Lesson From the Woke Dentist–and Questions From Other Stories We Need to Keep Reconsidering…

Image courtesy of freesvg.org

A friend (white) who likes and respects his dentist (also white) questioned the dentist about his reactions to our nation’s turmoil in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by the police.

The dentist responded:

“I finally get it. My son’s been working on me for a while, but now it’s really clear.”

But, my friend persisted, since the media coverage has largely lost its intensity, is he still as focused on the issue?

“Yes,” said the dentist.

And he provided what my friend and I agreed was an apt description of racist thinking, even in well-meaning white folks like us.

“It’s like grinding your teeth. I’ll ask a patient if he grinds his teeth, and he’ll say ‘no.’ He’s sure he doesn’t grind his teeth. But I look at his molars, and it’s obvious he’s been grinding them.”

The impact of that perpetual grinding—arising from insults/actions large and small, many possibly unintended—erodes self-respect and dampens the life experiences of even the strongest individuals.

And it’s clear that it’s deeply embedded not just in us as individuals, but in all our nation’s institutions.

As my friend reminded me, enough grinding can actually kill the tooth. That’s why tens of thousands of diverse Americans have finally taken to the streets.

I’m aware of the growing body of what I believe are also well-meaning white people who think “woke” or identity politics are destroying this country.

They long for the Kumbaya of us all embracing in color-blind fashion, and/or they think that we should be talking about class and not about race.

But like my friend’s dentist, many Americans have finally awakened, and are saying that—among other things—we need to define the meaning of police work and the role of police officers in a democracy.

I, too, long for a nation/world in which Martin Luther King’s words are the reality: we’re all judged “not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.” And I wish we could resolve our problems by economic means alone.

Economics is, of course, a vital part of the equation, but it doesn’t per se erase the inequities that have arisen from our brutal history toward people of color—from before the first Thanksgiving to the current day.

It doesn’t touch the sense of vulnerability and fear of life-threatening acts arising from adversarial encounters with many white people, particularly those with authority.

So I think it’s naive and destructive to pretend that we can approach the ideal without making a deliberate attempt to root out every single vestige of race-based inequities in our institutions—and that we white people must keep educating ourselves so that we become aware of when we’re grinding—and that we cut it out.

As the brilliant author Ta-Nehisi Coates has said: “racism is the father of race.”

We may never reach the point where we don’t “see” color, but we have to keep striving to remove all the negative baggage that we attach to it.

At this time, people of color, especially black people, know they can’t escape it—no matter how accomplished they are and how exemplary their lives.

Consider Christian Cooper, bird-watching in Central Park, who had the temerity to ask a white woman to obey park rules and leash her dog, only to have her say, “I’m calling the police to tell them an African American man is threatening me.”

We know the consequences could have been more dire than they were, but what impact did the confrontation have on a quiet man simply bird-watching?

And what about James Juanillo, chalking “Black Lives Matter” on his own property in San Francisco, who was approached by a white couple insisting he didn’t belong there, who told him he had to stop and filed a police report against him for vandalism?

Then there’s Steve Locke, whose story I recently learned, though the episode took place in 2015. I think it is most instructive to anyone who’s not black and can’t possibly understand the ramifications of a black man’s being subject to police scrutiny.

Locke is an artist and art professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design who posted his soul-sapping encounter on his blog.

He titled it “I fit the description.”

On his way to buy a burrito before teaching his 1:30 class one day, he found himself surrounded by police cars. “We had someone matching your description just try to break into a woman’s home,” he was told. The description: “Black male, knit cap, puffy coat.”

“You fit the description.”

Locke describes how carefully he reached for his ID as instructed, first requesting permission to put his hand into his pocket.

Imagine feeling you have to ask permission to reach into your pocket! This humiliation is such a well-established survival mechanism that it’s become a part of black comedians’ repertoires.

In 1974, according to The New York Times, the late great Richard Pryor (whom I’ve quoted before in this blog) enunciated it as follows:

“I. Am Reaching. Into. My Pocket. For. My License.”

