Police Brutality and Fear

Howard University students protesting police brutality in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri
A conversation is taking place at Dungeon Prompts regarding whether, and how, race colors our perceptions of police brutality.

My perception of police brutality is colored by my personal experiences, which are colored by my racial status.

The Context

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Brown — an unarmed black young man — was shot to death by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Witnesses say that Mike’s hands were in the air when he was shot.

My Personal Experiences

As a white woman, I was raised to present myself effectively in a non-threatening way, and people perceived me as respectable and trustworthy. They didn’t read my mind. I was fantasizing about using my advantage to become a professional criminal when I grew up. (My desire to continue to be trusted, and to feel free from the haunting paranoia that I stifled after each incident, deterred me from following such a plan when I was still a teenager.)

As I was deciding to be a criminal, someone very close and dear to me married a man who became a police officer. As he took on the responsibilities of being a rookie, he had to walk the beat in the most dangerous areas of New York City during the most dangerous times. Their relationship became explosive. One day, while he felt enraged during an argument, he took out his gun and pointed it at her. Eventually, she discovered that this was not acceptable behavior in our culture, and she filed for divorce.

Years later, I was in a similar situation in which I no longer felt safe with my husband. Eventually, I, too, discovered that this was not acceptable behavior in our culture, and escaped to safety, with the help of supportive friends.

Around the same time, someone very dear to me found police waiting for him at his home. They strategically persuaded him that he met the description of someone who had committed a violent crime. The long and aggressive interrogation ended with, “We know that you did this. We’re going to get you.”

Conclusion

In these three cases, each aggressive man — who was a highly valued member of his community — felt fear, and misdirected it toward someone whom he identified as a threat, like in Ferguson, Missouri. How can such behavior ever be considered acceptable?

I want to feel safe. Even though my race and socioeconomic status assure me that I am not a likely target, events of police brutality hinder my trust, and feed any paranoia that has a chance to dwell in me.

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16 thoughts on “Police Brutality and Fear

  1. Ah Grace! Resonance once again!

    Well over a decade ago, statistics showed that every day, 1 in 3 people find there live negatively impacted, in some way, by an abusive person here in North America.

    Current stats claim that conservative estimates point to 1 in 5 North Americans suffer from an undiagnosed, and therefore untreated or supported, severe personality disorder.

    We can, and should, look at these statistics and fix them in our minds what is contextually most important about them. Ready?? Are you hearing a drum roll?

    These stats are NOT race,class,age, gender specific in any way. These stats are not limited by education or socio-economic factors. These stats care not where you live or who you neighbors are. These stats care not whether an individual is a leader or a follower. These sats are all encompassing.

    Distrust and paranoia feed no good purpose. They impede efforts to live a compassionate and empathetic life. Empathy — the power to put ourselves in the shoes of another, allows us to build trust where trust should be built. Compassion allows us to reach out and seek the ways and mean to keep our communities, and the people in them, safe. It allows us to identify with, and for, those who are in need of understanding and a leg up. It allows us see beyond social trappings and power models, and hold accountable those who abuse positions of authority and (falsely earned) respect.

    Keep up the good fight Grace. Your voice matters.

    Leni

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My nearly-twin Leni, thanks for all the thought that you put into your comment as you pondered this issue.

      I looked for links to update your statistics. I found a statement by a crisis phone line in New Hampshire that dispels myths about abuse: “domestic abuse can impact anyone regardless of sex, age, race, sexuality, gender presentation, level of physical/mental ability, socioeconomic background, or educational or cultural background.”

      The American Academy of Family Practitioners reported this year that “one out of 10 older adults experiences some form of abuse or neglect by a caregiver each year.”

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 25% of women in the U.S. reports “experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life.”

      In my quick searches, at first I only found references to domestic violence in the US. Certainly it exists elsewhere. After all, “the United Nations Development Fund for Women estimates that at least one of every three women globally will be beaten, raped or otherwise abused during her lifetime.” And the World Health Organization found that the percentage of women who had ever had partners “had experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetimes ranged from 15 percent in Japan to 71 percent in Ethiopia.” However, the Center for American Progress reports that “Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than are women in other high income countries” even though “Congress first acted 20 years ago to strengthen our gun laws to prevent some domestic abusers from buying guns.”

      You got me wondering how these statistics affect distrust, paranoia and fear, and thus people’s outlook on — and the incidence of– police brutality.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do love how you mind works Grace! Look at all that exploring after one provoking comment! I do not know if this means we are good for each other — or very bad for each other! I suppose it all depends on the outcomes of how and why we provoke thought in each other. What do you (and anyone else following the conversation) think? 🙂

        You commented: “how these statistics affect distrust, paranoia and fear, and thus people’s outlook on — and the incidence of — police brutality.”

        So thoughts provoked: What is in the details and definitions?

        I still think that the overall answers require looking behind the statistics and statistic sources, for the agendas that actually drive the statistics. How often to we find well cited statistics? So-and-so reputable source may say ‘x’, but how old is the research? How comprehensive? Who sponsored and paid for the research? What was the actual context? The most IMPORTANT question in my opinion is what statistics are NOT provided. Rarely is there an intent to mislead — but resources don’t always allow for full coverage of any particular issue. It becomes all to easy for bias to creep into the picture. “I have to get this down to 750 words — so I will include this because I/we/they feel it is the most important.” Humans are biased. I don’t care how hard we try not to be.

