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by Peter Moskos

July 8, 2016

Tone it down

I wrote this last night for CNN, about the massacre in Dallas:
Words have the power to inspire, inflame, provoke. Or else we wouldn't say them. When words inspire others to kill, however deranged those others might be, we must see the consequences.

When those on the political right speak against immigrants, Muslims or abortion, those on the left are quick and correct to observe that words inspire crimes of hate and violence. Similarly, when those on the left speak against police officers -- not just bad ones, but all police officers -- this, too, can have consequences.

No matter one's beliefs, we all need to call out extremism and hate, especially given American's absurdly easy access to guns. No matter how many good people have guns, they cannot always stop a bad person with a gun. An armed society is clearly not always a polite society, so we need to tone it down.

Police need to realize that some in their ranks make mistakes, both honestly and maliciously. This needs to be better acknowledged by those in law enforcement. But just as decent society does not hold every black, Muslim, or white Christian responsible for the murderous acts of a deranged few, it is a mistake to blame hundreds of thousands of police officers for the bad deeds of a few.
In my call for common ground and more civility, I received nasty emails or tweets from some A) protesters, B) cops, C) blacks, D) whites, and E) gun nuts. So I must be doing something right.


Unknown said...

You have got yourself a new reader. That was very well said, keep up the great work! This is a voice of reason in an increasingly polarized nation.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aNanyMouse said...

As an opponent of the War on Guns (as well as the War on Drugs), I'll quibble with your reference to "absurdly easy access to guns". But I must take exception to those who would be nasty about these words, or about any other words you wrote here, esp. since I support the preponderance of these thoughts.

Everyone should have their noses rubbed into the vivid quote from Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken."

bacchys said...

Well said, and I agree, but all too often any criticism of any cop is treated as criticism of all cops.

Unknown said...

Very interesting post. I was inquisitive as far as which way you were leaning. But now I , nope still don't know. Awesome!

Unknown said...

The unbelievable hypocrisy of the cnn headline sickened me. CNN has done nothing but inflame the controversy on either side in order to make money and for them (and you) to have the nerve to tell people to tone it down leaves me speechless. How about YOU walking your talk and not spouting off on a news outlet that has done everything BUT tone it down.

Mr. B said...

I'm wondering the degree to which race versus class vs geography is responsible for issues between police and some Blacks in the US. I mean, police in my homeland, Jamaica have been accused by both local and international bodies (Amnesty) for unjustified killings of Jamaican citizens, especially citizens from what are known as garrisons and and also ghettoes. I suspect if we made all the cops who patrol black urban communities (low income) the rate at which those police officers kill would remain the same and might possibly increase. The question is "how can such people and neighborhoods be patrolled without incidents like Sterling and Castile occurring?" We need to solve or diminish this horror so that the country is not engulfed by vigilantism and endless grief.

free2think said...

Yet you rushed to judge the Castile incident which we now know was not a simple traffic stop and Castile failed to follow directions when told to keep his hands up since the cop immediately noticed the gun on his lap.
I think you will be proven wrong in your haste.

Sasha said...

I read an article recently in which the author (a black sociology professor, if I recall correctly), after pointing out that while black people are disproportionately killed by police, the majority of people shot dead by police are white, speculated that if one controlled for income, the rates of black and white people killed by police would be MUCH closer, given that most people of any race killed by police are low income and black people are overrepresented in that group compared to white people.

But the media doesn't want to talk about how class enters into this and sadly neither do progressives. I'm a working class white woman living in a pretty rural part of Southern California in a town that has a poverty rate comparable to Ferguson except that poor people here are mainly white and Latino. For many years, my (white male) partner and I struggled to survive below the poverty line, and during that time, we--but especially him--were regularly stopped, searched, questioned and checked for warrants by police. This happened while engaged in such suspicious activities as walking by the side of the road, waiting at a bus stop, or leaving a store.

While it sucks to get searched with people driving by and gawking, we're always polite and cooperate fully. Cops have the power to detain you and cause all kinds of problems for you, and it's just not worth the risk to object. A friend of mine was locked up in front of her young daughter and had to spend the night in jail and had her car impounded, all because the cop who pulled her over for supposedly taking a turn too wide claimed she looked like she's on meth (she doesn't do drugs). And she had even been cooperating. He was just a jerk. Most cops though are courteous if you are.

