The Astricast: Police Brutality

Here’s what I know about police brutality

In the past week, America has been shattered by yet another death of a black person, George Floyd, at the hands of a police officer. Unfortunately, this is neither a rare, nor a new occurrence. African American people have routinely been disproportionately harassed and brutalized by the very people who have sworn to protect them as part of the public. Comedians have joked about it, movies and TV shows have addressed it, protestors have railed against it, but for some reason, policymakers haven’t done anything about it. It appears that the death of George Floyd has been America’s last straw. The officers responsible for his death have been charged with murder, and the whole Minnesota police department has been sued by the City of Minnesota. Beyond that, protests and riots have broken out in every major city across the United States. Unfortunately, these demonstrations have, in some cases, provoked the very action they were organized to protest against. There have been reports of police officers firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protestors who were otherwise demonstrating peacefully. And every hour of every day I can’t help but ask myself why.

Before I continue, please consider that, in keeping with the spirit of the Astricast, all of this is conjecture on my part and that I encourage anyone to do further research before taking action on anything I say here. And if I say anything wrong, please, for the love of all that is good, tell me.

Police officers have it drilled into their heads from the beginning of their training that their duty is to follow the chain of command. They’re told that if they do this, then nothing that they do is any of their responsibility. They’re just following orders; acting as the arms and hands of the person in command over them with no will of their own. And if they don’t follow the chain of command, then they’re fired. This is drilled into them so hard that it becomes a reflex that’s as hard to act against as a hiccup. It’s not hard, then, to imagine a scenario where the top of that chain, the local governor, sends a questionable command down to all the links in that chain that never question it, because they were trained not to. And whenever that command is stopped by a question, the questioner is fired.

Besides this, I believe that the very profession of Police Officer can sometimes attract a certain personality type that takes pleasure in asserting control over others. As a police officer, they have been given power to dominate and subdue criminals. Nevermind the “serve and protect” part; they’re in the game to legitimize their power trips. This certainly doesn’t apply to all police officers, and it’s probably even a small minority, but it’s enough. And because the rest of the department is trained to not have their own will or else be fired, they won’t speak out against the bad ones because, in a very technical sense, they were following orders.

The third ingredient in this crap soup is the Us vs Them mentality that is so easy for every human to fall into. It’s part of the way the human mind operates to quickly identify patterns and use shortcuts to predict the outcomes of those patterns. This is helpful in a survival situation. It’s devastating in a peaceful, civilized society. When your brain identifies patterns, its instinct is to separate those patterns into like groups and make assumptions about those groups. Some patterns you identify as your “in-group” (the people who are like you) and others you identify as your “out-group” (people who are not like you). It can sometimes take a strong will to recognize this operation in yourself and realize that, in a peaceful, civilized society, your “out-group” is not out to get you and is, in fact, more like you than you realize. The shortcuts your brain has taken to identify them have failed you, and you must recognize that and either reevaluate or completely delete these shortcuts.

This is certainly a very complicated issue and, again, in the spirit of the Astricast, I have only scratched the surface here. The upside is that in the past few days I have seen more change to this than I have ever seen in any previous demonstrations. In many cases, it’s business as usual, but the light at the end of the tunnel can be seen. The officers responsible for George Floyd’s death are being punished more quickly than I have ever seen in the past. Videos are surfacing of officers speaking out and protecting protestors. People who are actually in charge of things are calling for and implementing change. Besides that, demonstrations are going on for longer and in a greater portion of the country. I believe real change is coming. The shortcuts are beginning to be reevaluated. In the end, I’m certain peace will prevail.

And that’s what I know about police brutality.