I unintentionally started a mini-flame war on Facebook by comparing two stats the other day — Number of police killed (in one article), and number of young Black men killed (in another article). There was no explanation, just the two stats and links to the articles. One friend said I was “comparing oranges to automatic transmissions” (which , upon reflection, I might have been doing). Others were confused by what I meant. Another didn’t want me to excuse racial violence by saying police were victims, too, and focusing away from the issue. Other friends showed stats from other sources. Still others argued with the articles. The whole things started because another friend of mine published an article and police’s understanding of force in the course of duty.
My wife and I have been binge-watching The West Wing lately and I have learned from this that I could never be a US President because I am horrible at short statements. I’d spend the rest of my life responding to sound bites that I had said meaning something else. So, for those who got involved in this whole thing, and for my own sanity, I want to explain what I think has caused the situation we Americans find ourselves in re: police and race and how to fix it from a clinical perspective.
For that, I should explain how I see things in general. I view things as a system and I’m not much into blame one way or the other. I find it doesn’t work or help much. I frequently tell clients this story, “You know how you can be one way with one person and another way with another person? That’s because both of those ways of being are within you and it depends on positioning and making choices that fit in that context. For Instance of Mr. X comes in with a mysterious disease where his right arm flails about, that’s not the problem. I don’t blame him or his arm for flailing, nor his wife for “taking it”. By having a strict rule that keeps this thing put together this way, everybody gets hurt. I blame the rule as the problem and suggest standing on Mr. X’s left side. I also explain that if you have a lit match and gasoline, blaming one or the other for its existence in the situation doesn’t make sense. We learn from knowing what happens when you put the two together and we do something differently to prevent problems for both people and make things flow smoothly.
You can see where this is going, I presume. I don’t blame the police and I don’t blame the Black community. I blame the context. There is a cause to all of this and it is… Sin. It’s a quaint theological concept for many I’m sure, but there it is. This doesn’t excuse the things people do to each other. We have choices about the sin which courses through our souls. And there’s plenty of sin to go around here — for both parties and for society in general. By “sin”, here I mean “things that we do that we can’t explain, that we know better, but still do”. We have not taken sin very seriously, and we all need to acknowledge it as a possibility within ourselves, and do everything that we can to actively avoid it. We need to find and use our better selves if we are to avoid this happening again,
The first sin, it seems to me is that people want power over each other. The second is we see “different” as “better ” and “worse” instead of “different” and “different”. Third is that we see violence as the way to keep the peace.
In the famous Phillip Zimbardo experiment at Stanford University in the 1960’s, intelligent people –college students — were broken up into two groups: Prisoner and Guard. The experiment had to be cut very short because it became violent and oppressive to be the prisoners. There is, apparently, something wrong with the role of guard or police person that leads to a Lord of the Flies scenario. Whatever that is, it is wrong. Because nobody really knows where it came from and nearly everybody was surprised by it, I’ll call that drive “Sin”.
Given that the drive exists, it’s a wonder that police don’t shoot more people of all races. Of course, the students weren’t trained for the job, and police are (we’d like to think so, anyway) so we can be trained to not give in to the sin of “power over” . We need to first acknowledge that it doesn’t work and we think that it’s wrong. Then, if we are going to have police, they need to be trained to resist it. This tendency seems to be a part of our DNA and if it is, we need to deal with it.
Next is the sin of “better” and “worse” with no basis in reality. In this country, we believe that White, Protestant Christian, Heterosexual, Men are The Norm and somehow better than everyone . How do I know this? In 200+ years, we have only had two Presidents that weren’t all of those. The first one was murdered before his first term was done. The second has had the most difficult time of any president in history. Besides that, when I proposed to people that “someday we’ll have a Black president” and “someday we’ll have a woman president”, their response has “I’m not sure the country is ready for that”. What’s there to be ready for? Either the person can do the job or they can’t. It’s as simple as that. Other than age and naturalization, there isn’t anything in the Constitution that says they can’t be President … and yet there aren’t. Why not? Because “we’re not ready for it”. It makes no sense to exclude Jewish, Hindu, or even atheists from running for the office if they are qualified, but we do it. It makes no sense to exclude the female half of the population, but we do it. If an Asian person is good enough to be a Senator or Representative, why not President? It hasn’t happened yet.
