We’ve been watching cops and robbers in black and white. “I can’t breathe” is the current verbal meme that expresses the equivalent of the arms up–don’t shoot–gesture. The incidents in Ferguson and in Staten Island are tragic in so many ways, but even worse, they seem to present a pattern.
We have been stuck in a pattern of not only racial mistrust (on all sides) and mistrust of authority (in most institutions), but also a pattern of exaggeration and fear mongering, leading to even more over reaction. We are also stuck in a pattern of hatred and reflexive actions rather than reflective ones.
Some don’t see patterns, but merely behaviors. When it’s cops and robbers, some think that robbers deserve whatever they get by cops. It’s black and white, except when it’s about cops and robbers who are white and black. Then some don’t see cops and robbers; they just see race and a history of inequity.
Even these narratives are patterns. But something happened after the most recent Grand Jury decision not to indict a cop after he placed Eric Garner in a chokehold during an arrest, after which, Garner died. On the heels of the Ferguson Grand Jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the cop who fatally shot Michael Brown who was unarmed, the federal government is beginning to investigate patterns and procedures. We have been choking in our own fears and patterns, and it is as though we can’t breathe anymore.
It is possible to be pro law and order while seeking to break the pattern of extreme violence employed by police. Seeing black and white is also part of the problematic pattern that chokes us. Economic histories and patterns, racial histories and patterns, legal histories and patterns, even gender histories and patterns have actually produced a holding pattern–and we are being choked.
Police accountability would provide some oxygen. While many of us shudder at the idea of more cameras in everyday life, the notion of police cameras would at least potentially provide some more accountability. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee different legal analysis. There was a video in the Eric Garner arrest that clearly showed the choke hold and his gasping for air–for life. But, it seems to me that when one knows that one is being watched, behavior and patterns begin to change. Similarly, if every bullet that is fired by a police officer is documented in a data base, then not only is there obviously the opportunity for actual accountability, but there is also the opportunity to analyze data and to re-examine how and when deadly force is used.
We know that law enforcement patterns need altering, as do so many other aspects of our society and legal system. Our histories and patterns seem to have a hold on us, but we have also been choking ourselves–mostly from fear and our own inabilities to see ourselves as fractals or among the elements that comprise patterns–cracks, foams(bubbles), waves, spirals, tilings, and those elements created by symmetries of rotation and mirroring. Seeing our own selves among the elements of the societal and historical patterns allows us to get out of this holding pattern and consciously design better alternatives.