them at every turn.
It’s always easier to reject and discriminate than to accept those with seemingly great and obvious differences from ourselves. Generalizations and easy-solution-slogans are the easy path, and for those willing to compromise the Judeo-Christian value of tolerance and brotherhood, reject the notion of equal protection embedded as a cornerstone of our constitution, catering to fear, enhancing those slogans and generalizations are often a simple path to gain power and getting elected. It never works and often backfires. Those discriminated against grapple with feelings ranging from depression and inadequacy to a rippling rage and a craving for horrific revenge. Nothing good.
For the United States, facing extreme economic polarization and terrorist attacks, those atavistic tendencies are rising fast. Some presidential candidates have seized on those underlying emotions, reaching into the worst of us and amplifying our fears accordingly. History has shown us that such negative catering never works, but for those embroiled in emotional responses, history just plain does not matter. A lot of innocents have been hurt, killed, their lives destroyed, with hopes and dreams dashed. Our labeling people as enemies has given permission to those wrongfully designated to rise to our worst feelings, as acts of revenge or defense… perhaps catering to their own fears of the different.
One particular group has been targeted, repeatedly, for traits they do not have and practices that they actually reject. They look different, long beards and turbans for the men, and stand out in a crowd. They are Sikh, a religious sect, most closely identified with northern India that have been a positive and successful force wherever they have settled. Who are these people, really? “Sikhism …. is a monotheistic religion that originated in South Asia during the 15th century. The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism include faith in one Creator God, unity and equality of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for social justice, and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder life. With over 25 million adherents worldwide, Sikhism is an Indian religion spread out around the world.
“Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru, and the ten successive Sikh gurus. After the death of the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh [Singh means lion], the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib became the literal embodiment of the eternal, impersonal Guru, where the scripture's word serves as the spiritual guide for Sikhs.
“Sikhism considers spiritual life and secular life to be intertwined. Guru Nanak established the system of the Langar, or communal kitchen, in order to demonstrate the need to share and have equality between all people. Sikhs also believe that all religious traditions are equally valid and capable of enlightening their followers, rejecting the practice of proselytism, and rejecting any claims that a particular religious tradition has a monopoly on Absolute Truth.” Wikipedia. Sound like some pretty darned good people, right?
But for too many Americans, looking for scapegoats, Sikhs “look like Muslims,” whatever that means. They have been singled out, beaten up, their property destroyed, from California to Wisconsin by “good ole Americans standing up for their values.” They may be good solid, productive American citizens here, embracing a religion of openness and tolerance, but they “look like Muslims,” and that’s enough to justify the very barberry we claim we abhor and are defending against.
The December 28th Washington Post illustrates the scope of the problem: “The bearded man in the blue turban was attacked before dawn on Saturday morning, while waiting for a ride to work… Two white males in their 20s pulled up and began to curse at Amrik Singh Bal, according to police in Fresno, Calif.
“Fearing for his safety, police said, the 68-year-old Sikh man attempted to cross the street — but ‘the subjects in the vehicle backed up and struck the victim with their rear bumper.’ The car stopped, and the two men ‘got out and assaulted the victim, striking him in the face and upper body.’
“During the assault, police said, one of the suspects yelled: ‘Why are you here?’… Bal fell to the ground, striking his head… He also suffered a broken collar bone in the attack — the latest in a string of incidents targeting U.S. Sikhs, who are frequently conflated with Muslims and often wind up absorbing the backlash against Islam.
“Earlier this month, just days after a married Muslim couple opened fire at a social services center in San Bernardino, Calif., a Sikh house of worship in nearby Orange County was vandalized with hateful graffiti, according to the Sikh Coalition. A truck parked outside the Gurdwara Singh Sabha was also vandalized, with graffiti that included the phrase ‘F– ISIS,’ the coalition said. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State militant group.
“In September, Inderjit Singh Mukker, a father of two on his way to the grocery store, was savagely assaulted in a Chicago suburb after being called ‘bin Laden.’
