Friday, July 10, 2020

Building Bridges: Getting Outside Your Echo Chamber

I made a deal with myself. Each day I choose to read or listen to at least one counter political and social perspective so that I have a better understanding of the political spectrum in general, so that I have my own ideas challenged, and in hopes that I can discover where common ground exist. Today I listening to a Ted talk by Theo E.J. Wilson. His message was that conversations outside our personal echo chambers on social media and within our own political perspectives are the solution to building bridges across the political and social divide that is threatening our society.

Wilson recommended a few names of people on the left side of the political spectrum that right leaning people, and conservatives, should listen to. Today I decided to listen to an hour interview with Tim Wise on current events.

Areas that have potential to produce constructive bipartisan conversations: 

1) Policing culture that punishes fellow cops who speak out against corruption and/or police brutality needs to change.

This is something Tim Wise talked about that definitely has bipartisan support for. Unlike Tim Wise's characterization of conservatives as silent on police brutality, after the murder of George Floyd I heard universal condemnation of his actions from every conservative source I read and listen to, including the President. He says conservatives aren't as outraged that "white people are on a very different wave length on what constitutes oppression." There is some truth there generally, though I haven't seen that in George Floyd's case specifically. Here's what I mean. In general conservatives look at the very small number of police shootings of unarmed persons in the U.S. and look at each of them case by case, when you look at them this way it is not possible to conclude that there is an "innumerable" or "unending" number of black victims of murder by police and vigilantes as the charge is being made by the BLM movement. It doesn't mean that every death isn't a tragedy, but it does mean that the relatively small number of deaths at the hands of police in comparison to the overall criminal homicide rates don't constitute the level of oppression Tim Wise talks about when he calls for revolutionary tactics in "the movement" to abolish state-sponsored oppression.

The fact that conservatives tend to look at cases of police shootings and police brutality on a case by case basis, considering the facts of the case in full and desiring for justice to be done, does not mean that conservatives are less concerned, but it does mean they are on a different wave length than some on the left like Time Wise. The wave length he is on is the one we are seeing most predominately represented in the national media and among progressive politicians, which gives the impression that the greater portion of police are racist and that police departments are systemically racist. Their rhetoric charges police culture at large with systematic racism. That a charges 18,000 police departments nationally with systematic racism and discounts the overwhelming good that approximately 800 thousand police do. The rhetoric is even more pernicious because it treats killing of unarmed Americans as an epidemic. I continually hear my friends parrot this narrative and express their dismay over the "innumerable victims" of police brutality. From the way it is talked about in general it seems as though there are thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of black Americans being gunned down in racial killings by police.

What is the reality? How wide spread are these incidents? 

Number of persons killed by police by race & year

In 2019 there were 235 black Americans killed by police, that is .00049% of the black population. It is also true that police are 18 times more likely to be shot and killed by a black suspect then they are to kill one. 
In 2019 it was nine unarmed black Americans who were shot dead by police.
When police initiated the contact, blacks were more likely to experience the experience threat or use of physical force than whites. 
Traffic stop data from 2018 found that of the 223.3 million U.S. drivers age 16 or older, 8.6% experienced a stop as the driver of a motor vehicle.2 A greater percentage of males (10.2%) than females (7.0%) were pulled over as the driver in a traffic stop (table 3). Blacks (9.8%) were more likely than whites (8.6%) and Hispanics (7.6%) to be the driver in a traffic stop. Across age groups, drivers ages 18 to 24 (14.8%) were most likely to be pulled over.

Every unjustified death of an unarmed person at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve is disturbing, but expecting perfection in human society is foolish. The best we can hope and work for is individual justice based on evidence in each case. To improve the justice system is a shared objective, but the suppositions of "the movement" Tim Wise talks about are not shared by conservatives; and the data backs that up.

2) When police are accused of egregious acts of police brutality it may be helpful to have independent prosecutors as local DA's are too closely associated with the police department of the city.

I think this is another point that Tim Wise made that allows room for a conversation that may be capable of building bridges. The discussion that would result from this suggestion is one about what is most likely to result in "blind" justice, the kind of justice that doesn't favor the police or the defendant, that doesn't break down by black and blue, but rather treats every case independently and on the facts. Justice for all, under the law, is a foundational American ideal that must be continually worked toward. I say worked toward, because like all ideals they are rarely lived up to 100%, but as Americans we must not become complacent with miscarriages of justice. There is far too much of that. That is something that there is bipartisan agreement on even if the policy proposals for how to improve the system are not the same.

