Life on the Line

In a recent Facebook discussion, we talked about the value of occupations where people put their life on the line.  This of course arose out of a conversation about the currently chaotic situation involving the police and the Black Lives Matter movement.  A friend of mind said he leaned towards siding with police because they lay their lives on the line every day.  Many people feel this way and it is oft used to not only build respect towards police officers, but also people in the military.

On one hand there is certainly courage getting up each day, knowing this could be a day you die…or rather a higher than normal percentage for the average citizen.  Of course the average cop may have as good of odds as the average person who grows up in inner city areas that have a high crime and murder rate.  That aside I agree that it still takes courage, but the stress of such a situation is likely not healthy without a good deal of treatment to deal with the stress.  That kind of stress is likely to make you more likely to take less chances in any given interaction with the citizenry to protect your own life.  Particularly in areas where there is a lot of crime, and for a job which doesn’t pay that well given the cost of your life.

On the other hand, one wonders what compels someone to choose that line of work?  Do people say…”I really want to put my life on the line every day and be a cop or join the military, protecting people?”  I am sure some of them do.  Such nobility does exist.  But I am sure there are plenty of reasons that come into play as well.  Some may join because they can’t afford or don’t want to go to college.  For the military, some may join for the opportunity to go to college, or the job opportunities that will be more plentiful upon graduation.  Many join the military simply as a way to get out of poverty.  Other factors may come into play, like trying to escape an abusive or dysfunctional household, doing it because your father and/or brother(s) did it.  Other less noble reasons could also exist like just wanting the respect that comes with the uniform, picturing yourself as some action hero not even thinking about the consequences of you doing or wanting that instant authority over people.  This has always been the trouble I have had with simply thinking of all cops or military personnel as noble heroes for being willing to lay down their life for others, because it’s unclear to me how much of this courage really factors into their decision to do the job.

wash-ham_memeBut they do, do the job.  At the end of the day isn’t that all that matters?  Perhaps, but if laying down your life, whatever your initial intentions were make you a person with courage then such courage should also be bestowed on all people who have dangerous jobs.  And there are such jobs even though they in no way are protecting other people.  People who are loggers, fishers, and roofers come in the top 3.  Here is a list of the top 20 most dangerous professions per capita (Police come in at 15).  We also must then laud all those who lay their life down for a cause.  This then includes your rebels, your gangs, your suicide bombers.  This people also risk their life, sometimes end their lives for a cause they believe in.  I think we can agree that this is not the type of person we want to elevate to nobility.  Of course it is the values they hold, the values they fight for, the goodness that they protect.  So if we can’t guarantee the motivations of all people who don the uniform, if there are more dangerous professions, and if what makes someone is a hero is the values they represent, it seems to me like “laying down one’s life” isn’t an overly relevant reason to elevate one to a position of automatic respect.

But you may say, “Big talk person with blog, but would you be willing to do the same?”.  And I think it’s a fair question to ask and it’s also an important question I think to ask one’s self.  “Is there a cause for which I’m willing to die for?”  I certainly think I have the courage for it, but I know for me the death part isn’t what would hold me back.  If there was truly no other way besides carrying a gun to solve the problem, then it is my passion that would override my fear of death, at least initially.  It would simply feel like the right thing to do regardless of the consequences.  What I will say is that I am definitely capable of making a mistake, and possibly a deadly one.  Dying to me is quite honestly less scary than taking the life of someone who did feel I deserve it.  Had I shot Tamir Rice.  I would be wishing myself dead, and if they didn’t lock me up, I’d quickly turn in my badge.  Because, how are you going to live with that?

Cop buys mother he caught stealing, $200 dollars in groceries for her kids.  Values to die and live for.
Cop buys mother he caught stealing, $200 dollars in groceries for her kids. Values to die and live for.

When it comes the situation between cops and blacks in the U.S., all I can say is that there is definitely racism in the justice system, and most cops are simply doing their best.  They see the worst of society and the see it every day.  There is no question this wears on them, and there is no question in changes the brain.  But so does poverty and racism.  The key is I think is to reach out to all those who need help.  You don’t have to lay down your life to support the police and black people.  Things have to change or a lot more people are going to die and those are the lives we all need to work together to save.

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24 thoughts on “Life on the Line

  1. Law enforcement specifically target combat soldiers for recruitment — veterans who had gone through a psychological process to dehumanize the “enemy”. Historically, blacks have been dehumanized in the U.S., and still are, today.

