July 09, 2016

The color delusion

Alton Sterling, a lifelong criminal and known gang member was killed by police when he reached for an illegal gun concealed in his right front pants pocket while they were trying to arrest him.

Philando Castile, a school cafeteria supervisor and CCW licensee was killed by police during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Brent Thompson, a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) police officer was killed by a sniper while on duty at a protest march in Dallas dedicated to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

I started Brian's Meandering Mind on June 4, 2003 (It Starts Like This, I Suppose). A few years before, blogs and personal websites had replaced Usenet as the primary modes for expression and interaction in cyberspace. Usenet was a tumultuous, vitriolic, and dangerous place for people with sensitive natures. I had to learn how to gave as good as I got, how to argue on the basis of facts and logic, and how to sling mud in more creative ways than I had ever imagined could exist. When websites, carefully moderated web forums, and YouTube became the places everyone went, I started spending my online time at a site devoted to creative writing. That site has long since changed names and ownership multiple times, so my experience then has no correlation with the social environment at that site now. I started this blog because the management of the site badly pissed me off with their overt intention to indoctrinate everyone who used their site into a particularly harmless style of writing suitable for children's books aimed at the 10-15 age group and nothing else. This resulted in several of my most powerful stories (at the time) being banned from public view. If you're curious, the polished versions of those stories are all now available worldwide on the Amazon Kindle in my collection, "The Yellow Hummingbird and Other Stories". Many people would disagree, but I happen to think this collection is perfectly suitable for anyone over the age of 13. I bring all of this up to emphasize that my entire life has been dedicated to one goal: shattering the delusions people cherish most.

Something in the United States went deadly wrong after Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential election. I don't understand what happened, or why, but for some reason race relations over the past eight years have deteriorated to a point not seen since the weeks following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Why has the election of America's first black president resulted in the media firestorm surrounding crimes and shootings between white police officers and black citizens? I have no idea! And yet, the real problems plaguing American black communities (gang wars, single mothers, failing schools) have all been completely ignored? Even more so, for me personally, the one key point that I simply cannot wrap my head around, is why haven't successful black Americans gone into failing inner city communities to invest in schools, better quality housing, free clinics, soup kitchens, and all of the other very real solutions they could easily use their money to provide? Instead, they appear on CNN or MSNBC crying out for the federal government to "do something!" They make good money as commentators, column writers, media personalities, professional athletes, movie stars, movie directors, authors, bankers and traders, but they do not use their success to go back home and help others. Why not?

Two black men were shot by white police. By odd coincidence these shootings occurred only a few days after Hilary Clinton was absolved of wrongdoing in a criminal investigation into her use of a private mail server while she was Secretary of State. Just as outrage against this decision began to pour forth, two black men are shot by white police and it makes headline news on every major network. I try really hard not to buy into conspiracy theories revolving around the cozy relationship between the American media and the Democratic Party, but damn, when pieces fall into place this conveniently for the Democratic Party agenda I really have to wonder. There is no doubt in my mind that this is pure coincidence, but at the same time, I have to point out that Fourth of July 2016 was one of the bloodiest and most deadly Independence Day weekends in the history of the City of Chicago. Instead of reporting on the 66 shootings in Chicago, the media takes up two stories of black men killed by white cops. Stephen Carter, one of those highly paid commentators who refuses to invest in his hometown, published this opinion piece, "Don't Compare Police Shootings to Black on Black Crime".

Oh, no! Let's not ask why black men are slaughtering each other over drugs, prostitution, illegal guns, and illegal gambling. Nope, not important. Somehow the violence in black communities has nothing at all do with the black experience. No, despite the fact that more young black men are killed by other young black in a single weekend than are killed by white police over the course of an entire year, those deaths are not important. Instead, Angela Rye (another well-paid commentator who refuses to invest in her hometown) comes on CNN to rant against, "rogue white cops hunting young black males for sport", as a way of responding to the ambush of a dozen Dallas police officers by a black man who "wanted to kill white people, especially white officers".

