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What can be said about the latest killing?

by Eric Ferguson on July 10, 2016

revolver muzzleI won’t pretend to wrap it all in one neat package. The killings of police in Dallas, in retaliation for the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, rub emotions raw and bring in more of the current conflicts within the country. Even just that phrase “in retaliation” implies a direct connection not everyone will want to acknowledge. Here are some thoughts on the subject, even if not with a neat bow around them.
There seems to be a contradiction between an attack made in the moment of anger over an incident, and something planned, but those two things can be simultaneously true. As obvious as it is the Dallas shooter was motivated by the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, he had a small arsenal, obviously prepping for something like this. So it’s both an attack spurred by a specific event, and something planned in advance. That’s something those who think it a lie that the Benghazi attack was in response to a video should keep in mind.
Was the Dallas shooter walking around with his rifle, right out in the open? Texas has open carry. A man named Mark Hughes was misidentified as a suspect because he was walking around a non-violent protest with a rifle, apparently missing the whole point of non-violence. Police could tweet his photo but they couldn’t stop him. Did they see the shooter, and were unable to do anything because it was perfectly legal to carry a gun in a volatile situation? Were the deaths of these police officers basically inevitable when Texas instituted open carry? Maybe the shooter somehow stayed concealed and didn’t rely on being able to carry a gun openly, but odds are we’ll never know for sure. What difference might it have made if just carrying the gun was enough to allow police to stop him?

We can’t say for sure Philando Castile and Alton Sterling would have lived if they were unarmed given how many black civilians have been killed by police, but we do know both were armed. Sterling used his gun to scare off an annoying panhandler, which shouldn’t be a capital offense, but without the gun there’s no 911 call, and no police paranoid about an armed black man. The officer who killed Castile was freaked out by an armed black man too. He had a concealed carry permit, so the gun was legal, but it got him killed. So there’s the problem of people carrying guns with no good reason, and frankly, carrying a gun jut because you can is asking for trouble. I don’t just mean it’s an unnecessarily dangerous thing, but all too often carriers are hoping for a chance to use it. At the same time though, police are reacting differently to armed blacks and whites. Does the 2nd amendment apply to blacks? In effect, sometimes. Seems like no, but admittedly that’s anecdotal. It shouldn’t have been legal for either victim to be carrying but since it’s legal, police can’t shoot just because a black civilian is armed. If someone does think carrying a gun is an individual right, then it appears the protection of that right depends a great deal on race.

Yet at the same time, does anyone blame police for being paranoid when so many civilians are armed? That’s no excuse for treating blacks and whites differently, and police need to ask why they react so differently to armed blacks versus armed whites, but I still can’t blame them for being concerned that anybody at a traffic stop might react to being stopped by shooting. Especially if a civilian can open carry, then the gun is legal right up until the carrier actually pulls the trigger. Doesn’t this sound like a recipe for police getting paranoid and shooting if in doubt? Ironically, this seems like a call for police to stop being paranoid about blacks, and start being paranoid about everybody.
There’s a perception that police can kill civilians with impunity. Sometimes that perception strikes me as correct, and sometimes police care more about protecting a fellow officer from consequences than about getting rid of the bad cops who damage the image of everyone else. One of the sad things about the shootings of the police in Dallas was that it wasn’t more surprising. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I feared something like this would happen. Yes, the shooter probably had mental issues, but rather than thinking that’s a reason to dismiss the external circumstances, that makes the shooter exactly the sort of person likely to act out violently. It’s particularly tragic he had the weapons and the training to do what he did.
Can we finally hear the last of the nonsense about a good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun? And that this wouldn’t have happened if more people were armed? These were the police, all armed and trained, and they had trouble stopping the shooter. Preventing people like him from being armed in the first place seems like the only solution. We can’t stop all would-be shooters from being armed, but even stopping one might have saved these five officers.
These issues remind me of the poll that found that a substantial minority of white think racism against whites is a bigger problem than racism towards minorities. Are we really having to convince some people racism is real? They asked about “preferences”, so maybe the people who thought whites had it worse were thinking of just employment discrimination, or educational opportunities, and not about policing. They weren’t necessarily denying there’s a racism, but just saying reverse-racism is the bigger problem. Still, I can’t help seeing the video evidence and wondering, what world are they living in? Are we in for yet another issue where the political debate is between reality and fantasyland?
Maybe the scariest thing about recent events is the elements of the right willing to play to the fringe that talks about “race war” and “civil war”, not just out of fear, but frankly, hoping this happens. It’s an impression admittedly, but it seems like some shooters lash out from frustration that the war they’re hoping for just won’t come. So what was the New York Post thinking when it put a big letter “civil war” headline across it’s front page? Do they have any idea what a civil war looks like? Do they actually intend to give yet more crazies a reason to lash out? Here’s the bit that really shook me: real civil war seems awfully unlikely, but when asked about it, I found the question had to be taken seriously. The country has been through rougher patches than today … like the actual civil war. Today would seem nicely calm to people living through the civil war or other periods when the country cam closer to falling apart, but yet, I can’t say it’s utterly impossible. Not when selling newspapers is sufficient reason to feed the crazy, and elements of the media join in calling for war.

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