“‘Sikhs have been mistaken for terrorists and radicals and continue to suffer after 9/11,’ Iqbal S. Grewal, a member of the Sikh Council of Central California, told the Fresno Bee after the Saturday morning assault. ‘This is the latest episode of what Sikhs have been enduring when they are very peace-loving and hard-working citizens of this great country and not members of al-Qaida or ISIS or any other radical group.’… The Fresno Police Department is investigating the attack as a hate crime.”
Such attacks against Sikhs are unforgiveable, completely un-American. But so are attacks on Muslim Americans as well as any form of overt or covert discrimination. And the angry rhetoric of Trump and those who adhere to such un-American practices should be an embarrassment to us all, not a reason to vote for him or them. How bad is it? David Duke, current head (Grand Wizard) of the Ku Klux Klan and a member of the Louisiana legislature, labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the ’most recognizable figure of the American radical right, a neo-Nazi, longtime Klan leader and now international spokesman for Holocaust denial,’ described Donald Trump’s platform on his YouTube channel, “He speaks a little more, actually he speaks a little more, a lot more radically than I talk.”
By the way, the Sikh officer pictured above is New Jersey raised U.S. Army Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi. Think about that.
I’m Peter Dekom, and either we believe in our value system or we are no better than the true enemies we are trying to defeat.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ignore the Constitution, Shame the Nation

Leadership and integrity are never validated in safe times with easy choices. After all, our entire nation was founded with significant pockets of once-persecuted people under the notion of majority rule but never at the expense of divergent minority rights. It took a while to eliminate the scourge of slavery (with the Thirteenth Amendment), and it was the Fourteenth Amendment that made civil rights for all American residents a most fundamental right.
And while there may be political-short cuts pandering to populist emotional reactions – which have resulted in disgusting discrimination like Democratic-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment of ethnic Japanese-Americans during WWII – strong leaders, sound judges, all military personnel and honorable elected legislators are bound, by their oaths of office, to support the Constitution of the United States of America as their most essential commitment. It appears, however, that the United States Constitution and its strongest mandates can be “waived” by simply following the easy path of popular expediency, often varying depending on political affiliation.
In addition to those of Middle Eastern ethnicity wishing to travel to the U.S., the current persecuted minorities may well be Muslim Americans, people who were born in designated Muslim-dominated nations (or whose parents were born in such states even if they were born in the U.S., regardless of their actual religious practices), or folks who may have traveled to those designated nations within the last five years. They have U.S. passports, and they are either citizens by birth or by affirmation under the U.S. immigration laws. But unlike the vast majority of Americans, they are definitely not accorded the same rights as their fellow-Americans.
While the Constitution may require a U.S. birth for the President, the balance of the Constitution and the Supreme Court decisions promulgated under that building block have, for the most part, stood for the protection of all Americans, banning discrimination based on religion, race or national origin. We are all entitled to “the equal protection of the laws,” and neither Congress nor the state legislatures can make laws that abridge our religious choices. Congress, however, seems to have repealed those realities on December 18th. As condition to extend funding for federal operations, the GOP majority added an amendment to limit the application of our visa waiver program – where we allow nationals from certain approved other countries to travel visa-free to the United States if they allow our national the same right – to ban travel into the U.S. by categories of persons that fit the limitation noted above. On December 18th, the bill passed, and to keep the government’s door’s open, the President signed it into law. There are a significant number of voters, particularly in the Republican Party, who simply want Muslims to be contained, American or otherwise. The bill catered to these anti-Constitutional sentiments with serious “second class citizenship” consequences for a whole lot of Americans.
Those voter sentiments? “Americans support barring Syrian refugees from the U.S., 51 percent to 43 percent, according to Quinnipiac polling released [December 23rd]… More from this … Q poll: Americans oppose Donald Trump’s plan to ban all Muslims from coming to the country by a more than 2:1 margin (66 percent to 27 percent). The partisan divide on the issue, however, is sharp. Democrats would accept Syrian refugees (74-22) while Republicans (82-13) and independents (51-42) would ban them. All three groups oppose barring all Muslims: Dems (79-18); Republicans (51-41) and independents (67-22). A majority (55 percent) of Americans believe domestic extremists are a bigger threat than foreign radicals, while 55 percent think Islam is a peaceful religion. Americans also support (50-42) sending ground troops to fight ISIS.” The Washington Post (Daily 202), December 23rd. 