Let's back up a minute and take another look at the two killings that supposedly set the Dallas shooter on his rampage. There are many everyday facts about police work that every single commentator and opinion writer, including those with police experience, has overlooked and I don't understand why. When police in Baton Rouge approached Alton Sterling, they already knew exactly who he was. They knew his name, they knew his criminal record, they knew he was in possession of an illegal firearm. They knew these things because of the 911 call that brought them to this location and because of the computer readout that would have poured into the monitor in their cruiser when they responded to the dispatcher. Nonetheless, their job is to approach him as if he is a complete stranger who has never committed a crime in his life. They asked him to stop selling CDs in front of the convenience store, he refused, so they attempted to arrest him and he resisted. There was scuffle in which he was thrown on top of a car, sliding off onto the pavement. They tried to get control of his arms so they could put handcuffs on him, and he reached toward his waist. At that point, they knew he had a gun but not where he was carrying it and they knew his hand was moving to his waist which is a common place to carry a gun, so they shot him and he died. Yes, it really is that simple. It has nothing to do with his skin color. It has everything to do with his criminal record and his possession of an illegal firearm. To pretend otherwise is simply delusional.

I have to be honest here. I don't care what color Alton Sterling is. I really don't. He was a career criminal with a long and violent record who resisted arrest. In my opinion, he got exactly what he deserved. I would say the exact same thing if he were my own brother, who also has a criminal record. If you have a record and you consider cops your enemy so you fight with cops and they shoot you, then you have received a just reward for your choices. I know many people will find this very offensive, including my own brother. I will not apologize for my opinion. If I ever get in a fight with police and they kill me, I will have brought it on myself. This is not "rogue white police officers hunting young black men for sport", nor is this "clearly an execution of a young black man by a cop playing judge, jury, and executioner." This is stupidity, suicidal stupidity, by Alton Sterling.

A police officer finds himself behind a car with a broken taillight. He can ignore it, or he can pull the car over and inform the driver. He decides to pull the car over. At that point, he notifies the dispatcher of his decision and runs the license plate on the computer in his patrol car. The very first thing the computer returns, at the very top of the description of the owner, is a notification like this one:

"NAME" is a CCW licensee and should be considered armed and dangerous, approach with caution.

It does not matter if the person has never committed a crime in their life. It does not matter that in order to receive a CCW they had to pass a background check while in order to purchase a firearm to carry they had to pass another background check. It does not matter how much or how little education the CCW licensee has, how gainfully employed they are, or even what color their skin happens to be. The simple fact that they have been granted a license to carry a concealed weapon results in their being listed as "armed and dangerous, approach with caution" in the police database for their state. It is true of me, it was true of Philando Castile. At this point, the cop who made the decision to pull this car over for a broken taillight will respond to that information in accordance with his own personality. While it is possible that being black made Philando appear more dangerous to the officer who pulled him over, I have yet to see any real evidence to suggest it. My assumption would be that the CCW notification alone was enough to set the officer into panic mode. Now he's scared half to death. The officer is wondering if he has signed his own death warrant over a broken taillight. Cold sweat breaks out down his back and across his forehead. His hands begin to shake and he finds it almost impossible to get out of his cruiser to approach the driver. There is nothing more frightening to many police officers than a civilian with a gun.

I don't know what happened between the time the officer left his cruiser and the time he killed Philando. Eventually, we will all know. At this point in time, the only thing we do know is what Philando's fiance broadcast to the entire world immediately after the officer stopped firing. We know her story, we know her video. She says Philando was reaching for his driver's license when the cop executed him for no reason. That is not a fact. That is her interpretation of the facts. This is no different than a few paragraphs above when I wrote, "If you have a record and you consider cops your enemy so you fight with cops and they shoot you, then you have received a just reward for your choices." My statement was mere opinion, her statements were mere opinions. To assume that just because she was right there when Philando died those words are a completely factual account while completely ignoring her bitterness, shock, disbelief, and other emotions at the time is to feed your own prejudices, regardless of what those prejudices are. Whether you decide on the basis of her deeply emotional outburst that the cop acted irresponsibly or in line with proper protocols is irrelevant, in both case you are simply stacking one interpretation on top of another. These are not facts. These are interpretations of the available facts.

