1. Polar Bears
A week ago, in this very space, I discussed TRIBES. The concept that people would rather side with their tribe than to concede even an ounce of truth on the other side. And it was all relating to Ferguson, although one week later we now have the added tragedy of Eric Garner to consider.
And so my question is, Why do we need to be so polarized? Why do we need to be polar bears? Why does former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani feel the need to appear on FOX and mention how many black-on-black murders the NYPD has hypothetically prevented by being tougher on crime? Even if that is true –kind of difficult to prove or disprove a non-event, other than noting that numbers are down–what is the connection between that and the circumstances of Eric Garner’s killing?
On the other end of the spectrum, why is it racist to note that, even if you underline 1,000 times that the police completely overreacted and went directly from zero to fatally excessive use of force in the case of Mr. Garner, even if you shout from the highest skyscraper that the grand jury in Staten Island did everyone a grave disservice (one that will ultimately result in the deaths of more innocent people, I’m certain), why is it not okay to note that there needs to be a mentality of not treating police officers like basketball referees who called you for traveling?
There’s no excuse for what the cops did in Staten Island, and there’s definitely some ambiguity as to what happened in Ferguson. But, as minor as the infractions the two men were committing were, by committing them they gave the cops cause to talk to them. And once that happens, why talk back? Now, by printing those words I have invited a segment of the readership to assume I condone what happened, which I don’t. Not for a moment. But I cannot change people’s prejudices about what they think I am or what I think. I can only write the words that I write.
It would be easy to assume that, hey, he’s a middle-aged white sportswriter so he’s completely out of touch. But the truth is, I earn less than six figures (thanks, Chris); I work regularly for half the year at a restaurant in which I interact both during and after work with a wider range of ethnic backgrounds, sexual preferences and income levels than probably any sports writer I know; I have a couple of friends who are felons (and who are smart enough not to talk back to cops); I live in NYC, which means that in most situations I am the minority.
But this is the problem. It shouldn’t be, pardon the phrase, all black and white. There’s no defending Officer Pantaleo and his cohorts and I am in no way interested in doing so. But to completely ignore every other aspect of the situation is to be leaning so far in the other direction as to go out of your way to be politically correct at the expense of being honest. And that’s the dialogue problem we have here, IMO. To ask a legitimate question on the other side of where your tribe has pitched its tent is to be seen as a complete apostate.
To be Charles Barkley is to ask a legitimate question or two, but because you’re black and you haven’t chosen the scripted Al Sharpton (what a clown and a charlatan, by the way) scripture on what you should be saying, the entire content of your argument is dismissed. And while I’m not black, I can write 10,000 more words about what a travesty the grand jury in Staten Island was, but if I dare mention in one sentence that, you know, maybe you shouldn’t talk back to cops (or, IF….IF….IF what happened in Ferguson is accurate, you shouldn’t tell a cop that “you’re too much of a pussy to shoot me.”) then I’m just Sean Hannity in a cheaper suit.
Yesterday a young African-American woman scolded me on Twitter because she interpreted what I wrote as saying that it’s okay to be shot dead for stealing. Seriously? I cannot reason with minds like that. Equating Michael Brown’s theft of cigarillos (and his theft was one-tenth as bad, in my mind, as the way he bullied the store clerk) with his being shot is like saying he was shot for living in Missouri.
Listen to the actual words people are writing or saying, people. Get past what you think they are saying based on their tribe. There’s room for nuance here. I can be 100% against what befell Mr. Garner while still wondering why a man tells cops, “I’m sick of this” especially when he knows that, as minor as it is, what he is doing is technically illegal. Does that make their use of force justified?
Of course not.
But if I follow the other side of the logic, that cops should just leave people alone when they tell them “I’m not going to take this” or “You’re too much of a pussy to shoot me,” especially when in these two cases they gave cops cause to confront them, let me ask you, Are we headed to a better society then? If cops are afraid to confront people? Of course they should have handled both situations with more discretion, with more calm, with more of a Sheriff Taylor mindset. Of course. These two men should not be dead. And at least in the case of Staten Island, there is no ambiguity in my mind that the cop should be indicted.
But we polar bears need to get off our ice bergs. We need to explore other ice bergs and see other sides and perspectives. We need to be looking for the truth, not for an argument that makes us feel better about who we are.