It doesn’t matter if the oppression comes from inside or outside, it hurts us to limit our options. Bob Marley’s words, “free yourself from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds” is true. For any of us to believe that — by nature — we’re better or worse at everything is insane and sinful when we all have the same nature and we’re all Children of God. To reject the talents and gifts of anyone is to reject the God who created them. We can’t all be President or postal workers or chefs or teachers . We’re different, but we’re all human and surely there’s someone who might be a good person for every job, but we don’t know until we let them try.
Are we making progress here? Yes. Remember woman driver jokes? Remember Help Wanted ads that said “Help Wanted, Male and “Help Wanted, Female”? I do. Remember when crayon boxes had something called “flesh colored” crayons and those looked like White people skin? If we had “flesh”, what did others have? Remember when gay men could be beaten to death and no one thought anything of it? I do. We now have female Senators, we have different colors for crayon boxes and a vast portion of folks who would be upset if it happened now. The world hasn’t come to an end because of those changes and it won’t if we treat people as individual people rather than as races, genders, classes or any other categories.
The application of this idea is, among other things, racism. Realtors have a history of “red-lining” African-Americans, meaning that they put people of certain types into certain zip codes, regardless of class, education, income, criminal history, religion or anything else. White world: ever wonder why you don’t or didn’t have a lot of Black neighbors? This is one reason why. In the same area of Springfield I grew up in, I know some African-Americans who are professors, lawyers, nurses, and a lot of thugs and drug dealers. They live with the sound of gunfire now. I can’t imagine any other reason to live in Forest Park if you have enough money to get out. Does it make all African-Americans seem alike? Does is make them frustrated? What happens if — no matter how smart you were or how well-to-do you were or how hard you worked, you had to live in gun-shot land? . Is this illegal? Of course it is. It is sinful? Yes. Does it happen? Yes. African-Americans are often the last hired and first fired. As I’ve said before, My African-American American friends are avoided in restaurants. Years ago, there was a discussion of African-Americans trying to catch a cab in NYC. The list goes on, and on, and on. All of it is wrong. All of it is sin. All of it leads to frustration and anger in those areas of town where they are allowed to live. When police arrive in an area like this, they sense the anger and the frustration and they fear.
The next sin is our love of violence as a way to solve things. If it’s “heroic” to blow up a car while it hits a fire hydrant after an exciting chase scene, which includes hundreds of bullets, why not be a “hero”?
I also know police families who live in Springfield or other areas, and their families are worried every time they go out the door. Why? It is because they work with violent criminals all day. Psychopaths and sociopaths, of course, come in all colors, cultures, creeds, etc. A day that includes domestic violence calls, drug deals, drunks acting out, corruption, and bar fighting is likely to put anybody on edge. That edge doesn’t go away easily. Compare this to , among other things, movies which tells us that destroying a neighborhood to get to one bad guy is a good thing. If it’s “heroic” to blow up a car while it hits a fire hydrant after an exciting chase scene, which includes hundreds of bullets, why not be a “hero”?
People in all of our communities believe that violence is the answer to their problems. It’s not, no matter how many times we tell ourselves it is. If violence made the world safer, we’d be a lot safer by now. There was a shooting last night in a suburb in Connecticut, as well as many this year in Springfield. We live in a violent world which seems to grow more and more violent as we look for the answer to violence with violence. Being on a police force and going to work in that kind of an atmosphere is a set up for disaster.
These are the pieces which lead us to the disasters we have seen — the compulsion toward power over others, the racism and other beliefs that some people have more value than others and some lives are not worth as much, the segregation of people away from each other, and the belief that violence solves things all contribute to what has happened this summer and what quietly has been escalating. (And, yes, Santiago, any policy that reinforces those beliefs).
From a systems viewpoint, anything that decreases these stimuli (sins) will decrease the symptoms (police shooting young Black men). To the extent that we can resist these sins in any of their forms, seek to be better people, and make (and follow) policies which lead us away from the sins, we will decrease the violence in our streets and in our hearts.
If we decrease the causes of the problem, we will decrease the symptoms of it. It is as simple as that. Let us set our hearts towards that, so that no one dies and no one kills unnecessarily.
There is a companion piece to this article, and it can be found at http://revlmftblog2.com/2014/12/19/sin-is-the-problem-thats-the-cure-for-julie/