How do conservatives see justice? Might this underlying difference explain what Tim Wise sees as silent racism? In order to facilitate justice conservatives tend to believe that space is needed, free of public pressure and especially free of mob violence. When political pressure is too intense and when the streets are full of riots it places pressures on the justice system that often don't result in justice at all. Overcharging is one of the results of this climate. When prosecutors over charge because of public pressure the accused very often get off. Justice needs cool heads for the law to be adjudicated evenly and fairly.

So what about the suggestion for independent prosecutors. Well, if that could reduce the public pressure phenomenon and bring cooler heads to the adjudication of crime then it would be an improvement. There are reasonable arguments to be made that when you make this trade off, using an independent prosecutor to reduce conflict of interest within a local judicial system, you may add another kind of conflict that would result in a miscarriage of justice. Independent prosecutors often end up with even more political pressure on them and a great deal of pressure to justify their work to those who appointed them. There is a risk with independent prosecutors that decisions to prosecute would be made based on politics, not on the law and admissible evidence. In high profile cases where prosecutors were unwilling to prosecute because they didn't feel they had a good case grand jury's have been called on to give the public a sense of justice. Unfortunately, grand jury's rarely result in justice and most often they do no convict the police officer. Those who called for the grand jury hoping for justice are bitterly disappointed.

These are reasons that conservatives tend to believe that the best way to see justice done is to give the system space to work without public pressure. This may be the reason that progressives like Tim Wise have the impression that conservatives are less outraged. It may be that conservatives are just practiced at giving the justice system that space to work and understand the damage that can be done to justice overall by mob pressure and violence.

Areas Where Tim Wise Deepens the Divide by his Words: 

1) Tim Wise categorically states that "white Americans" (translation: conservatives) are "not as outraged about George Floyd's death as they are about COVID" government overreach. White people see government overreach in COVID response but not in police brutality, and Wise makes the statement that white Americans "say nothing at all" about George Floyd and police brutality. 

Tim Wise mentions the COVID protesters who didn't "get the memo" and were willing to role the dice with other peoples lives, despite the obvious contradiction that vastly larger groups of protesters across the country have rolled the dice with other peoples lives, Wise makes the inference that those COVID protesters said "nothing at all" about George Floyd's death. This is blatantly false. Conservatives are verily consistent on government over reach, not all Republicans, but most conservatives I know are concerned about overly militarized policing and the over reach of government power at every level. Opposition to overly powerful and intrusive government is a quintessential conservative value and underlies most of what conservatives believe is wrong with the progressive movement. I wonder if Tim Wise would be willing to have a serious conversation about reducing the power of the government over our everyday lives?
2) Wise discusses how the American Revolution legitimizes violent liberation and property destruction as a legitimate tactic in "the movement."

Wise says in this interview that there is a discussion on the table for the "tactical and strategic value of property destruction," and likens that discussion to Nelson Mandela in South Africa who believed in sabotage of commercial and state property. He said this is part of regular discussion among those "inside the movement," but he has, "You who isn't part of that discussion?" And I quote: "ANYONE who has not already committed to the struggle for racial justice and equity... If your in the struggle you are welcome... but if you are one who didn't say anything when George Floyd was killed..." And he means didn't signal support for "the movement" as constituted and defined by groups like the BLM, if you "didn't tweet anything out... If you are talking about how horrible it is when black people are burning stuff." I assume he means those of us who denounce any rioting by people of any color, those of us who oppose the destruction and theft of property. He says if you are one of those people, "YOU ARE NOT INVITED TO THE CONVERSATION... YOU ARE NOT PART OF THE CONVERSATION... YOU ARE A VULTURE TO THE CONVERSATION... IF YOU ARE NOT PART OF THE MOVEMENT WHY ARE YOU TALKING?"

NOW... Aren't those words exactly what Theo E.J. Wilson was speaking out against in his TED talk? Wasn't he just saying that the only way to bridge the divide was to have conversations that cross the divide. I must say that I am very confused as to why he recommended Time Wise, his first recommended "voice" on the racial justice side, as one that conservatives ought to listen to. To be fair I may listen to more of Tim Wise and see if he moderates himself for main stream media, he may, and perhaps Wilson is more acquainted with him in that realm, but if this interview is any reflection of the real man, the authentic Tim Wise, It gives me little hope that any bridge is possible.

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