The killing of Daunte Wright, on the heels of the needlessly aggressive actions of officers who stopped Lt. Caron Nazario, during the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, is a “perfect storm.” For what, however, varies wildly.
Is this the moment to revisit whether police should be involved in traffic stops at all? They are too easily abused as pretext stops. The legal justifications range from trivial nonsense that could be better handled by non-police, indeed, cameras, although they too have significant problems that seem to elude those arguing for alternatives. And drunk drivers, dangerous vehicles, harm others. There’s a long list of concerns which are serious when they’re on the front burner, and insignificant when another problem is front and center.
For one representative in Congress, this storm proves her priors.
It wasn't an accident. Policing in our country is inherently & intentionally racist.
Daunte Wright was met with aggression & violence. I am done with those who condone government funded murder.
No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can't be reformed.
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) April 12, 2021
Even though Tlaib is off-the-charts crazy in a Marjorie Taylor Greene sort of way, there is a point held tightly in her simplistic grasp: There remains an enduring cultural belief that black people are prone to crime and violence, thus making cops take a more aggressive posture as a matter of self-protection. Cops perceive greater risk when the driver is black, which justifies a more defensive and aggressive course of action, which escalates tensions, confuses and guides reactions. A hand movement by a sweet white granny isn’t a threat. A furtive gesture by a black 20-year-old is as close to the glint of steel a cop is prepared to suffer.
Police are trained as to the inherent dangers of a car stop. They don’t know who is in the car, whether they’re armed, whether they have unknown issues, drugs, guns or warrants, that will become apparent during the stop and substantially change the dynamic. The tags may be expired, which is no big deal, but the driver may be wanted for murder and perhaps he’s not inclined to have the officer know who he is.
As Radley Balko points out, these may be real concerns, but the likelihood of a cop being killed during a car stop is “vanishingly rare.”
Lots of variables to consider, but the article above found a FL cop was killed in one out of every 3.6 million stops on the low end, and one in every 20.1 million stops on the high end. Nationally it happens 5-10 times per year, out of about 30 million annual stops.
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) April 12, 2021
These numbers, of course, cut both ways. Cops are trained to believe that every car stop could be their last, and they enter into the engagement with that mindset, shoot or die, even though the probability of any harm coming to them as negligible. The counter argument, of course, is that it does happen and nobody wants to die for a job. The counter argument to this, as someone will compulsively point out, is that police officers don’t make the top
10 20 deadliest occupations. The counter argument to this is that trees don’t try to kill lumberjacks.
The flip side of these statistics is that many are laboring under the misconception that police are slaughtering unarmed black people in the streets at will. Except there aren’t 10,000 unarmed black men killed by police every year. Not 1000 nor 100. In 2019, the number was 27. The same 30 million stops annually and yet only 27 unarmed black men are killed by police, and that 27 isn’t limited to car stops. Then again, these are deaths, not beatings, not needlessly aggressive, offensive, improper and unconstitutional stops. A car stop isn’t acceptable only because no one died. Offensive police conduct doesn’t disappear because it wasn’t caught on camera or ended without bloodshed.
“Perfect storms” such as the one at hand give rise to gross exaggeration and hysteria, beliefs that make it impossible to step back, take a deep breath, and see very real problems in the cold, harsh life of reality. Without identifying the real problem(s), we are doomed to seek fantasy solutions which will fail to fix what’s wrong and give rise to cures that may be worse than the disease.
This moment in time could be the worst possible to try to focus on the real problems in need of redress and reform, as tensions and feelings are high, erroneous beliefs are absolute, and the loudest voices too often take the most absurd or simplistic positions, to the adoration of their mindless sycophants. Yet, these are the moments when people demand that something be done and, for better or worse, government does something. Before any solution can be considered, the problem must be identified. Is there a problem? What is the problem? Are there many problems, conflicts and value choices of whose life matters more?
Try, please, not to pound your tribe’s obvious bias, but to consider that everyone is a living, breathing human being who wants to make it home for dinner.
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.