And just recently, Michael Che adapted it for his routine:

“My brother is a cop. I only see him on Thanksgiving, and even then, I’m like: I’m. Reaching. For. The. Potatoes.”

Obviously, this was no laughing matter for Locke. His hands were shaking. He told the police he was a college professor, pointing to his faculty photo ID that hung around his neck in full sight.

His knitted cap, he wrote later, multi-colored and handmade for him, was unlike any other. It couldn’t have fit the description, but that fact didn’t matter.

The police said they would take him to be identified by the woman who’d reported the crime.

And here’s where I found the account of this art professor on his way to buy a burrito so revelatory.

“It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die. I am not being dramatic when I say this. I was not going to get into a police car…

“I was not going to let them take me anywhere because if they did, the chance I was going to be accused of something I did not do rose exponentially. I knew this in my heart.

“I was not going anywhere with these cops and I was not going to let some white woman decide whether or not I was a criminal, especially after I told them that I was not a criminal. This meant that I was going to resist arrest. This meant that I was not going to let the police put their hands on me.

If you are wondering why people don’t go with the police, I hope this explains it for you.”

Eventually, they let him go. He described the impact of this episode as he left to teach his class.

“I forgot the lesson I had planned. I forgot the schedule. I couldn’t think about how to do my job. I thought about the fact my word counted for nothing, they didn’t believe that I wasn’t a criminal. They had to find out.

“My word was not enough for them. My ID was not enough for them. My handmade one-of-a-kind knit hat was an object of suspicion. My Ralph Lauren quilted blazer was only a ‘puffy coat.’ 

“… The cops were probably deeply satisfied with how they handled the interaction, how they didn’t escalate the situation, how they were respectful and polite.

I imagined sitting in the back of a police car while a white woman decides if I am a criminal or not. If I looked guilty being detained by the cops, imagine how vile I become sitting in a cruiser? I knew I could not let that happen to me. I knew if that were to happen, I would be dead.

“Nothing I am, nothing I do, nothing I have means anything because I fit the description.”

I am thinking of Rayshard Brooks, the black man in Atlanta who fell asleep in a Wendy’s drive-thru and was subsequently shot in the back running away from the police.

In the lengthy first part of the video, he is shown politely conversing and cooperating with one of the police officers who was ultimately arrested for his murder.

It appears from the video that it was not until the second police officer handcuffed him that he tried to get away. Why the dramatic change in his behavior?

Image courtesy of peakpx.com

We’ll never know.

We do know about the fight-or-flight-or-freeze instinct—our brain’s primitive survival mechanism that makes us react when we feel endangered. It’s so strong when we’re anxious that it affords little opportunity for rational thinking.

Among all the talk about better police training, I hope there’s emphasis on ensuring that the police understand this very basic reaction—and how it operates in both themselves and the people they encounter. We know from the experiences of so many black people that being approached by the police makes them feel they’re in danger.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, but with all the talk about the need for better police training, in part because police believe themselves to be warriors who are always endangered, is there some emphasis on basic neuroscience? If not, maybe adding it could lead to life-saving insights.

Running away from the police should not be automatically viewed as evidence of guilt. It shouldn’t take much metaphorical teeth grinding to make us realize that—and to demand policies aligned accordingly.

Let’s consider a scenario in which it’s clear the police must detain a suspect. Let’s assume the police officers are well-meaning.

Is there any way these police can assure the potential detainee at the outset that he won’t be harmed or misjudged? Might community policing, in which the officers are required to live where they work, be a good possibility here?

If the suspect knows the police officers and has seen them in everyday circumstances—even being helpful to members of the community—perhaps he would be less likely to assume they are out to get him. And as importantly, they may know him.

Or have we passed the point where any black man can have confidence that the police will treat him fairly?

May this be the hopeful time in which greater clarity becomes possible, leading to meaningful reforms.

What do you think? Do you have ideas to suggest?


Note: Steve Locke does very compelling work on racial themes. You can view them at http://www.stevelocke.com.

33 thoughts on “Lesson From the Woke Dentist–and Questions From Other Stories We Need to Keep Reconsidering…

  1. “So I think it’s naive and destructive to pretend that we can approach the ideal without making a deliberate attempt to root out every single vestige of race-based inequities in our institutions.

