George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Jacob Blake; their cases all have one thing in common. Few people wanted to wait for the facts.
Another night, another set of violent riots around the country. Sorry — “mostly peaceful protests”. And Kenosha, Wisconsin is doing its best Portland impression as the city continues to burn and angry citizens take to the streets to express their righteous indignation over a police shooting. This all must be for good reason, right? Surely the facts justify the outrage and the subsequent destruction of property. I am certain that the good people who set fire to churches and burned down local businesses were responsible enough to wait for the details of the full picture to emerge before embracing a particular narrative. Right?
How many times must people be proven wrong after they have passionately leapt to a particular conclusion before they decide to engage in self-reflection and determine that maybe, just possibly they probably shouldn’t make such blind, knee-jerk assessments anymore? How many times does a narrative have to get flipped on its head by facts that emerge later before people begin to realize that the stories being told early on are likely untrue and that the missing facts will more often than not tell an entirely different story? How many times do people have to ruin others’ lives erroneously before they recognize that they, being part of an irrational emotionally-driven lynch mob, are the bad guys in this scenario?
Is there a number? Because it seems that no matter how many times it happens, the lesson is never learned. People continue to rage and scream at the drop of a hat whenever there is a perceived offense. Then, when the actual facts surface proving them wrong, they shrug and move on to something else to be outraged about. There were no lessons learned from Michael Brown and the “hands up, don’t shoot” lie. There were no lessons learned from Covington Catholic even though an innocent teenager was viciously smeared and attacked. There were no lessons learned from the “Trump called immigrants animals” lie or “he called white supremacists fine people” lie that the media perpetuated. In fact, many people still believe that the initial narratives were true. This has to end.
There are real-world consequences to this stuff, as we’ve seen. There were riots and looting in Minneapolis last night because people believed the police killed an unarmed black man. Turns out, that man was armed, had just killed somebody else, and the cops didn’t even shoot him. He killed himself. Who cares about the facts though, right? There was rioting and looting in Chicago a couple of weeks ago because people believed police had killed an unarmed kid. The man was 20 and he was actively shooting at the officers. Doesn’t matter. That didn’t stop people from bringing U-Hauls downtown and stealing everything they could.
There have been ongoing protests and riots over the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville based on the belief that police raided the wrong home and killed her. The narrative from the beginning was that an innocent black woman was killed by police because she was black. Once again, we find out that the initial narrative that was promoted all over the place is false. Breonna was not innocent at all. She was heavily involved with drug-trafficking. Brandon Tatum posted a leaked report on his website, which you can read here, and it details who Breonna Taylor was, the criminals she hung around with, and what led up to the raid on her house. I won’t go through it all here, but the bottom line is that she was completely immersed in drug trafficking and that her house was legitimately tagged on the search warrant. That doesn’t matter to these people who protest and riot though. The narrative has already been set. The idea that racist cops shot an innocent black woman for no reason has already been believed. Nevermind that Duncan Lemp, a white man, was just killed in March in a similar no-knock raid. No protests and riots for him though. Few people even know his name. Narrative over facts.
Additionally, Portland has been rioting for three straight months, every single night, supposedly over the death of George Floyd (even though Floyd was in Minneapolis, but who cares about details) and in general protest of police brutality against black people. But autopsy results, reported here, have shown that Floyd had fatal levels of fentanyl in his system, i.e. 11 ng/ml. People have overdosed on 3. That is an extremely important detail to consider when contextualizing his death. Nevermind that the initial narrative of choking him to death was always nonsense because if someone is actually compressing your trachea to the point that you can’t breath, you wouldn’t be able to talk. But fatal levels of fentanyl in his system seems like a fairly important detail. Yet, few people are even discussing it. And the protesters/rioters are ignoring it altogether. Also, the full body-cam footage shows that Floyd was erratic and combative while the officers attempted to put him in the cruiser. They only put him on the ground because they couldn’t get him in the car and he was in the midst of an episode of excited delirium, which can be extremely dangerous for everybody. Holding him down until the medics arrived was the only option. And finally, we still have no evidence whatsoever that race played any role in these events at all. None. Do these facts matter? Does it matter that the initial narrative of “racist, killer cops murder black man in cold blood” is not even remotely an accurate assessment of what actually happened? Nope. The riots continue.