The consequence of implementing those sentiments? “For more than 25 years, the Visa Waiver Program has allowed people from a select list of countries, currently 38 nations long, to travel to the U.S. without a visa. Those countries, in turn, must reciprocate, allowing Americans the same privilege on their own soil. [On December 18th], Congress voted to change the deal: People coming from countries covered under the Visa Waiver Program, including people who are citizens of those countries, will now need to get a visa if they are determined to be nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria, or if they have visited those countries since 2011.
“This is worse than it sounds, because at least two of those countries, Iran and Syria, deem people to be nationals, regardless of where they were born or live, if their fathers are citizens. So it’s possible that someone who is a citizen of one of the countries on the visa-free travel list — the United Kingdom, say — and who lives there and grew up there and has never visited another country, could end up denied entry to the U.S. because of a parent born in Iran or Syria.
“It gets even worse still, because there is a strong likelihood that countries party to the newly altered Visa Waiver Program, including European Union member states, will institute reciprocal restrictions on Americans, meaning that many Iranian-Americans, Syrian-Americans, and others in the U.S. would see their ability to travel the world seriously degraded based on ancestry or dual citizenship. Potentially facing similar reciprocal restrictions are any aid workers, journalists, or other Americans who simply visited at some point since 2011 the countries targeted in the new legislation.
“An open letter published by the European Union’s ambassador to the United States has already said that passage of the bill ‘could trigger legally mandated reciprocal measures’ against American citizens, in this case, specifically those whose national origin is from Iran, Sudan, Syria, or Iraq, effectively placing them into a lower category of citizenship when attempting to travel abroad.” Murtaza Hussain writing for, December 18th. Iran feigned anger, saying that the terms of this legislation contracted the terms of their nuclear settlement with the West, but rather openly jumped for joy at its nemesis’ obvious slam at the Muslim world and its seeming breach of its obligations under that accord. It justified Iran’s rather clear anti-American rhetoric. Oh, and remember how many Iranian Jews settled here, and more than a few Christians. And think of the mass of Muslim Americans who remain the exemplary citizens they have always been, more a part of the solution than the problem.
For Washington policy-makers, trying to enlist Middle Eastern nations to join in the fight against ISIS, this new law is simple confirmation that the United States is anti-Muslim. So why should regional powers care about our goals and our needs. But worse, those who sponsored the are simply constitution-defying American Congress-people who have rather openly decided to repeal some of our Constitution’s most significant provisions because of an emotional response among the majority of their basic constituency. They are spineless sheep who have violated their oaths of office.
No matter how fearful we may be, the fact remains that we are one of the safest nations on earth. And to the extent we are willing to suspend constitutional protections for minority groups within the United States, not only are those religious fanatics who wish to destroy us enjoying how they are forcing us to violate our most basic principles, but we are in fact becoming increasingly like them. We are Americans! We are better than that! Leaders lead! Followers follow.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if our enemies can redefine our most basic American values, exactly who is winning this terrorism war?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Perhaps It Is a Matter of Black and White

This is a rather longer blog today, but hang in there; this is a complicated social issue that doesn’t get explained easily. As the Black Lives Matter movement steps up its protests, from shutting down Southern California’s 405 Interstate to their big Mall of America gathering in Minnesota, it is relevant to ask again, how valid is their position and what really is going on here? We are watching grand juries reviewing police shootings of black victims and refusing to indict. To most Americans, it simply means that the cops in those shootings were acting reasonably.
The American grand jury system convenes ordinary citizens in secrecy to listen to the local prosecutor’s allegations and factual assertions to determine if there is sufficient cause formally to charge (indict) the target of their investigations with a crime. But the prosecutor is very much a part of the same legal justice system that employs the police. They work together, side-by-side, comrades in arms. So if a prosecutor wants to whitewash a police shooting, he or she simply presents a weak case to the grand jury. That lack of independence is indeed troublesome to many in the black community seeking justice. Increasingly, African-Americans believe this cozy relationship within the local criminal justice system cries out for an independent or special prosecutor who is not a normal part of the local criminal justice hierarchy to investigate these police shootings.