    Disparity fallacy: The disparity fallacy holds that unequal outcomes between two groups must be caused primarily by discrimination, whether overt or systemic.

    The imposition of equity outcomes based on race cannot reduce racism but advance its use as a metric.

    Racism: 1) prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, 2) the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.

    You cannot apply racist programs under the banner of equity to dismantle racism. It does and will achieve exactly what you don’t want, namely, the empowerment of race as a distinguishing characteristic. Calling this racist program ‘anti-racist’ is like putting lipstick on a pig; it doesn’t change the thing being described.


    1. If one simply assumes the first definition of racism you provide, your disparity fallacy doesn’t stand up and equity outcomes are appropriate. The problem has been that too many of our attitudes and institutions have been based on the second definition. That is what the great awakening has been all about. Lots of people saw for the first time that the police were, indeed, applying a standard against black people that they almost never use against white people.

      Do you not see a problem with the “use of excessive force” by police? And please don’t tell me about the white protesters who were beaten; that was part of the awakening. If you don’t see a problem, I see no reason to continue this discussion. If you do, please tell me how we as a society address this huge issue, which has shaken our society to its core, in a way that negates racism as a part of problem/solution.


      1. Of course it’s a problem. But unlike many people, I seek working measurable instituted solutions to this problem rather than using accounts as a cover to implement policies for ideological reasons. Equity policies have not, do not, and never shall work to reduce inequalities of opportunity. Also, equity policies stop people from being able to progress beyond what the lowest common denominator might be.

        Any time you see the term ‘equity’ used to mean ‘equality’ or ‘fairness’, the red flag of warning should go up in one’s mind because the two terms are NOT synonyms. This linguistic slipperiness and substitution is used intentionally to fool people into believing – when there is no evidence for it – that they are working hard to support a value everyone shares – the value being equality rights and freedoms and responsibilities in law… in other words, fairness – rather than what they are actually doing, which is willfully supporting the imposition on everyone of an ideology only some people believe (in spite of plentiful historical contrary evidence) will poof into being a nirvana of a truly egalitarian society.

        If you recognize the terminology, you will recall its communist origins, which is set up to be an never-ending, never-resolved conflict between power hierarchies. After all, there will ALWAYS be some level of inequity between people of different abilities. Always. (This same ideology used today to declare institutional racism is EXACTLY what Critical Race Theory is all about – everything is about race, donchaknow, and it’s all about the power or lack thereof derived from it – and the one being used to promote the ongoing Black Lives Matter gong show aka civil disobedient and unrest.) This is the same theory used to distinguish between the Proletariat and Bourgeoisie for a never-ending class struggle because, hey, inequity… only the terms have been switched but the process of power that creates victims and victimizers is always the same dog-and-pony show. Of course, to implement this policy requires brute force on the unwilling, and this is why these movements always require the Accuser more power than the Accused (Red Guard, anyone? Antifa? Twitter mobs?) and each follows the same guilt-by-accusation-alone, guilt-by-association-alone and the public going along with the demanded social shunning we see running rampant today on social media.


      2. I don’t know to whom you are referring when you write of “linguistic slipperiness,” but your argument strikes me as a straw person that does nothing to advance the discussion. No one is suggesting that a fairer society will mean the eradication of differing abilities. The concept is enabling people to have equal access, which is demonstrably not the case at present.
        There was very little unrest among the tens of thousands of demonstrators—remarkably so. I don’t know what you’re reading, but antifa isn’t even a movement—according to the FBI and others. It’s random people who have not been associated with violence. You have thrown together a bunch of stuff and failed to tell me anything about the “working measurable instituted solutions” you are advocating. Sorry, but I can’t spend more time on this type of unproductive discussion.


      3. Your comment reflects my point: you assume policies of equity ARE the means of improving equality, especially of opportunity. As I said, this assumption is factually wrong. It accomplishes exactly the opposite. You accuse me of not putting forward policies of addressing police brutality that are, “measurable instituted solutions” but fail to see you aren’t, either other than claiming vague equity policies will reduce systemic racism. Why don’t you address solutions that will reduce black-on-black crime with these equity policies? I think this is because you presume your conclusion, that equity policies will somehow address this, too.