What about Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta that sparked protests and riots and led to a police officer being fired and charged with murder? The police were called because Brooks had fallen asleep in a Wendy’s drive through. The police spoke with him at length and bodycam footage shows that the officers were cordial. When they finally try to go ahead and arrest him, Brooks becomes combative and begins fighting with the officers, manages to steal one of their tasers, takes off running, Officer Rolfe gives chase, and Brooks attempts to tase him, at which point Rolfe shoots Brooks. How anyone can look at the bodycam footage, assess the facts of the case, and come away from this with the belief that Rayshard Brooks was unjustifiably shot and killed for being black is just beyond me. Absolutely madness to believe something like that. But they did and still do. It prompted protest and riots, during which, by the way, an 8-year-old named Seceoria Turner was killed after supposed protestors opened fire on the care she was riding in. And for what? A criminal resisting arrest, fighting the cops, stealing their taser, and then trying to use them with it. Senseless.
Finally, we come to the most recent case with Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where we were told by initial reports that police had targeted a black man who was merely breaking up a fight between two women and then shot him seven times in the back in front of his children. So what happens? People believed it. Didn’t bother to check the facts to see if it’s even true. Doesn’t matter. They immediately took to the streets just like in Minneapolis, just like in Portland, just like Seattle, just like Chicago, just like Atlanta…all based on lies and false reporting. Had they waited for facts, they would have found out that Blake was not supposed to be on the property at all and that’s why the police were called in the first place. They would have known that Blake had a warrant for his arrest for domestic abuse and third degree sexual assault (also known as “rape” in the state of Wisconsin). They would know that Blake fought with police when they tried to arrest him, much like Brooks did, and that police attempted to tase him and it didn’t work. They would know that he ignored all of the police commands. They would know that he reached into the vehicle where he kept a knife. Maybe they do know all of that and maybe they just don’t care. But that is far, far cry from the police showing up, targeting an innocent black guy, and then shooting him for no reason, just because he’s black. Once again, we see that the initial narrative was completely bogus, as is the charge of racism. And yet, Wisconsin is still on fire. And people continue to lose their businesses. And people continue to lose their lives. We are up to thirty deaths, I think, caused by these protests across the country. And it’s all based on complete fabrications.
So how do we fix this? I have personally been trying to use the 48-hour-rule lately. The rule is simple; wait at least 48 hours before forming an opinion about some emotional news event, like a police shooting. Because, more often than not, information will emerge during that 48 hours that debunks most, if not all of the initial reporting and provides context to what actually happened. Unfortunately, not many people want to do that. The mainstream media definitely doesn’t because all they care about is being first, stirring the pot, and fanning the flames. But we have to do better. It is too easy to just jump on the narrative train and be so convinced that you know exactly what happened after watching a 10-second video clip. Our brains are really good at filling in contextual gaps when we don’t have all of the context. The problem is that our brains are also wrong a lot. We have to be aware of that. It is vital to ask a lot of questions, especially when the facts are slim, and wait for those questions to be answered before coming to any kind of conclusion. Making assumptions about what happened based on a decontextualized video will almost always lead us astray (see Covington). It is the whole idea that “looks can be deceiving.” Without context, there are a myriad of explanations for any one event. For example, what might you conclude about a car swerving? If that is all you see, it is not possible to know why the car swerved, what the intentions were of the driver, what could or should have been done to prevent it, none of that. You don’t know. You have nothing except for speculation. Maybe the driver is having a bad day and is being a jerk. Maybe they fell asleep at the wheel after a long shift at a hospital. Maybe they were choking on a piece of candy. Or maybe there was a child in the road, that you couldn’t see, and they were swerving to miss them. Who knows? The point is that you don’t. And until more information comes out, until we know the facts, we can’t possible know for sure. People need to learn how to think before they react. We are not animals. We have higher level cognitive function. Learn to use it. Leaping to conclusions, particularly when those conclusions cause rioting and violence, is insanely stupid, extremely irresponsible, and it is getting far too many people hurt and even killed — for no good reason.
Stop doing it.
INFORMED DISSENT – Episode 3: “Racism and Where We Go From Here” is LIVE