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Emotion vs Rationality

Entry 2046, on 2020-06-04 at 20:26:15 (Rating 5, News)

OK, I get it, there is a place for emotion when responding to traumatic events. But after the initial emotional response people should allow their more rational side to take control and they should analyse their initial thoughts more carefully. Of course, many people don't do this, and allow their "primitive" irrational reaction to take hold of their lives.

Now I didn't write that opening paragraph in a vacuum. And guess which world event I am applying it to? That's right, the current US race protests (or riots in some cases). One thing you have to admit: my blog never hesitates to take on controversial subjects!

When I saw the video of the cop suffocating the alleged criminal I was pretty horrified, just like any reasonable person should be. But I also had some questions, even at that early stage, such as: is this a recognised restraining technique, what lead up to the events shown on TV, will the cop be held accountable for his actions, and is the race of the people involved really relevant?

Even after many of these questions have been answered I still think the cop needs to be charged for unnecessarily violent behaviour leading to the death of the suspect. I think this is the case whatever else happened. But let's look at a few facts around this case, and try to avoid any emotionally driven hyperbole.

So here are the facts...

A cop restrained a suspect of a crime using an authorised technique, leading to (or contributing to) the death of the suspect. Here's the additional nuance to this starting statement: The cop continued the restraint for what seems like an unnecessarily long time, even after being warned the suspect couldn't breathe. The cop was white and the suspect was black. There seems to have been some resistance by the suspect leading to this event which might partly justify it (but probably not for the time it was done for). The suspect had health issues which might have exacerbated the effects of the restraint.

Many people interpreted this event as part of a bigger problem where cops are unnecessarily violent to black suspects. Here's the nuance: Most cops are white and most criminals are black, so we would expect a higher proportion of white on black violence purely statistically. Some cops are unnecessarily violent, especially to people they might not hold in high esteem (and sometimes this extends to genuine sadism). A single incident (or even a series of them) doesn't necessarily mean there is a genuine societal problem.

Since then there have been extensive protests and rioting across the country, and the protests have extended to other parts of the world. And the nuance: many of the protestors are genuine in their beliefs, and are causing no significant harm. Many of the rioters are not really part of the protests, but are just making use of it for either political reasons (Antifa extremists) or for personal gain (looters). Some people who think they have a genuine reason to protest also think that violence and destruction is a fair part of that protest, given the alleged seriousness of the issue.

Those are the facts, and now I want to present a few statistics supporting them...

Racial or ethnic minorities comprised 27% of police in 2013 (some of these stats are a bit out of date and the situation might have changed a bit since they were collected, but the essential message is the same), and 12% were specifically black. So, depending on your exact criteria, you might say 88% were "white".

Twice as many white people as black are killed by police each year. This does represent a higher proportion than in the population, but this is where opinions seem to significantly differ, because black people (in most cases I mean black men) also commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime (between 40% and 52% of murders for example, even though they are only 13% of the population (or 6.5% black males); these numbers vary depending on the year they are taken from).

There have been some police precincts staffed with entirely black police forces and these have committed the same number of acts of violence against black alleged criminals as white police did.

Forty times as many black people are killed by other black people than by police (this is from 2012 FBI stats and it is hard to extrapolate from that, but I think a case could be made to say this might be worse now rather than better, given the emphasis on reducing police violence).

Numerous studies have been done on the issue of police violence against black people in the US. The results are very inconsistent. Some find that white cops are less likely to shoot black people than white. Some find black people are unfairly targeted, even when their rate of crime is factored in. Some find no significant bias either way.

So the idea that black people are targeted by police for unnecessary violence because of racism is highly doubtful. Is there any racism in the police? Of course, depending on your definition of the word, there is racism everywhere. But there is also "reverse racism" where police have become so sensitive to this issue that they avoid treating minority groups with the "robustness" they might for others. Maybe it all evens out; maybe it doesn't. It's a difficult subject to study and I could find no consistent studies or stats on it.

Are black people targeted more than they should be? Based on their proportion of the general population, they are more targeted, but based on their proportion of the criminal population they are possibly under-targeted. They do seem to be more targeted for being stopped by police, but under-targeted for police shootings. Which is the most valid way to look at it? That depends on your preferences, but I believe the more correct way is to look at the lethal violence (rather than less serious actions) against people the police might be interacting with, rather than the population in general.

I also have to emphasise here that being grossly over-represented in the crime stats is not necessarily a criticism of the group involved. It is entirely possible that societal disadvantage explains that discrepancy, so members of that group cannot be personally blamed. But it is also possible that the increased criminality is a cultural issue which the group should take some responsibility for. Almost certainly, it is a bit of both.

So this single incident - and others like it - cannot be said with any certainty to be part of a general societal problem. For every black person killed by police there are more of other ethnicities. Do we have riots when that happens? Of course not.

The incident itself, I think, is an example of unnecessary police violence, and the cop (or cops) involved should be charged. And they have already been charged, after being fired. So what are the protests and riots all about? What do the protestors actually want? No one seems to know, except for some vague demands for fair treatment of black people by police. But the overall stats indicate this is already happening, so what now?

When debating this subject on line I have often used words like "mindless" or "unthinking" to describe the protestors, and have received severe criticism as a result (including the predictable accusations of racism), but I really do think this is an example of totally thoughtless behaviour.