        For solutions to be measurable instituted solutions means we have to first establish what it is we want, which is to reduce police brutality. So solutions, one might presume, should be in the form of of addressing changes to policing and the responsibilities they are to address, changes to training, changes to implementation of how police enforce the law. These are the directed solutions and I’m not seeing these bringing brought into legislation. What I am seeing is a call to implementing equity programs and policies that do absolutely nothing to offer measurable instituted solutions to police brutality (regardless of how much pigmentation a victim of it might have) but focus entirely on reducing ‘systemic racism’. What gets lost in this approach are measurable instituted solutions for police brutality against any citizen. It become focused only and solely on race. That is why I claim this approach advances systemic racism (remember, the definition of what racism IS) and has not, does not, and never shall do what you think it does, namely, reduce racism.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. “So solutions, one might presume, should be in the form of addressing changes to policing and the responsibilities they are to address, changes to training, changes to implementation of how police enforce the law.”

        Well, there I agree with you, Tildeb. And many people have joined this discussion in meaningful ways.


  2. A heartfelt post on a subject that you feel passionate about, Annie. I agree that if more humane police practices come about from this latest round of BLM than that is a great outcome. I also agree with you on the black guy needlessly killed at Wendy’s drive-in. A needless killing that escalated from intoxication to twisting the guy’s arm behind his back, handcuffing him and finally shooting him in the back. However, I don’t find quoting individual cases of racism a valid discussion on systemic racing by whites. It just proves the case that while there are individual cases of racism, it is not systemic. Most people in neighbourhoods of mixed ethnicity get along just fine. I am not talking about the socially marginalized, ghettoed neighbourhoods, which is a whole different story. Let’s keep the conversation going. I have just blogged today on Freedom of Speech and have pasted an extract as follows:
    ” I have always abhorred the term people of colour. It’s a coined term from the 18th century describing a person of mixed black and white parentage. I find it hilarious that calling a black person a coloured person was anathema, and rightly so, but it’s okay to refer to that person as a person of colour. Another example of Orwell’s 1984 word speak. In my view the reintroduction of this phrase into the modern jargon is a cynical, divisive, political ploy to keep racism in the public eye, dividing people by ethnicity to further certain agendas. Basically the premise is that it’s white people against the rest of the world. I also find it hysterical that ‘woke’ Chinese celebrities now call themselves person of colour. When will this madness end. If you look up the definition of black and white as a colour you will find that both are actually not true colours.


    1. I appreciate your underlying wishes for harmony, which I share, but systemic racism is well documented—and not solely in marginalized areas. My reason for citing the stories I did was specifically to point out that there are probably no black people who interact with white people who have not experienced it. It is a legacy of slavery that we must own up to—like it or not.
      The term “people of color” is now in common use to refer to all nonwhite people. It is used by black people and others and apart from possibly suggesting commonality, is simply a descriptor—at least that’s my impression. One thing that is being asked of us white folks is that we listen more—and I am attempting to do that.
      The entire concept of race is highly complex—even more so as we advance in our genetic knowledge. It would be great if we could focus on the 99% of our genomes that we all share—and the fact that all Homo sapiens originated in Africa. Color should not matter, but it does. And the reason goes back to how white people have for hundreds of years treated “people of color.”


      1. I don’t interpret “systemic racism” as meaning “all white people are racist” (racism in individuals is a matter of degree rather than an either/or, anyway), but as meaning that racism is institutionalized in some contexts. In the case of police behavior, this seems indisputable.

        As to individuals, given the amount of human interaction that happens all the time, it would only take 10% of white people to be seriously racist for black people to be encountering it constantly.


  3. Progress is seldom, if ever, a straight line upward. I see the Obama and Trump presidencies as one step forward and two steps backward. We’re direly past due for another course correction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you. As many have pointed out, much of trump’s support is from people who see their concept of a white America threatened. That’s why I’m so encouraged by the diversity of the young peaceful demonstrators. But people of our generation must make sure the course correction begins pronto.