Take for example the investigation of the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice (pictured above) in Cleveland. Despite the mandated “secrecy” of the grand jury proceedings, the local criminal justice system began slowly leaking stories, all in support of the Officer Timothy Loehmann who was being investigated: “There was a sheriff’s report that said the rookie officer who killed Tamir felt he had ‘no choice’ because the boy had reached for a pellet gun that looked like a real pistol. There were statements from the officer, Timothy Loehmann, and his partner that they saw the boy pulling the toy from his pants, ignoring warnings to show his hands. And there were reports from three experts called by the prosecutors that concluded that Officer Loehmann had acted reasonably because he believed that Tamir had a real gun and posed a serious threat.
“The release of so much material being reviewed by a working grand jury might be considered unusual, but these were not leaks: The evidence was made public by the Cuyahoga County prosecutor himself, Timothy J. McGinty.” New York Times, December 23rd. Cleveland was preparing the community for yet another exoneration of a police shooter. In defense of the prosecutor’s office, there is a growing demand from local communities for a release of information from police shootings as soon as available. However, prosecutors are increasingly using that demand to make sure that what is released, how and when such information is released, favors whatever result the local criminal justice system wants. Absent overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that cannot be explained away, it seems that police shootings are often evaluated in a way that would never apply to any other killing.
Back to the Rice shooting: “The grand jurors have been meeting for weeks, and it remains unclear whether they will indict Officer Loehmann or his partner, Frank Garmback, in the Nov. 22, 2014, shooting. But the release of critical evidence suggesting that the officers’ actions were reasonable has left many people in Cleveland convinced that no indictments are forthcoming. And that possibility has fueled an unusually bitter feud between Mr. McGinty and the people who might have been expected to be his natural allies, the Rice family.
“‘We have never seen a prosecutor try so hard to lose a case,’ said Jonathan S. Abady, a lawyer for Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice. He has accused Mr. McGinty of hiring ‘pro-police experts’ to evaluate evidence and has faulted him for allowing Officer Loehmann and his partner to read personal statements to the grand jury without being cross-examined. The family has asked the Justice Department to investigate the shooting, a request the department is reviewing.” NY Times. On December 28th, the grand jury surprised no one with its announced decision not to indict either Loehmann or Garmback. But wait, there is so much more to this cop-on-black matter.
The rest of the world is fascinated by what they believe are the strange machinations and idiosyncrasies of a gun-crazed cowboy culture where racism seems to have trumped (ooops!) the “equal protection of the law” provisions of our constitution. In the U.K., where only a tiny fraction of their police force are even allowed to carry guns, there is a morbid curiosity over our propensity for violence, particularly against minorities. They’ve got their own racial and ethnic communities with issues that seem reflective of some our America’s questions, but since guns are strictly controlled there, the challenge of police shootings just isn’t relevant in their world. So back on May 15th, the asked the question: “Why do US police keep killing unarmed black men?” Their gathering of experts on the subject makes great reading, the perspective of an unbiased outsider looking into our criminal justice system.
The first question asked is whether or not there really is some disproportionate proclivity for police to killed blacks. Despite the NRA’s rather successful lobbying of state legislatures and Congress to limit access to gun homicide data, the BBC found one highly credible analyst who painstakingly compiled the necessary statistical information through myriad sources to confirm that assumption. They turned to Sam Sinyangwe, 24-year-old black a researcher and activist who started the Mapping Police Violence project.
Sam’s report: ‘There are statistics on all kinds of violent crimes. And yet, when it comes to people being killed by police officers, there's no data on that. So a light bulb went off in my head. I looked at two crowd-sourcing databases which collected all of the names. I then went through the media reports listing each of those people who were killed.’… He counted 1,149 people of all ethnic groups killed by the police in 2014.
‘I identified whether they were armed or unarmed. I identified them by race by looking at if there was an obituary or another picture of them online… In the aftermath of Ferguson [where the unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed], there was this big question “Is this a pattern, is this an isolated incident?” What [my data] shows is that Ferguson is everywhere. All over the country you're seeing black people being killed by police.’