    Tim Dees, a retired cop (Reno Police Department), and a criminal justice professor, stated that in his experience, cops tend to be politically conservative and mostly Republican. What’s interesting about this is that there have been numerous studies, using brain scan imaging, showing that those who are politically conservative tend to have increased gray matter volume in the fear (and aggression) region of their brain — the amygdala.

    Research shows that information from our senses reaches our amygdala almost twice as fast as it takes to get our frontal lobes. The speed of these different brain signals means that unless we instantaneously know how to react to the potential threat, we might freeze in fear or overreact while waiting for the frontal lobes to catch up to figure out the right response.

    Navy Seal recruits are put through special training to change the way their brain’s react to fear, and the capacity to control these impulses is extremely important when having to make quick decisions in fearful situations. They go through a rewiring process. The amygdala is one of the most interconnected regions of the brain and affects the whole body. When put in a fearful situation the brain and body can go into a fight or flight mode. So the key in overcoming fear is to control these signals from the amygdala.

    We can train our brain to bypass the emotional center, and send the signals to the frontal lobes for quick assessment before reacting. Police should go through the same (rewiring) training.

    ” Simply put, white cops are afraid of black men. We don’t talk about it, we pretend it doesn’t exist, we claim “color blindness,” we say white officers treat black men the same way they treat white men. But that’s a lie. In fact, the bigger, the darker the black man the greater the fear. The African-American community knows this. Hell, most whites know it. Yet, even though it’s a central, if not the defining ingredient in the makeup of police racism, white cops won’t admit it to themselves, or to others.”

    ― Norm Stamper, Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing

    Dr. Susan Fiske, of Princeton University, did experiments showing subjects picture of the faces of another race. The result was that their amygdala became metabolically active. However, in another set of experiments, she asked subjects beforehand to think of people as individuals rather than as members of a group. The amygdala didn’t become active.

    I realize I’ve shared this with you before, but it’s worth noting, again, as it’s clear that we, as a society, are not addressing the root causes. As Dr. Robert Salpolsky stated: “Humans may be hard-wired to get edgy around the Other, but our views on who falls into that category are decidedly malleable.”

    Another excellent and thought-provoking post, Swarn.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great stuff Victoria and thank you for your kind words and comment. I knew you’d provided the proof for all I said in the brain! lol And I agree that it is a matter of better training. Not sure if you saw the article I posted a few weeks ago on my timeline about differences between American and European cops, but that was one of the things they mentioned that ultimately we train cops very differently and in a way that promotes the use force over de-escalation. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/american-cops-lethal_us_565cde59e4b079b2818b8870

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting article, Swarn. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Quote:

        In the US, the only truly national deadly force behavioral mandates are set by the Supreme Court, which in 1989 deemed it constitutionally permissible for police to use deadly force when they “reasonably” perceive imminent and grave harm.

        By contrast, national standards in most European countries conform to the European Convention on Human Rights, which impels its 47 signatories to permit only deadly force that is “absolutely necessary” to achieve a lawful purpose. Killings excused under America’s “reasonable belief” standards often violate Europe’s “absolute necessity” standards.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yep. I think certainly the vastly greater amount of guns here adds to the stress too. The one thing one notices as the common thread between police shootings, police ambushes, mass murders, gang shootings, etc…is that they do sort of all involve guns. But you know as soon as you have to give those up…you’ll get raped…probably by the tyrannical government who thought maybe we’ve had enough killing. lol

          Liked by 1 person

  2. “Under the Justice Department’s COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program, 629 of the 800 police jobs funded for the next three years – all the newly hired officers – must go to veterans who served at least 180 days’ active duty since 9/11. This is the first time the 18-year-old COPS program has required cities and counties seeking grants to hire veterans exclusively.”

    The above quote is from a 2012 article.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. From the Guardian:
    Donald Trump has suggested that under his leadership America would not necessarily come to the aid of a Nato ally under attack, saying he would first consider how much they have contributed to the alliance.

    Trump repeated his insistence that other countries should start sharing more of the defence costs long borne by Washington.

    This guy is truly all about money! (And not much else.)

