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The American Conversation About Race and Police

Updated on July 14, 2016

There is a clip currently filtering through social media of Megyn Kelly and DL Hughley having a bitter, ugly "conversation" about police and racism in the United States.

As I read people's reactions to this incident, the general consensus of each is their side for a "win." That one or the other tore the other one down, that they showed everyone how the other was wrong, racist, ignorant, hateful... whatever, pick a word, they've all been used now.

What I saw when I watched that video was the dysfunction of our national conversation distilled down to two people who didn't hear each other, didn't even try; they didn't acknowledge each other's points very often, they both talked over each other, they both refused to acknowledge each other's valid perceptions, they both manipulated or ignored facts to their benefit. Megan Kelly outright lied when she says Michael Brown held a gun to Officer Wilson; however Hughley isn't much better in his conflation of two mutually exclusive reports from the DoJ -- one about the shooting that did state evidence showed Wilson was not unreasonable in his perception of a threat and his reaction to that threat, and another that showed Ferguson city government in a general sense to be a racist infested cesspool unfairly burdening black residents in any number of ways.

The two reports can be considered mutually exclusive. The reports proved and disproved statements made by both D.L. and Megyn. But neither was able to see past their will to "win" this conversation. We don't win this conversation by making the other side look bad, insulting them, manipulating facts, ignoring perceptions, getting people to dig into defensive mode. We win this conversation by empathizing, listening to what people are feeling and taking facts and trying to understand why people have the perceptions they have if and when the facts don't directly support them, what is happening that they do they perceive things the way they do?

If wrong, why does that perception exist, is there a reason and is it reasonable? Many believe more black men are killed by police than white men. Raw numbers don't bear that out, but is it REASONABLE for people to believe it? It is reasonable and there substantial evidence of problematic issues that have led to that perception. The same studies that show black men aren't necessarily being killed more from various perspectives also show that black people, particularly black men, are confronted by police more and generally do see more aggressive policing by police. They are more likely to be proned out on the ground for a minor offense than a white person. They are more likely to have a stop and frisk interaction with officers and they are more likely to be put up against a wall during that interaction. They are overall likely to have a bad experience unnecessarily. All this, in combination with how the media has anecdotally handled various shootings, and even often comparing against an incident where a white man didn't get shot as further anecdotal evidence has built that perception. While we don't necessarily need to fix the problem that more black men are killed by police, investigating the perception shows that there are a whole lot of other, just as serious problems we need to fix that build that perception.

It works the same for white people; white people don't feel that there is a difference in treatment, or a difference significant enough to concern themselves over. First off, they don't experience or often even see it themselves. They are reacting to a valid perception with valid fact, no, black people are not killed more, we just see more of it because the media and the advent of smart phones and social media. But white people need to think deeper than that. They can't dismiss the issue there, because people got to that perception somehow and that means there are problems to address. Fact is great, but the review of facts needs to go beyond just the facade of the argument. Dismissing perceptions only add to the frustration and allow serious problems to fester because they're willfully unrecognized.

So first, we need to stop insulting people for their valid and justifiable perceptions, understand that facts don't have to support a perception for it to exist and need a solution. We need to listen to those perceptions, dig through those perceptions to find the problems and the facts that lead to them if not support them... and fix them.

We also need to realize that while perceptions may be subconciously biased and racist, that does not mean the person who holds them is racist. Yes, there is an ignorance involved, but racism isn't really the ignorance to be solved here. Given how our conversation has happened in this country, it's hard for a person holding a perception they believe valid to understand why it's racist when on it's face, it isn't. They react very poorly to being called a racist, justifiably so. We have started to use the terms systemic racism and inherent racism more often, but it will take time for people to understand and differentiate those terms from being called an outright racist. And when we're talking to eachother, we need to take care to express those differences, even if we don't want to, we're impatient, angry, frustrated with even having too, if we want to move forward, we must take the take for eachother to understand what is in our heads, why, and why it may be wrong.

Dismissing perceptions with valid reasoning is not only insulting, but it adds to our problems. It adds insult to injury. It turns the conversation into what we watched in that video clip.

The discussion we need to have only begins with perceptions. We need to grasp a larger understanding of the problem. Right now the focus is on police, but police in and of themselves in general, are not the problem -- the idea that a person who is assigned the job of protecting us and the laws having a benefit of the doubt that they did their job fairly until proven they didn't. That is a fair practice in a perfect world, in our imperfect world, it is the best we can strive for while fixing the failures of it in practice in a real world. Yes, there are racists in law enforcement and D.L. was wrong to say police don't acknowledge that it exists. Most realize that in any group of 1M people you are going to have people like that. But racists in the police force is a small piece of a larger picture.

There are many problems and each department needs to be taken on it's own individual merits and failures. Departments may lack ongoing training. They may have a poor hiring practice. They may be understaffed and over stressed.They may have an administration or a local government using them as a tax collection service, something over which they have little to no control. They may have all the above problems. And yes, they may have racists...but fixing the above problems make it harder for racists to hide and exist in the job.

Cops make mistakes, it's why we have a court system, we expect them to make mistakes. We know we have to review the evidence and make sure everyone gets heard. It is not unreasonable in the absence of evidence to believe any given officer is out doing the job to the best of his ability, yet may make honest mistakes, miss or misread evidence. That is why we have a court system for a more patient, reasoned, judicious review of everyone's side of the story. When there is judicial or prosecutorial bias that enhances an investigative failure, that doesn't not automatically mean the officer, or any individual in the chain intended to do wrong. Our judicial system has failed miserably in offering unbiased fairness in sentencing. Fixing every problem in policing we can think of until they're fixed, does not fix that problem. It is out of control of police, there is little we can do to improve police to change the sentencing biases that exist. Yet again, the police have often been the focus of those problems which they have little or no control over allowing administrations and government officials off the hook to offend us again and again.

Megyn Kelly and D.L. Hughley, both with their national followings, with voices that could espouse leadership and change chose a battle strategy rather than a strategy of diplomacy and detail. I get it, you only have a few minutes and this conversation is years long. But you start that years long conversation rather than end it. Yes, D.L. we understand that FOX News has a miserable record on any number of issues -- from blacks, to women, to gays, to general humanitarian empathy they get it wrong often. You had an opportunity to open a door for them and let them step through or make fools of themselves. Instead you flung barbs and insults born of your own lifetime frustrations that had nothing to do with that very moment and that very conversation and that very opportunity. You opened the door with a willingness to go on a media source like that, yet you became just as guilty of slamming that door shut as Megyn was when you allowed your low expectations of the conversation to become self fulfilling.

This is why we don't have nice things in this country. Because we would rather smash them on the floor to "prove" our point than patiently work together to build them up. It brings attention and with attention we feel we've accomplished something. Not necessarily true. We are talking about two people with their own national followings who respect and support them - and they turned one of our most important national conversation into a brawl between two pissy pre-teens who think they're always right no matter what and know better than everyone. This is our example of how to make it better? They both had a lot of things to say that we should be thinking about how to fix, or do better, or understand better. They showed that yes, each of us can get our facts wrong and we need to be willing to go back and confirm again and again if necessary. That conversation, the one that made us think, let us question ourselves as well as others, that made us stop and try to understand why the other person felt they way they did.. that conversation didn't happen because they both shut each other down.

And us, we're no better. Instead of people walking away thinking about very real, yet often fluid concepts, they walked away saying, "Yay! A just kicked B's ass!" We as a nation appear to be cheering them on as if this is a boxing match and not an issue impacting lives negatively every day to be taken seriously.


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