  4. I’ve always thought that having more black police would help. At least they’re very unlikely to be prejudiced against black people.

    A “color-blind” society would be the ideal, but it’s just ignoring reality to pretend that one exists or will exist in the near future. We have to design policies for the society we have, not the one we wish we had.

    I do not believe that this problem can be helped by airy philosophical abstractions and word-games or appeals to first principles disconnected from concrete reality. It’s a problem driven by hatred, contempt, and fear. Abstract dissertations on the exact meaning of equality are pretty much useless.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Once again, Infidel, we’re in agreement, and I especially like your final paragraph.

      A caveat, however, about having more black police officers–a trend that I’m pretty sure is increasing and I agree is important. (The most recent statistics I could find were from 2016). The Baltimore Police Department, where there is greater diversity than the national average and efforts were being made to “attract and promote minority candidates,” was found by the DOJ to have a “pattern of unconstitutional racially biased policing.” The complexities are discussed in this article by the author of “Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”


      I think between the fear/vulnerability factor and the increasingly militarized training and equipment, there will have to be some heavy-duty reorientation to reverse the perceptions police have of themselves and of the public they’re intended to protect. At the same time, redirecting some police funding (not “defunding the police,” a phrase that sounds like it was written to reelect trump) to the serious, long-festering non-crime-related needs in minority communities seems imperative.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In Canada, there has been a policy to try to have the city services – including police – reflect the community they serve. Wherever this is not the case, certain biases can be revealed by big data, comparing and contrasting aggregate numbers and determining trends over time, then modelling the trends, establishing patterns, making changes and seeing if these alter the results desired. What’s interesting is that biases can be revealed in just about every category you care to mention… including race. And all of these biases can been shown to be reduced when the various services better reflect the communities they serve. To select candidates for quotas to fit one particular bias – say, race – inevitably results in increased biases in areas not selected for redress – say ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation and so on. It’s particularly challenging when there are no local candidates such as often found in small remote homogeneous communities. No matter who is assigned outside of that specific community, there is always grounds for claims of discrimination and, in fact, should be expected. This is why guidelines for the practice of law enforcement should be legislated and put into common practice for all officers serving in this capacity.


  5. Annie,
    I’d not heard of the Steve Locke case. Thanks for sharing that. You make several great points about why a black man might not want to be handcuffed and put into a police car — the flight, fight or freeze reaction; the knowing that one person’s word can cause you to be locked up or freed. When I was going to Sam Houston University, one professor was conducting studies regarding the ability of witnesses to be able to identify a perpetrator when that perpetrator was of a different race. The overall findings were that people make poor witnesses to begin with and race is a huge factor in misidentification. I’m glad it worked out for Mr. Locke. BTW, my cousin was arrested for murder back in the early 60’s. He was arrested because the witness told the police that “Joe Smith” had killed the person. My cousin’s name was “Joe Smith.” Turned out there were several “Joe Smiths.” My 5’6″ cousin was not the 6’2″ Joe Smith who committed the crime. He spent time in jail before they got it sorted out, though. There are lots of different ways that one can be arrested. You don’t have to do anything at all. It’s scary. May we all stay under the radar, so to speak. Mona

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Mona–
      Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment. It is scary to consider how someone like your cousin, or Steve Locke, or so many other people find themselves on the wrong side of the law when they’ve done nothing wrong.
      I appreciated hearing about the witness studies. I suspect there will now be a sociological explosion of studies on the impact of racial attitudes–and I hope some of these will help us all gain greater understanding that will better inform our actions and reactions.
      So much needs to be done. I hope we as a society will make the most of this opportunity for positive change!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A perceptive and relevant editorial from David Brooks, >a href=”https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/25/opinion/us-coronavirus-protests.html”>New York Times:

    “The core problem is that the Social Justice theory of change doesn’t produce much actual change. Corporations are happy to adopt some woke symbols and hold a few consciousness-raising seminars and go on their merry way. Worse, this method has no theory of politics.