        Add to the issue of bias in information sources, the dynamics of in-groups and out-groups and the old tale of ‘politics of the possible’ and the waters get very muddy and communication becomes complex. Trust suffers certainly and consistently. Law Enforcement has an ‘in-group’. Advocacy groups all have their own ‘in-groups’. Victims have their ‘in-group’. Mandates for each are different. Every other group is considered an ‘out-group’. Out-groups are threats. Always.

        Consider two in-groups:

        Law Enforcement
        Peace Keepers

        How well would the two get along based on the base mandates defined by their group names?

        What we call ourselves colors our thinking and actions. Our bias tendencies lean in the direction of the image we build. Others respond to us based on the words and images we build.

        There is to me, a world of difference in between “Law Enforcement” and “To Serve and Protect”.

        Enforcement: the act of compelling observance of or compliance with a law, rule, or obligation

        Brutality: savage physical violence; great cruelty

        Deindividuation—A loss of self-awareness that occurs when people are not seen or paid attention to as individuals (for example, when they become absorbed in a role that reduces their sense of individuality or accountability, or when they become part of a crowd or a mob). OR AN IN-GROUP

        An in-group gravitates to the studies and statistics that support their mandate/vision/existence and relegates all other data to perceived ‘out-groups’. Out-groups are always de-individuated because of the need to maintain a strong and supportive in-group.

        “To Serve and Protect’ and least requires an effort to understand and avoid the horrors of deindividuation. Enforcement has no mandate to understand anything — merely the mandate to force compliance.

        How many of us are still taught to respect and comply with authority unconditionally? How many of us wish we could? Are any of taught how to inquire into the credentials and competency of Authority? What real, universal, and standardized protocols and appeals do we have for accountability and fairness? I doubt we have any, anywhere that are effective enough to diffuse the excessive power that so easily leads to abuses of power. There is a reason for the statement: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

        Find very general article for in-group/out-groups here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201012/in-groups-out-groups-and-the-psychology-crowds

        Thorny, thorny, issues.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Leni, in response to your question about whether you and I are good for each other, I say that we are good at reinforcing and supporting in each other that which we value, like citing resources, and offering content that matters.

          When I was in college, “question authority” was a major theme. Similarly, you ask critically important questions about the value of the information behind links. I hope that everyone gets good at considering all of those thoughts when evaluating statements. I learned to begin doing this when I was a college freshman taking Intro to Sociology. Every week, we read and critiqued an article from an established journal of our choice. I was amazed to find that nearly every study included bizarre conclusions.

          I like the recommendations offered by the Psych Today article that you suggested. Seeing ourselves as “all part of one world” is critical for any one of us, and for all of us, to survive.

          Leni, thank you for generously contributing to the conversation here.

          Like

  2. We already have so much aggression lurking within, as a culture, to throw guns into the mix just seems so ridiculous. I am just not a gun supporter at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sreejit for starting this conversation, and for stopping by.

      I just read on a friend’s blog that Mexicans are trading in guns for food, or cash, or a laptop, or a domestic appliance, or even toys for kids. I urge you to leave a comment there: he could use some anti-gun support.

      Like

    1. I was good at it, and my mind was loaded with ideas for ways to succeed. Stereotypes were strong enough then that it seemed to be a safe profession for me: no one would consider that I was guilty. I had to lie well to protect myself from domestic violence, and crime seemed to be a good way to use my fondness for acting. Lying seemed to be my strongest asset, until I developed skills that stole my imagination away from the crime scenes.

      Is it possible that you never considered such thoughts?

      Like

      1. “I had to lie well to protect myself from domestic violence,” Don’t get this. You had these thoughts when you were single? Were you in an abusive relationship?

        Well, ah no, my fantasies didn’t run along these lines LOL. But I do want to put out that everyone has his, her closet full of thought skeletons.

        Like

        1. My mother was legally blind. She taught me to place things deliberately in drawers so she could easily find them. That meant that she often blamed me for things that I didn’t do (a misplaced item drove her crazy!), so when I got caught doing something wrong, I copied my innocent behavior to cover my guilt.

          Yes, I had criminal plans when I was a child, until I hit my mid teens and discovered that I was good at other things like weaving and writing.

          I love Dumbledore’s line in one of the Harry Potter books: it’s not what we’re born with, but the choices that we make that matter. Hooray for the dissembled skeletons in our closets that we disassemble and transform into archeological artifacts! Hooray for the treasures that get mixed up with the skeletons, that we untangle and put to good use 🙂

          Like

          1. Yes, well said. I really appreciate not only the admission of your fantasy/intentions and how they speak to our presumptions of guilt and innocence on race (as you said, your being white), but what a fantastic note of redemptive hope this sounds for criminals in training and seasoned misfits:

            “until I hit my mid teens and discovered that I was good at other things like weaving and writing.”

            We see this work out in the late stages, that is, in the prisons, where productive and meaningful activities/enterprises help the rehabilitative process. Just wonderful when people realize they can be MORE, can choose to be more than desires or circumstances had suggested.

            Thx so much for sharing!
            Diana

            Like

            1. I would be deeply committed to the use of occupational/music/art/dance therapy in prison reform if I did something about it. My best efforts came out in My Response To A Liebster Award, and now in the novel that I’m writing.

              Please share what you’ve come across regarding “in the prisons, where productive and meaningful activities/enterprises help the rehabilitative process.” I hear toooooooo many stories about prisons being like resorts instead of delivering the “proper” dose of severe punishment 😦

              Thanks so much for this conversation Diana!

              Like

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