What Are They Supposed to Think?

What are my black friends supposed to think, with yesterday’s acquittal of Officer Yanez in the shooting of Philando Castile?

  • Blacks may (in theory) have second amendment rights, but if they exercise them they’re more likely to receive an instant death penalty?
  • They’ll have to find ways to become paler – and make everyone they care about paler – lest armed people in authority be afraid of them?
  • Armed people in authority have a presumptive right to act violently toward them when afraid?
  • If I don’t do exactly what the armed people in authority tell me to do, even if I don’t understand what they’re telling me to do the exact way they understand what they’re telling me to do, they are justified in killing me (or my son, or my friend, etc.)?

It would be nice to be able to relax and point to statistics. The vast majority of armed people in authority never kill anyone. The vast majority of encounters between armed people in authority and black people do not result in deadly violence. If your experience is that people like you are more likely to be shot in encounters with armed people in authority and that those armed people in authority who do the shooting are universally not held to account for the shooting, it is rational to conclude that you and people like you could be next.

But the statistics show this conclusion is irrational! If we were the kind of being that lived purely in terms of statistics, that might be true. We’re not that kind of being. The microscope of the 24 hour news cycle combined with social media makes sure that these events, even if statistically rare, are ever before us.

Ah – so let’s blame the news cycle and social media! Surely there would be no problem if these incidents weren’t magnified!

But consider what I said. The 24 hour news cycle put these events under a microscope. These incidents are being magnified. The incidents are real. They actually happened. The details may not be report wie es eigentlich gewesen (as things actually happened), but historians since von Ranke know that’s an impossible standard. The incidents, however described, happen often enough, and are vividly reported enough, that my friends perceive themselves (and the people they care about) to be in mortal danger, even if at any given moment they are safe. Philando Castile was safe. Driving down the road, enjoying the day, perfectly safe. Until he wasn’t; until he was dead. (But he was a criminal! He was smoking pot! – And this infraction of the law warrants the death penalty? If I thought the smallest infraction of the law – or even perceived infraction of the law, given the theory that people are innocent until proven guilty – I’d be living a life of anxiety.)

When my friends suffer, my heart is broken. How long, Lord?

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This entry was posted in Culture, Current events, Politics, Violence and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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