    (Sorry for the slight detour from your post topic, but tRump did work his way into the conversation.) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry…didn’t have time to get to this article until quite now. It’s definitely quite illuminating. I don’t suspect training isn’t entirely the problem, but I do think that recruitment is also an important issue. It’s the same issue any company has. Hell it’s the same for student recruitment also. When recruitment drops you have to start lowering the standards. Of course the fact that one would seek more aggressive personalities as a general rule is also important. I think cops need better pay and more services to help them deal with the stress. More holiday time. I wonder how many of the blue lives matter people would be just as happy to find out there taxes are going to go up though in order to get a better police force. I was just listening to the Hidden Brain podcast on NPR and they were talking to one of the top recruiters and Google and they talked about how they recruit employees. Basically they look for good people. They use morality and ethics as a tool for determining whether someone is going to be a good fit with their company. I thought their strategy was brilliant.

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      1. Yes, I agree. It’s just another element to a complex situation. I guess you have heard/seen by now what went down with an Austin police officer who slammed a 112 lb, black female school teacher to the ground after she was pulled over for allegedly going 50 in a 35 zone. The footage has just been release, but this occurred in 2015.

        Later, in the police car (video running), one of the police admitted to her that white people were afraid of black people (including white police). So again, this ties into what Norm Stamper stated in the above quote I posted. Also, after being violently treated, she’s told that blacks (African-Americans) have violent tendencies.

        The school teacher asks “Let me ask you this. Do you believe it goes both ways?”

        The police officer replies: “Ninety-nine percent of the time, when you hear about stuff like that, it is the black community that is being violent,’ That’s why a lot of the white people are afraid, and I don’t blame them.”

        What seems apparent to me is that these accusations and maltreatment of African-American citizens are a direct result of a long-existing systemic problem that will continue until the root causes are address. To give you an idea of what it’s like here — this is a conversation that recently took place between a Mississippi legislator and congressman, after the shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. But yes I agree that the problems we are facing right now aren’t something that cropped in over night. And it’s not surprising that trauma experience by black people by parents and grandparents can be passed down through generations. Even if things are better now, the fear from traumatic treatment by the law doesn’t erode easily either.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. This is excellent.
    I don’t like the police. And the argument that they are willing to lay their lives down for others doesn’t really pass with me. I don’t think that’s why they take their jobs. It is occupational hazard.
    I think we need to look at the socio-economic problems in our society and address them with courage. Maybe only then will we have a semblance of peace in our neighbourhoods.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mak. I agree with you. Ultimately there are things we can do that minimize the need for any police and this should be our ultimate goal. I don’t have any problem with police and know there are countless officers who have saved lives, but I am not for any authority that one can’t question or criticize or that we are told deserves automatic respect. This sort of attitude towards authority to me is exactly how you get church back into state, it’s how you get dictators, and I think it’s dangerous.

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  6. I posted this on FB just a few minutes ago, so you will probably see it, but I thought I’d post it here. Excerpts from Scientific America, published today:

    “”A think tank called the Center for Policing Equity this month published the strongest data yet on how often officers use force on the job and how those actions differ according to the race of the people involved. The data echo what is playing out in near-daily headlines: Across geographically and demographically diverse swaths of the country, physical force —via restraint, punches, tasers and guns —is disproportionately exerted against black people, even after taking into account differences for violent crime arrest rates and other factors.

    [An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

    We know that police officers, like the rest of us, can be subject to implicit bias. Can you briefly describe what that is?

    Implicit biases reflect positive or negative mental associations that people have between groups, like racial or ethnic groups, and specific traits like criminality or danger. They are implicit in the sense that they reside in the part of our memory that is not accessible to conscious introspection. They get activated in our memories when we encounter somebody from one of those groups or when we think about those groups. It’s maladaptive when it causes us to make biased judgments about individuals based on prior conceptions about the groups they belong to.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-reduce-police-violence/

    I was reminded of the research I posted above from Dr. Susan Fiske, when she asked subjects beforehand to think of people as individuals rather than as members of a group, and the result was the amygdala (aggression and fear) didn’t become active.

    The article goes on to say:

    “We don’t know how to de-bias people because the culture is so saturated with those stereotypes.”

    Perhaps they should look into Dr. Fiske’s research.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And this is part of the dehumanization process that is done by conservative politicians and conservative media. They are never described as individuals unless they are giving you their rap sheet trying to justify why the police shot him. Pushing the idea of people as a group whether it’s blacks, Latinos, the poor, helps us think of people as a faceless mass reduced to just a few qualities which aren’t good. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

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