    How exactly is all this cultural agitation going to lead to legislation that will decrease income disparities, create better housing policies or tackle the big challenges that I listed above? That part is never spelled out. In fact, the Sturm und Drang makes political work harder. You can’t purify your way to a governing majority.

    The Social Justice methodology is ultimately not a solution to our problem, it’s a symptom of our problem. Over the last half century, we’ve turned politics from a practical way to solve common problems into a cultural arena to display resentments. Donald Trump is the ultimate performer in this paralyzed arena.

    If you think the interplay of these five gigantic changes is going to fit into some neat ideological narrative, you’re probably wrong. If you think we can deal with a racial disparity, reform militaristic police departments and address an existential health crisis and a prolonged economic depression by taking the culture war up another notch, I think you’re mistaken.

    Dealing with these problems is going to take government. It’s going to take actual lawmaking, actual budgeting, complex compromises — all the boring, dogged work of government that is more C-SPAN than Instagram.”


    1. I emphatically agree with his last paragraph, but there’s no doubt in my mind that tens of thousands of people in the streets have changed the conversation in Washington—and will—if trends continue through November—change those in Washington so that there is a majority seeking real solutions to the mammoth problems we face.


      1. That’s a lovely encounter, but regrettably a very slender reed on which to place hope for change on a large scale.

        In your previous comment, you cited what I assumed was the last paragraph in David Brooks’s column. I just read the column and believe what was actually his conclusion is equally important:

        “I know a lot of people aren’t excited about him, but I thank God that Joe Biden is going to be nominated by the Democratic Party. He came to public life when it wasn’t about performing your zeal, it was about crafting coalitions and legislating. He exudes a spirit that is about empathy and friendship not animosity and canceling. The pragmatic spirit of the New Deal is a more apt guide for the years ahead than the spirit of critical theory symbology.”


      2. Critical race theory, which is driving this emphasis on quotas and equity in the name of fairness and equality builds nothing. It only tears down. It is a system of thought that creates a framework based on race in the name of reducing and eliminating racism when it historically accomplishes exactly the opposite. So in regards to your sentiment about addressing with real world solutions, one can see that it requires pragmatism and not ideology, requires legislation and not acceptance and shrugging at occupied CHAZ camps, requires building community coalitions to address local problems and not the tacit support of graffiti slogans smeared all over buildings of institutions and the tearing down of statues, requires task-specific activities and real life training of law enforcement officers with clear guidelines for the use of deadly force and not the virtue signalling kneeling before the feet of Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

        Examples like the music where race should play no part demonstrates that all of us face really big problems together and can create solutions together when the goal isn’t about what makes us trivially different. Race is trivial compared to climate change, compared to a pandemic, compared to an economic depression, compare to a threat against constitutional law by the President and his enablers. When we spend time and effort operating under the assumption of critical race theory is an accurate description of reality that EVERYTHING is about race, we are part of the problem and not the solution.


  7. Good, I’m glad I waited until things calmed down. There are many moving pieces here and I remain wary of anyone who claims to have figured out “the answer”.

    I read an interesting piece this morning that wondered about whether the press incessantly replaying the George Floyd footage over and over and over is contributing to the fear a black person might reasonably have of becoming a victim to police mistreatment. From what I have read, statistics support a higher level of rough treatment based on race, but not a higher level of shooting deaths. So the situation is both better and worse than many want to believe, no matter what one’s political leanings.

    I cannot imagine how frustrating it would be to be constantly suspected of doing things I did not do or of preparing to do things that I had no intention of doing. I still remember the sting of being unjustly accused of rooting around the teacher’s desk drawer when I was in first grade – some other kid did it and because it was early in the year and we didn’t really know each other, I got fingered by someone who actually saw someone else. I was really angry then, and still carry just a tinge of resentment about it. And the professor in your story had so much more to be angry and resentful about than I ever did.

    However, the sad fact is that black males (particularly young ones) commit violent crimes far out of proportion to their numbers – and of course, most of their victims are African-American as well. There are areas of my city where I would not want to live at all – not because of the racial makeup of the area, but because violent crime is orders of magnitude higher than where I currently live. Until we can start having discussions that can make the fine distinctions between multiple socio-economic and personal behavoir factors that too-often track racial ones, I have little hope that we are going to get anywhere on a macro scale.

