Looking but Not Seeing

Factual Data versus Perpetrated Myths

July 11, 2016

“The truth will set you free. But before it does, it will make you angry.” – Jerry Joiner

“We must all learn to live together as brothers — or we will all perish together as fools.” – Rev. Martin Luther King

The phrase “you’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses” is defined as follows: An optimistic perception of something; a positive opinion; seeing something in a positive way, often thinking of it as better than it actually is. In other words, an optimism that ignores plainly evident realities.

Like wise, a number of years ago, someone stated, “If, from my perspective, I believe something to be true, then what I believe to be true is reality.”  My reply was, “If that is true, then there is nothing but perception; nothing but your opinion versus my opinion. And that means nothing is real or true – it is only perception, a construction of each individual’s mind. Truth, fact, reality becomes only what each of us thinks it is. And if that is so, then nothing matters: there is no way to judge what is really there, what is real, what is truth.”

Reality and truth either exist, or they do not. If they do not, then any moral judgment of the actions of individuals is utterly meaningless – it is merely a matter of one person’s opinion over another’s. Have enough sharing that opinion and whether something is true and accurate to the actual events becomes irrelevant.

Both optimism and pessimism can go well beyond having a mere outlook and disposition that tends to be positive or negative in one’s view of life. However, when either is extreme, both are delusional and are harmful to all it touches.

All of this banter is for a reason. It has become all too apparent that our society has reached a point where objective reality is called into question as though it is not. The facts are called lies and fabrications are being touted as reality. Worse, there seems to be an emotional commitment to a perspective, even if facts turn out to contradict the beliefs held. Evidence is held suspect precisely because it contradicts the perception and those would attempt to highlight the facts are vilified, vulgarized, if not threatened, for stating facts.

Riots have occurred due to the preference to perception versus reality; businesses, cars, homes and other property have been looted or destroyed; lives have been disrupted or harmed physically in the name fallacies that may be founded on past experiences in similar circumstance

Yes, our individual personal experiences may in fact influence, or worse distort, reality and truth; but facts matter. None of us wants a world where they don’t – it would be complete chaos, resulting in the societal devolvement into barbarism, dystopia. Welcome the world of Mad Max. Less depressing is how one person described it as each individual’s “sunglasses” through which they see the world. Perception can prevent one from doing a lot in life, especially when that perception does not sync with reality and is contrary to facts. The worst of it is when that perception refuses to accept facts, literally burning truth and reality in the process, in favor of preserving one’s “safe” (familiar), though invalid perception.

Yet, it seems nearly an embedded cultural truism that, assuming recent videos represent reality, that blacks are being targeted and shot by police in utterly disproportionate numbers to the rest of society, particularly whites. It is chanted at rallies and protests. It is a near drum-beat repetitive narrative on news shows and presented as a fact of the American experience. Is it? Or do we have a collective set of sunglasses preventing us from seeing the facts and reality?

The question is, is this a perception due to the media focus? Or is it the reality? If it is reality then there truly is a cultural endemic of racism that exists despite the fact that we now have a black President, a black Attorney General, Congress, State and Municipal office holders, medical personnel, multiple black senior military officers, foreign dignitaries, professors, lawyers, athletes, CEO’s, entertainers, every single walk of life. The fact is that every possible avenue in life is occupied by individuals from nearly every ethnic and racial community. How then does the claim of structural racism have any credibility? If there were structural impedance on the basis of ethnicity or race, it would stand out like a sore thumb for all to see. It simply does not exist. That is not to say that individuals are not racially prejudiced; but structural racism (like Jim Crow laws) does not pervade our society. If it did, those who have succeeded would merely be illusions of film fabrication. The facts are, they exist and have positions in all walks of life.

So, regarding life opportunities, in America, it’s there to achieve. Even Oprah earned what she has, just as Herman Cain, Thomas Sowell, Dr. Ben Carson, Eric Holder, General Colin Powell, even our President did (the highest office in the land). Again, there are no closed doors, no structural, endemic prohibition to any area of desired achievement.

What about police shootings? If one listens to the majority of media outlets, the conclusion can only be that blacks are being targeted disproportionately, unfairly. What are the facts?

If we value our society and hope to ever have the “honest conversation” that former Attorney General Eric Holder said we need, then wouldn’t make sense to base that discussion on facts, not feelings, on truth and not just perception. There is no doubt of the feelings on much of this, but, again, WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

Some state that America is itself generally racist. Wouldn’t crime, particularly violent crime, be the most demonstrative of it, if that is indeed the reality? Again, the narrative suggests the nation generally is racist.

The following table of violent crimes from the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey,

Table 8 - Fryer StudyBased on this data from the DOJ, it appears racism is not a major (or endemic) factor in violent crime.

According to the Washington Post police shot nearly 2x the number of whites as blacks in 2015 (http://www.dailywire.com/news/7264/5-statistics-you-need-know-about-cops-killing-aaron-bandler; more reference links within article). Yet, this same article attempts to show how blacks are 7x more likely to be shot by police. How do you reconcile the apparent inconsistency?

This question of perception versus reality in police violence, particularly toward blacks, was the object of the study published by Roland G. Fryer, Jr., the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and faculty director of the Education Innovation Laboratory (EdLabs) [Prof. Fryer’s Bio here].

Professor Fryer’s study “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force” (PDF’s here: http://scholar.harvard.edu/fryer/publications/empirical-analysis-racial-differences-police-use-force),  begins:

This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force (officer-involved shootings) we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.

