Real and Imaginary

So there’s an element of the unequal treatment of blacks by police officers that I’m not sure has achieved much attention.

Namely, the matter of feelings.

Here’s the set-up:  some asshole puts up a flag with a swastika on it in his front yard.  He’s disabled war vet, a little disheveled in the brain pan, but is not actually a direct danger to anyone.  He just likes to think of himself as part of the neo-Nazi community.  He’s a fanboy of Hitler, much like a Brony admires Twilight Sparkle.  There is no actual danger here.

His neighbor, a kindly Jewish woman, feels threatened by this and asks the man to take it down.  “Free speech, you wrinkled old hag” he responds, thinking the matter settled.  The woman calls the police, who approach the man, who is then charged with intimidation/terrorization/hate speech/whatever local ordinance covers this.

“Hooray!” responds progressives, “the racist is going to jail!”  No actual threat has been averted, no danger deactivated, however.  The woman felt threatened, even though no actual threat existed.  The same level of actual threat exists to her, even with the man gone.  That is to say, a threat exists outside of one’s own perceptions.  It is its own thing.

Now, we move locales.  A police officer, new to the job perhaps, pulls over a car with the music thumping.  He approaches the car and is greeted by a black man.  The police officer, due to bias, racism, nervousness, or whatever other feeling, thinks himself threatened by the black man.  No actual threat, but the officer’s feelings are no less real than the old Jewish woman’s.  He orders the to get out his ID, and so the black man reaches for his glove box.

Seeing an unexpected movement, the officer, already in a state of heightened fear, starts putting bullets into the car and into the man, killing him.

Did the officer fear for his life?  Did the old woman? Of course.  Was there any actual, tangible danger to either?  Had either actually been harmed? No.

But both were made to suffer fear, and in both cases, both the neo-Nazi and the black man ended up being victims in a scenario where neither intended to give offense.

College campuses today are filled with trigger warnings, speech codes, and safe spaces.  These are meant to protect the student not only from real threat, but also from perceived threat, which is another way of saying imagined threat.  The girl in college who demands that all men resembling her rapist be removed from the school is not proposing a solution to a real threat any more than the phantom fears of whites in the 1940’s that kept blacks (or Jews) out of certain neighborhoods.

The school movements that claim that the mere mention of slavery in a book should allow some students to be exempt from studying it are figments of the same imagination-indulgence that allows us to say that if a police officer feels threatened, he is justified in shooting.

If his feelings are, well, feelings, and not accurate appraisals of a situation, and his feelings end up killing someone, he’s a shitty cop.  Just as we demand evidence in a criminal trial, we need to demand actual things as justification for actions.

All of us have known teachers (either as co-workers or as students) who didn’t have the mental toughness to deal with unruly students, which is a fundamental part of the job.  If you can’t do the fundamental part of the job, you shouldn’t be doing that job.

A teacher who can’t control a classroom should be fired.  A cop who misreads a situation to the point where someone dies should be fired.  A doctor who messes up diagnoses to the point where people die.  People who are bad at their jobs should be fired.  A student who can’t study because of paranoia shouldn’t be in school.

These might not be criminal offenses, and an officer who panics and shoots an innocent man probably is not a criminal, but he certainly is a bad cop who should be fired.  Training is training, and the job is the job.  There will always be people-in any profession-who make it through the training but then can’t hack it in the real world.

Like any other kind of job negligence, the family should be compensated by the police department who put someone out into the streets with a gun who shouldn’t have been there and the offending officer fired (and probably blacklisted from law enforcement).

But we can’t have our cake and eat it too.  We can’t both say that a police officer has to deal with real things and not just his fears, but then also turn around and allow our students special exemptions from learning for the sake of their imaginations.

That is to say, we can’t fairly allow some members of society to impose their will on others based on the imaginary without allowing everyone to.  Everyone has to live in the real world.


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