    This has gotten way too long, so last point: I remain convinced that the only chance we have is on a micro level. The “golden rule” of Christianity requires me to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. You don’t have to be a Christian to practice the rule, and many professing Christians have done a rotten job of following it. But whatever moral code motivates any of us, following this rule day by day, interaction by interaction is our only hope. And I applaud pieces like this that make us all stop and think about whether we (I) am actually doing it.


    1. First, I think it’s nonsense to claim that showing footage of George Floyd’s death is contributing to the fear. Black parents have been giving “the talk” to their sons about how to not aggravate the police for a very very long time. That’s why I put in reference to Richard Pryor’s 1974 routine. The difference is now these crimes are being captured on cell phones. There is something terribly wrong with police selection and training, and it must be addressed. Second, I don’t know about the statistics you’ve read about shootings, but there are other ways people have died needlessly, and Floyd and Eric Garner are two obvious examples.
      As to your “black on black crime’ reference, I’ve just read two articles about that. Essentially, a black activist pointed out that they are always concerned about black on black crime, but the only time anyone outside their community addresses the issue is in response to police violence. The same percentages of whites kill whites and Latinos kill Latinos; most violent crimes are committed by people who know their victims—proximity is a key factor. But: when a black person kills another black person, he is generally punished; same with white person. Not the same when crime is committed by police; then percentages are minuscule. That’s why there’s so much attention now.
      One other point: I wrote a post about good news stories about gun violence a while back. There were neighborhood groups that had outside funding to address the issues leading to violence. They were extremely successful, and violent crime dropped substantially. Then their funding ran out, and their successes were wiped away.
      I agree we must look into our hearts for a change on the micro level, but I think we’ve now seen how important it is to address the macro level too. And I thank you for thoughtfully considering what I’ve written.


      1. You are correct about the opening part of my comment – as I re-read it, it was not what I intended to say. The Floyd video certainly does not drive fear of “mistreatment”, which has been going on for a long, long time. It could, however, be driving a fear of death at the hands of the cops, which is something that does not happen as frequently as many think.

        The statistics I mentioned came from a piece published in the WSJ on 6/22 by an economist named Roland Fryer, Jr. His full paper is here: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/701423
        His findings are that there is a huge disparity in use of non-lethal force on blacks by police (something on the order of 350% higher than such use on whites) but no significant racial disparity in officer involved shootings.

        So, those of us who tend to want to give cops more leeway have to recognize that racial mistreatment is a real and pervasive problem. Those who want to label cops as trigger-happy racists have to recognize that the police shootings of black men (and women) are not nearly as prevalent as is commonly believed.

        Now more than ever we all need to get out of our ideological silos and put everything on the table in this difficult and complex problem. Thoughtful consideration is a good plan all around, but I fear that there will not be enough of it happening out in the big, ugly world.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. JP,
        I could read only the abstract you provided–not the entire article. I note that this study discusses shooting, but even if those statistics are accurate, shooting alone does not reveal the extent of excessive force. Today’s New York Times speaks of at least 70 deaths of men in police custody over the past decade whose last words were “I can’t breathe.” Guns were irrelevant in these instances. The majority had been stopped for nonviolent offenses, and more than half were black.

        I did come across this 2018 report from the US Commission on Civil Rights to President Trump. The report itself is 230 pages long, but the important part, to me, in the transmittal letter, begins with the paragraph
        “Accurate and comprehensive data regarding police uses of force is generally not available to police departments or the American public.” The letter isn’t long, so I hope you’ll read it.

        The report includes recommendations to remedy this extensive problem. I agree with you that we need to get out of our ideological silos, and I hope we’ll soon have leadership that will help us do that!

