The blog that I read on a friend’s Facebook timeline caught my attention and caused me to think a lot about perspectives, about race, about the world and it’s attitude. The blog is by Steve Locke, a professor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

It’s the story of his encounter with the police on the streets of Boston.  As I read it, I saw perhaps much more clearly than on most occasions, the differences in perspective between the public and the police, between whites and blacks.  How a single event is so shaped, so colored (word play intentional) by the race of the people and by the social/political/power standing of the people.

If I read the story from the standpoint of the police, they are respectful in tone and words.  They are doing their job.  This is how they deal with people.  They have to protect themselves.  They have a possible suspect, and as such someone who must be viewed as possibly dangerous to their own safety.  They respond appropriately to protect themselves in numbers and posture while verifying the identity of the person who fits the description.  They apologize for disrupting his lunch.  They no doubt think that they have handled this well.

Reading the story from the standpoint of Steve, this looks way too much like the type of events we’ve read about and seen with greater frequency far too often recently. A black (professional, educated, innocent) man stopped on the street.  The unsnapping of the holster as a message of intimidation and the threat of deadly force. Additional police approaching in numbers.  Statements not accepted, not taken into consideration in how the scene should go.  The expressed possibility of being taken for a ride in a squad car to some unknown place, with no one who knows you are being taken and no one to corroborate possible actions.  Yet he handled it well; he provides short, on-point answers, announcing what he needs to do to comply (reach for the wallet, reach for the keys).  He avoids profanity, aggressive language or combative signals.

I find fault with the police with one clear point, the unsnapping of the holster.  The crime that started this confrontation was an attempted breaking and entering, and yet here on the street a weapon is unsnapped and made ready for quick access….and perhaps too quickly accessed in an era where there have been too many obvious over-escalation of events.

I find fault with Steve in what he expresses as his mental state, when he reaches the conclusion he is going to die.  The conclusion is based on him knowing that he will not allow himself to be taken to some unknown location to have some victim decide if he did or didn’t break into her home, that he will resist arrest.  THAT is not a good mindset for any detainee, particularly not in this situation.  Attitudes are transmitted, and can lead to confrontation….and very bad outcomes.

This does provide a good learning opportunity, if we can make the effort to learn from it.  Each party approaches from their own background.  Each is doing what they think is appropriate.  And while no one was physically harmed this time, it had the possibility.  How often is this scene played out when someone IS hurt?  How would any person (black or white, rich or poor) respond to being stopped in the street by the police for something that the person KNOWS hasn’t possibly involved them?  At what point would any of us stop thinking in a rational manner and start responding in a flight or fright mode because we are afraid, because we are intimidated, because the situation triggers something in us?  When anyone in authority stops us or challenges us, don’t we all react defensively, annoyed, embarrassed, etc.?  And at what point does an officer respond to something he sees, perceives, feels about a situation, knowing that it is the little things that frequently make the difference between life and death in his position?

I don’t have a solution.  I just know both sides need to rethink where they are, how they respond, how they judge.  Too often we see things only from our own bias and perspective, and the isolation of our own head.  We really need to more often consider the event from the perspective of others.  Maybe then we could move past the single-minded focus each side has of painting the other side as wrong.

Maybe both need to change.  Or think.




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