The actual numbers he cites from his study is as follows:

[referencing the data displayed in Table 8] For white officers, the probability that a white suspect who is involved in officer-involved shooting has a weapon is 85.1% percent. The equivalent probability for blacks is 81%. A difference of 4%, which is not statistically significant. For black officers, the probability that a white suspect who is involved in an officer-involved shooting has a weapon is surprisingly lower, 62.5%. The equivalent probability for black suspects is 74%. The only statistically significant differences by race demonstrate that black officers are more likely to shoot unarmed whites, relative to white officers.

Professor Fryer cites the lack of consistent data throughout the nation but found considerable information in several major US cities (identified in the paper). By the way, the Professor is African-American.

His overall conclusion?

…”this paper takes first steps into the treacherous terrain of understanding the nature and extent of racial differences in police use of force. On non-lethal uses of force, there are racial differences – sometimes quite large – in police use of force, even after accounting for a large set of controls designed to account for important contextual and behavioral factors at the time of the police-civilian interaction. Interestingly, as use of force increases from putting hands on a civilian to striking them with a baton, the overall probability of such an incident occurring decreases dramatically but the racial difference remains roughly constant. Even when officers report civilians have been compliant and no arrest was made, blacks are 21.3 (0.04) percent more likely to endure some form of force. Yet, on the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we are unable to detect any racial differences in either the raw data or when accounting for controls.”

What his research shows from the available information is that no discrimination exists in law enforcement, particularly regarding the use of lethal force. There is an apparent disparity when other types of force are used, but evidence doesn’t suggest racism to be the reason behind that disparity. It is my belief that these encounters where the use of force non-lethal apparently occurs more often may be the possible basis of perceived imbalance in treatment. But the facts available do not necessarily support the notion that even that difference, while significant in number, is based on racism. Too many factors are not accounted for (like what was the basis of the encounter initially; what was the actions of both civilian and law enforcement; was the action justified by either party). Liking or disliking what is seen in a video cannot be the basis of how and why we make the moral judgments of either person’s actions. To assume guilt or innocence for either is presumptive without knowing all of the facts. Weekend quarterbacking is common in sports as well as these events.

Professor Fryer admitted he was surprised by the results he discovered: reality versus perception.

Discovering what you don’t know can be illuminating – “Activist Critical of Police Undergoes Use of Force Scenarios”

No evidence exists to demonstrate law enforcement targets the African-American community in the use of lethal force.

Heather Lynn Mac Donald has advocated positions on numerous subjects including victimization, philanthropy, immigration reform, crime prevention, racism, racial profiling, rape, politics, welfare, and matters pertaining to cities and academia. She is is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute. In addition, she is a contributing editor to New York’s City Journal, and a lawyer by training. She has written numerous editorials and is the author of several books. Born in California, graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover (1974) and graduated from Yale (where she was in Berkeley College) in 1978, then attended Cambridge, and graduated from Stanford University Law School (1985).

Among her articles and Congressional testimony are the following, pertinent to this issue:

“Black and Unarmed: Behind the Numbers:”

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/02/08/black-and-unarmed-behind-the-numbers#.lueClHozj

“The Myth of Criminal-Justice Racism.” (Testimony before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, October 19, 2015:

http://www.city-journal.org/html/myth-criminal-justice-racism-10231.html

“Running With the Predators”

http://www.city-journal.org/html/running-predators-13714.html

“The Danger of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement”

https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Imprimis_April16.pdf

Evidence compiled from police reports, the US Department of Justice, and other sources flies in the face of many political leaders say. The facts demonstrate that racism is NOT a systemic, structural reality in American law enforcement or the justice system. Some individuals may be racist, but law enforcement and the criminal-justice system, institutionally is NOT racist. The evidence clearly shows that it is does not exist.

If the reality is contrary to the narrative, why do those who should know better continue to propagate the non-truth? How can that which is not rooted in the reality of the facts, be anything but perception? And how can that perception be removed why false notions are sown with vivid regularity as in the case of videos? Who does it benefit? Is it possible to build better relations between individuals when fears and perceptions are no longer based in fact?

This is not to say the individuals, whether civilian or law enforcement, don’t do wrong. Sure some individuals do. But clearly it is not truthful, honest, to say racism is woven into fabric of our nation. How can fostering anger based upon a perception that does not match reality be helpful to any of us? Indeed, perceptions engender deep feelings, and sometimes regretful, if not harmful, actions. Is this what any of us wants: continuous anger, divisiveness, strife, agitation, discord, riots? How can any of that give us or our children the lives we all hope for?

In both the NFL and NBA, referees usually see the actions of the individual reacting to the actions of another player. The refs miss the call and the wrong person often gets called for the infraction. None of us has perfect vision, and yes, we all have sunglasses of our own preconceived notions of things that often frame what we see in these events. What if we take the time to pull our “sunglasses” off, and let go of our perceptions? Maybe, just maybe when the facts come forward we can make the more accurate judgment without assuming the half we know the truth without them.

Then again, habits are difficult to break, particular when we bind ourselves emotionally to those perceptions, regardless of reasons. Maybe one day we will be able to look at what individuals do and judge them “not for the color of their skin but the content of their character” – what they do and not everyone else that may look like them, whether the color of their skin or uniform.

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” – Gloria Steinem

…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.  – Ronald Reagan

The loudest voices we hear are those who advocate conflict, divisiveness.  – John C. Danforth

We may not like the truth, but at least facts and reality are a foundation a society can build upon.
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