        1331 Pennsylvania Ave., NWSuite 1150Washington, DC 20425 http://www.usccr.gov
        Letter of Transmittal
        November 15, 2018
        President Donald J. Trump
        Vice President Mike Pence Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
        On behalf of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (“the Commission”), I am pleased to transmit our briefing report, Police Use of Force: An Examination of Modern Policing Practices. The report is also available in full on the Commission’s website at http://www.usccr.gov.
        In this report, the Commission investigated rates of police use of force; whether rates and instantiations of that use of force violate civil rights of persons of color, persons with disabilities, LGBT communities, and low-income persons; promising or proven policies and practices worth replicating to minimize unnecessary use of force; and the perception and reality of discrimination in police use of force. The Commission considered evidence from law enforcement and court officials, community leaders and police reform advocates, scholars, legal experts, as well as testimony taken in by the Commission’s State Advisory Committees in Minnesota, New York, Maine, and Delaware.

        The Commission majority approved key findings including the following: While police officers have the difficult and admirable job of providing crucial services to the communities they protect and serve, their job sometimes puts them in harm’s way and may require the use of force. Accordingly, police officers must operate with the highest standards of professionalism and accountability. Every community resident should be able to live, work, and travel confident in an expectation that interactions with police officers will be fair, consistent with constitutional norms, and guided by public safety free from bias or discrimination. Unfortunately, too many communities are not confident in these expectations, and so these communities have called for reforms to foster better community-police relations and prevent unjustified and excessive police uses of force.

        Accurate and comprehensive data regarding police uses of force is generally not available to police departments or the American public. No comprehensive national database exists that captures police uses of force. The best available evidence reflects high rates of uses of force nationally, with increased likelihood of police use of force against people of color, people with disabilities, LGBT people, people with mental health concerns, people with low incomes, and those at the intersection of these communities. Lack of sufficient training—and funding for training—leaves
        officers and the public at risk. Repeated and highly publicized incidents of police use of force against persons of color and people with disabilities, combined with a lack of accurate data, lack of transparency about policies and practices in place governing use of force, and lack of accountability for noncompliance foster a perception that police use of force in communities of color and the disability community is unchecked, unlawful, and unsafe.

        The Commission majority voted for key recommendations, including that the United States Department of Justice should return to vigorous enforcement of constitutional policing, including under its authority pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 14141, and the use of consent decrees where necessary to ensure that constitutional policing standards are upheld. The Department of Justice should robustly support local efforts to develop and institute constitutional policing practices, including through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and maintaining the Community Relations Service (CRS) to focus on building community trust and reducing excessive or unauthorized uses of force, in coordination with police departments.
        The Commission majority also called on Congress to fund grants, facilitated by the Department of Justice, to incentive evidence-based practices that, when employed, reduce incidents of excessive or unauthorized force. These practices may include increased training on de-escalation tactics and alternatives to use of force. Congress should also fund grants that support effective external police oversight and research regarding best practices for such oversight.

        The Commission majority called for practical reforms to stem the tide of perceived conflict between police officers and their communities, and to recommit this nation to the principles of fairness and equal treatment, including at the hands of police, that are core to democracy. These recommendations for forward progress are measured, appropriate, and urgent; our nation’s communities need their implementation.

        We at the Commission are pleased to share our views, informed by careful research and investigation as well as civil rights expertise, to help ensure that all Americans enjoy civil rights protections to which we are entitled.
        For the Commission,
        Catherine E. Lhamon Chair


  8. Late to the post, but loved it. Grinding molars . . . how apt. I also appreciate the details on the park-walking “fit the description” man. I heard only the headlines on that, and to read this more detailed account is enlightening and heartbreaking. Thanks for the good work, Annie. I admit, a part of me is exhausted at the events of late — the racism, this deeply disturbed president, the virus . . . You always shed some light, which renews my soul.


    1. Thank you so very much, Denise.
      It is an exhausting time, but also one of hope.
      My hope is that we white people remain engaged in large numbers because that’s the only way systemic change can occur.
      And if we’re exhausted, I can’t begin to imagine how our black brothers and sisters must feel!


      1. “My hope is that we white people remain engaged in large numbers because that’s the only way systemic change can occur.”

        “Tildeb, you have made your opinions very clear. I think it’s time to move on.”


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