Friday, July 15, 2016

Baton Rouge. Falcon Heights. Dallas.


The horrific events seem to be coming at a faster pace than ever before. Just when it's almost time to raise the flags from their half-mast-for-Orlando position, we have Dallas (on the heels of another controversial killing in Louisiana, immediately followed by another in Minnesota). Funerals are taking place for the five police officers, and then France is struck again, this time in Nice. (And -- oh, yeah -- there was Istanbul, although I notice with a decent amount of discomfort that Americans seem to notice terrorism more when it strikes North America or Western Europe, rather than Eastern Europe or the Middle East.) Did I leave any out? I'm sure I did.

We now have more names and more incidents to discuss, and I think the rate of violence (or perhaps a similar rate, but more publicized and broadcast than ever before) has caused Americans to adopt a lazy, binary approach. For example, Michael Brown has been compared far too many times with Emmett Till. And once is too many times. Let's review. Emmett Till was an African-American boy who was lynched in the 1950s after he flirted with a white woman. Michael Brown robbed a convenience store, violently shook the proprietor, resisted arrest when approached by police, tried to grab a police officer's gun, and was shot and killed. His death is a tragedy, but it is absolutely incomparable to what happened to Till.

And yet I keep hearing a list of names rattled off with suggested equivalence. One person said, "Trayvon Martin is Michael Brown is Eric Garner is Sandra Bland is Freddie Gray is..." and so forth.

But this isn't remotely true. Every one of these high-profile cases is unique. I see a lot of lumping going on, as if in every case we must either condemn or exonerate the police officer(s) involved. In the most recent ones, yes, the police seem to be overstepping their bounds, but not in every single violent encounter that has taken place. And yet, there's a knee-jerk tendency by some to assume the worst of the police, whereas in others there's just as instinctive an assumption that some punk had it coming.

I can't shake this feeling that we used to wait a little longer before passing judgment, but not in this age in which cell-phone video of any incident is uploaded within sixty seconds and seen halfway around the world before the blood on the pavement has dried. In some ways, that's a good thing; it makes footage less vulnerable to editing. But it also sets off firestorms before we're even able to piece together what has happened.

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