Surely there is nothing worse than acting out of a dogmatic believe perpetrated by various bad actors in the media and political community. Or acting out of an initial emotional reaction to a horrible event, but then failing to think about it sufficiently to realise it isn't really what it seems to be.

I see these people protesting, and see mindless sheeple acting out a fantasy that allows them to bond with their group of leftist social justice warriors. I see extreme virtue signalling by well-meaning but unthinking individuals. I see some elements who take the opportunity to indulge in mindless violence under the guise of protest (I was going to say "legitimate" protest then, but realised it actually isn't).

These aren't stupid people either; many of them are very intelligent. But I think, despite their intelligence, they are both ignorant and narrow-minded. The people I have debated on-line certainly aren't stupid, but when I present the stats and facts like I have here they have no answer (apart from one person I discussed this with as I was writing this). They really haven't done any research on this at all; they have simply swallowed the line fed to them by the mainstream media. I really feel quite sorry for them.

In a recent debate I presented some of the stats above without mentioning the sources (it was an informal debate, not an academic paper!) and was then challenged to give the source. I then said it was an FBI crime report. The debate continued and I was rejected again because I hadn't prided a source (even though I had). So I found another supporting source; in this case the Department of Justice. Finally the fact that I had provided sources was accepted but then rejected because they "weren't good enough". Really? The FBI and DoJ aren't good sources for crime and policing data? Then what is? I got no answer on that one, except to be called a racist again.

This happens over and over. And as I said above, I'm generally debating intelligent people who are just hopelessly ignorant and deluded. They really are mindless sheeple. And that lack of clear thought and inability to be an individual instead of a part of a mob is maybe the saddest part of the whole phenomenon.

There is room for emotion when engaging with this issue, but don't forget some rationality as well!


Comment 1 (5295) by EK on 2020-06-08 at 14:18:41:

Thoughtful as most of the time. Even partly evidence-based, not just highly subjective opinion.

This almost-global outburst of demonstrations (and sadly partial violence) is the outcome of pent-up emotions, scarcely released only in dribs and drabs in the past. That rationality suffers as raw emotionality and the overrated gut feelings take over goes without saying. In such circumstances objectivity and detached use of statistics fall by the wayside. It is also a truism: Violence is almost never a good thing in achieving peaceful, democratic change. And perhaps the topic of “racism” (in a sense going well beyond discrimination on physical habitus basis) has been elevated artificially, blown up out of all proportions, and is now so pervasive and fashionable that it drowns out other issues objectively more deserving of attention. All that can be said with some justification. But what comes readily to mind in addition to all that is this:

1.Judgment on the basis of a person’s look is alive and well. Not just skin colour by the way. (Quote Martin Luther King looking forward to being judged by the content of one’s character not the colour of one’s skin.) Looks being the easiest way of assessing a person, still largely determine social behaviour in so many ways far beyond what is commonly today called “racism”. Skin, beauty, body shape, gender are used as the main markers in assessing a person and influence if not determine the behaviour response a person gets. Humankind should finally progress beyond that. But police are ordinary – often all-too ordinary – human beings too.

2. There is a pervasive undercurrent of brutality in American society that is difficult to put a scientific finger on. It can only be empirically glimpsed in episodical expressions. The glorification of violence in the film industry is one. The stubbornness of amending the 2nd amendment is another. The persistence of the death penalty is another. The constant involvement in wars since WW2 is another. The fact that the praised status of “land of the free” came from the end of the gun barrel surely has something to do with it. And so on. It also shows in the training and techniques used by (what seems to be) the majority of US police and sheriff departments; the ready use of guns, choke holds as a legal technique, the lack of sophisticated methods of crowd control.

3. US police force – as a gross generalisation – regardless of race quota are not sufficiently well trained (training time before being let loose on the unsuspecting public often is eye-wateringly short) and there is sufficient evidence to claim that police is seemingly (perhaps wilfully) ignorant of more sophisticated, modern policing techniques.

Whether all protesters are conscious of these issues is doubtful. But implicitly these are issues worth protesting for/against.


Comment 2 (5296) by OJB on 2020-06-08 at 15:26:59:

I'm sure some people are protesting over pent up emotions, but many are not. Also, are those emotions justified, or is the idea of systemic racism a narrative over-hyped by the media and various political groups? I would say, yes. That's the problem with emotions: they are often irrational.

I prefer to deal in facts, and people's opinions are not facts. The question here is: do black people suffer from extreme police violence and death at a significantly higher rate than anyone else? I would say no, although it depends on how you interpret the numbers, as I freely admitted in the post. But the only way to tell if this is real or not is with numbers and facts, not opinions and emotions.

1. I think it is human nature to judge people based on their appearance, but I would hope that most people would overcome that initial reaction, and those who don't I would hope would not act in a violent way as a result. Basically though, this is a red herring.

2. I agree there is underlying violence in American society. The *stats* show this clearly. But the protests are about uneven application of this violence against blacks, which is not well supported by the facts (unless you count black on black violence, which is overwhelmingly bad). It is ironic also, that so many of the protestors "against violence" are themselves violent in their protests.

3. I think there is a good case to say that the police are not well trained, and that some police are unnecessarily violent (as seems to be the case this time). But again, that isn't the prime focus of the "protests".

If the issues were true they might be worth protesting against. But they're not. Also, protest is fine. Destruction, arson, assault, and murder aren't.


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