I don't know if the police officer who shot Philando Castile has an inherent fear of black people. I have no idea. It is, of course, very possible. I do know that many police officers are irrationally afraid of armed civilians. I would find it far easier to believe that this officer's fear of armed civilians was far more important than Philando's skin tone. That does not make it a fact. My own interpretation of the incident is that the officer acted out of fear of an armed civilian, not fear of a young black with a gun. Philando's fiance's interpretation is the cop executed Philando because he was black and the officer was white. Neither of these interpretations are facts. She and I are both looking at the facts and imposing our own worldview onto those facts. We are both exercising a high degree of delusional thinking. The only difference between she and I is that I know my interpretation is not real. This does not make me better than her in any way, shape, or form. I am not superior to her because of my education, my overseas experience, my CCW training, or the color of my skin. We are equally delusional. Neither of our interpretations should be accepted as fact by anyone else.

I consider Philando's death a great, easily avoided tragedy. If the officer is eventually prosecuted and imprisoned for this shooting I will certainly support the court's decision. On the other hand, I do not consider Philando Castile's death to be related to Alton Sterling's death. The fact that both were young black males while the officers were both young white males is coincidental. Conflating these two deaths simply on the basis of skin color is completely delusional. The two men had nothing in common. One was a criminal and a thug, the other was an upright citizen with a bright future. Alton Sterling's death was inevitable. If he had not been killed by police this past weekend, he would have been killed by them at some point in the future. His life choices, both past and present, had set him on a course with only two possible outcomes: life in prison, death by cop. You can say I'm "blaming the victim" all you like, but this is my interpretation and I believe in it as strongly as you believe in your own.

I will wait with great impatience the outcome of the investigation into the death of Philando Castile. If criminal charges are not brought, I will be very disappointed. However, I cannot imagine any possible evidence coming to light that could convince me this was a case of a racist white cop executing an innocent black man. I regard that interpretation as highly delusional, so delusional it approaches pathological insanity. It seems very clear to me that this is yet one more case of a paranoid, poorly trained officer shooting down a CCW licensee simply because he overreacted to the licensee attempting to retrieve his driver's license. The lesson I take from this is that if I am ever pulled over for a traffic stop, the moment I have turned off my engine I will dig out my driver's license and vehicle registration, have them in my hands, and have my hands on the steering wheel long before the officer reaches my car window. Now it is always possible that one of these paranoid guys who hate civilian gun ownership will overreact and shoot me through the back window while I am fumbling around for my paperwork. This is the risk I take by having a CCW, keeping it current, and keeping a firearm on my body at all times. The fact that my skin is white is irrelevant. If the officer is paranoid enough to shoot a black CCW licensee then he is paranoid enough to shoot me and there is nothing I can do about it.


July 10, 2016, 04:24 JST:

Well, damn. This is disappointing. After waiting three days to write it, my blog post was still 12 hours too early. It turns out I was completely wrong in my assessment of Philando Castile. According to the Ramsey County Sheriff, he did not have a CCW.

From what I do know of him, I strongly doubt he was involved in the armed robbery. To me, he does not look like the fellow in the video surveillance capture still. His beard, his cheeks are much different, although his jawline is similar.

Alpha Net: Traffic Stop Linked to Armed Robbery


July 10, 2016, 07:56 JST

Took me awhile to dig it back up again, but I think this post from October 2015 is even more relevant today than it was on the day it was originally posted.


July 10, 2016, 08:23 JST

More on Alton Sterling
Blue Lives Matter Blog: New Video Confirms Police Version of Alton Sterling Shooting
Allen West: Alton Sterling's Colorful Criminal Past


July 11, 2016, 0:458 JST

The New York Post agrees with me. I don't know if I should be flattered or horrified.
New York Post: Black Lives Matter's numbers are bogus