The youngest recorded was 12, the oldest 65. More than 100 were unarmed… ‘Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police in the United States than white people. More unarmed black people were killed by police than unarmed white people last year. And that's taking into account the fact that black people are only 14% of the population here…’
OK, there’s clearly a problem. “Why?” asked the BBC. They queried Lorie Fridell, an Associate Professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and former director of research at the Police Executive Research Forum, who has spent years looking at cop-on-black shootings.
Fridell’s observations: Bias in policing was not just a few officers in a few departments; and, overwhelmingly, the police in this country are well-intentioned. I couldn't put those two thoughts together in my head until I was introduced to the science of implicit bias.
‘We all have implicit biases whereby we link groups to stereotypes, possibly producing discriminatory behaviour - even in individuals who are totally against prejudice… The original 'Shoot, Don't Shoot' studies have a subject sitting in front a computer monitor and photos pop up very quickly, showing either a white or black man. That man either has a gun in his hand or a neutral object like a cell phone. The subject is told 'if you see a threat, hit the 'shoot' key and if you don't see a threat, hit the “don't shoot' key”….
The studies suggest that implicit biases affect these actions - for example in some studies people are quicker to 'shoot' an unarmed black man than an unarmed white man. A Department of Justice report released in March looking at the use of deadly force by Philadelphia police, supports the idea that police are susceptible to implicit bias:
‘One of the things they looked at is what they called threat perception failure. The officer believed that the person was armed and it turned out not to be the case. And these failures were more likely to occur when the subject was black [even if the officers were themselves black or Latino].
‘Officers, like the rest of us, have an implicit bias linking blacks to crime. So the black crime implicit bias might be implicated in some of the use of deadly force against African-Americans in our country.’
For the police officer perspective, the BBC asked Seth Stoughton, a former policeman who is now a law professor at the University of South Carolina: ‘The first rule of law enforcement is to go home at the end of your shift. The key principle is officer survival. That's what all training is designed to promote. But it ends up endangering civilians rather than preserving their safety.
‘The warrior culture - the belief that police officers are soldiers engaged in battle with the criminal element - that has contributed to some shootings that were most likely avoidable.
‘It starts in police recruitment videos that show officers shooting rifles, strapping on hard body armour, using force. That attracts a particular type of candidate, and the Police Academy further entrenches this…. It teaches officers to be afraid by telling them that policing is an incredibly dangerous profession.
‘Officers are trained to view every encounter as a potential deadly force incident: you walk up to a person who is loitering outside of a convenience store, their hands are in their pockets. You as the officer begin talking to them, and without saying a word they pull a gun out of their pocket and begin shooting you…’
Lastly, the BBC accessed Charles Ramsey, an African-American and Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, who asked by President Obama to run the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. ‘We live in a society where everybody wants to point fingers, but we have a lot of deeply-rooted societal problems: poverty, education, poor housing stock.
‘We've got to deal with the issue of extreme poverty. Philadelphia has the highest rate of poverty among US cities. You have an underground economy that supports many of these neighbourhoods - drugs, prostitution, illegal cigarette sales.
‘Why are police in large numbers in some of these neighbourhoods? We have to deal with the reality that there's a disproportionate amount of crime occurring in many of these neighbourhoods.
‘We've had several police officers shot and killed during the past seven years. I've had eight officers killed in the line of duty - five shot dead. So there is violence that takes place against police as well, and that needs to be taken into consideration.’…
In response to the Department of Justice report criticising Philadelphia police's use of force, Commissioner Ramsey introduced new training that focuses on de-escalation, as well as armed response: ..‘Putting them in scenarios where they have to exercise good judgement and being able to critique that so that when they are in these real live situations, their reaction, their response, is really more consistent with what the actual threat is.’
To the BBC, we face implicit biases, failed priorities under “us vs. them” warrior training, and a society more interested in saving money than providing alternative paths to inner city youths with better schools and better/safer housing and employment opportunities. Add a society where there are 300 million guns permeating the atmosphere, and the result are less than surprising. The problem is real. The solutions expensive and complex, and there seems to be some rather clear evidence that we may not have the commitment to solve the problem. Lives matter, but black lives seem to have a special issue that simply does not apply to the balance of the population.
I’m Peter Dekom, and where injustice becomes embedded in our political system, each and every American is a “little bit less” by tolerating such inequities.