One time my partner, who has no record, works hard and doesn't even drink or smoke, was held at gunpoint by police. That was pretty scary, especially cause it was clear to him that the officer pointing his gun at him was very on edge. He made damn sure to follow commands exactly and not to make any sudden movements. Turned out to be a mistaken identity situation.

We're doing a bit better now (at about 150% of the FPL) and have a little car (with registration and insurance) and thankfully we haven't gotten stopped nearly as much recently.

The media pretends like police stops and searches for no good reason happen only to 'people of color' and the same goes for police shootings. I see lots of people on social media who are absolutely convinced that virtually everyone killed by police is black, especially those who are unarmed, and that (white) society would never stand for police shooting young unarmed white people. In reality of course, plenty of unarmed white people, including teenagers, have gotten killed by police, and usually the only people who give a damn are their family and friends. Certainly not the media.

By ignoring questionable police shootings of white people and failing to put police shootings of black people in perspective, the media has played a major role in creating the current situation where lots of people are in an absolute panic because they believe racist cops are out there murdering innocent black people with impunity just because they feel like it. I don't find it surprising that people who believe that's what's happening would start talking about the need to 'fight back.'

Adam said...

Wow, thanks for sharing, Sasha. I think the conclusions you draw are correct (especially your last paragraph). You should turn that into a letter to the editor or an op-ed. I'm sure you'd get it published somewhere.

free2think said...

How about speak the truth.

Unknown said...

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this new research paper. http://www.nber.org/papers/w22399.pdf The stats are a little beyond me, but it seems right up your alley.

Shane Taylor said...

Thank you, Peter, for saying what too few have said.

Unknown said...

Who could disagree with this, right? As a lifelong independent I agree and disagree. Except some of the phrases that are actually claims of fact, are indeed false, or misleading. For example, no politically right person speaks against immigrants. Everyone I have ever heard or known to the right or left of the aisle affirms the need for healthy immigration policies. We all acknowledge our immigrant ancestry. To clarify, many on the right and left agree that at times immigration has been completely halted. Whether this is right or wrong or somewhere in between is a matter for debate. Most on both sides agree that immigration is good and needs to remain a legally-achieved status under existing laws that are open to amendment.  

When speaking of Muslims, or Islam, I can apply the same logic. No one I know or have heard of has a blanket un-acceptance for Muslims. Some do call out the fundamental teachings of different sects of Islam, particularly Jihadists advocating a violent holy war against unbelievers. One such group is ISIS. I don't believe anyone assumes all Muslims have the same level or understanding of Quranic teaching. However, much is to be said about the teachings and legacy left by the founder of one's religion, worldview, or ideology. This may beg the question of who is or is not a true adherent to the foundations of their beliefs. No-one is immune to the scrutiny of logic and reason. Christians, Muslims and Jews coexisted in Palestine for centuries before geopolitical influences corrupted their civility. I don’t see all peoples claiming to be Christians loving their enemies and doing good to those who persecute them. Are they just bad Christians who don’t know their actual founder’s teaching?

Speaking of faithful adherents, I am convinced that not all supporters of Planned Parenthood are true to it's genocidal founder Margaret Sanger, supposed cohort of Adolf Hitler, and outspoken racist; particularly against the personhood and humanity of Black Lives in early Twentieth Century America. Just the same, although Sanger professed to be an adherent of Charles Darwin and the then popular ideology of Social Darwinism, many today have filtered beliefs based on these origins. Though many may be apathetic to the roots and reasons of their beliefs, hobbies, or interests, this does not in any way change the history or connotations enveloped around the facts or that system of belief. 
What is even more interesting is that so many people are biting on this bait of divisiveness and compartmentalizing complex issues into only two sides. Many conservatives believe police brutality is at an all time high and that reform is needed. Many believe in peaceful processes of reconciliation like those that took place in Wichita, KS recently. The police chief held a BBQ together with a group of BLM supporters, calling it a "First Steps BBQ.". (http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/07/19/486581466/police-and-black-lives-matter-hold-a-cookout-and-praise-rolls-in)

So, Professor Moskos: not all protests are extremism and hate simply because you do not agree or do not know enough about either side; however many sides there may be. Maybe there are bigger questions to be asked and answered. The exponential increase of militarized policing as a whole is a questionable act in a supposed civilized society that may need the question answered: are we a civilized society? Many anarchists would say that the oppression of laws is leading to this dilemma. So, for those millions of us who want to be in the middle and not to the right or left, I would say we are the extremists.