Citizen’s Police Academy, Part 6

In recent years, a gap has developed between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. In some communities, police officers are perceived as brutal villains who are above the law. Last week’s class focused on some of the causes for this gap.

While there are numerous causes for this gap, the two most essential are philosophical. One is epistemological (the science that deals with the theory of knowledge) and the second is moral/political. Because epistemology is more fundamental than morality or politics, I will address it first.

As I pointed out in the first post on the Citizen’s Police Academy, context matters. Before we can rationally judge an event, situation, or individual, we must have relevant facts. However, too often, when a police shooting or alleged brutality occurs, we are presented with only a small part of the facts by the media. A rational person would recognize this and make judgments accordingly.

For example, a short video clip showing police officers shooting a man in the back does not show us what happened prior to the shooting. If all we see is a fleeing man gunned down, we might easily conclude that excessive force was used. But what if this man had stabbed an officer, tried to take an officer’s weapon, or otherwise been hostile and threatening? The context changes significantly.

We are all familiar with the fallacy of quoting someone out of context. We can make a person appear to advocate almost anything if we consider only a few of their words and ignore everything else that they said. The same is true of photos or videos. They can make a situation appear much different than it really was because we aren’t getting all of the relevant information.

But if an individual has improper thinking methods, he will take the information that he is given as the entire story. He will make judgments based only on what he has seen and he will not consider the fact that there is much that he has not seen. He will not seek additional information. He will not confirm the truth of the information he has received. He accepts what he gets at face value. And this method of “thinking” is prevalent in America today. I put thinking in scare quotes because it’s not really thinking–it’s non-thinking.

This cognitive method is largely driven by emotions. Consider the hysteria that often results after some alleged incident of police brutality. Those who have truth on their side do not react by burning, looting, and destroying their community. But those who are acting on emotions don’t care about the consequences of their actions. They simply want to express their rage.

This flawed cognitive method ultimately leads to the moral/political doctrine of collectivism. Collectivism holds that only the group matters; the individual is irrelevant. To the collectivist, the actions and character traits of one member of the group apply to all members of the group. If one police officer engages in brutality, then all police officers are guilty.

Unfortunately, law enforcement officers often engage in the same collectivist thinking. When Black Lives Matter (BLM) began to denounce the police, law enforcement officers responded by saying “Blue Lives Matter.” While this is true, it continues the focus on the group. Collectivism cannot be overcome with more collectivism. Any attempt to do so is nothing more than pitting one group against another group.

Our instructor hinted at a solution (or at least a start towards that end). He wondered what would happen if, in response to BLM, police officers said, “I agree. Let’s talk.” More fundamentally, the discussion should not center on black lives or blue lives, but individual lives.

All of us–black, white, brown, and blue–share one thing in common. We are all individuals. And with rare exceptions, individuals do not want to brutalize others or to be brutalized. Those who act on that desire should be thrown in jail, no matter the color of their skin or the uniform they wear.

Groups like BLM act on the premise that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. This view is just as vile as the racist who believes that all blacks are criminals. Some blacks are criminals, just as some cops are bad apples. Most blacks are not criminals, just as most cops are not bad apples.

Epistemologically, it is irrational to ascribe the volitional traits of one member of a group to all members of the group. Morally, it is repugnant.

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