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The Facts About Police Action Fatalities in America

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott, an African-American resident of South Carolina, was stopped for having a broken tail light. He was stopped by Officer Michael Slager, a White, North Charleston police officer. A few minutes later Scott was shot several times in the back while trying to flee. The incident was presented as a justifiable use of force by authorities until a videotape surfaced Slager calmly aiming his service weapon and firing into the back of Mr. Scott as he was running away. It was national news.

Stories of people killed by local police action rarely get national attention. Unless there is some dramatic twist or shocking video, the incidents are only reported in hyper-local community newspapers. The only sources for these reports are usually a police spokespersons and sometimes friends or grieving family members. When cases like the Scott shooting do capture regional or national attention they also raise significant, unanswered questions. Just how many citizens are killed in police actions in this country? Is this rare? Who is keeping track of the numbers? Does this sort of thing happen mostly in certain areas or departments? Is it just a few bad apples or are there larger patterns?

There are no national databases to track civilian deaths that result from police actions. The FBI does maintains a partial database of “justified police homicides,” but reporting by state and local authorities is voluntary. Only 750 of the more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies in this country submit their data. This limited reporting yields about 400 police homicides per year,

Almost two years ago a group of dedicated citizens began searching through local newspaper accounts of police involved civilian deaths throughout the country. They started a Website called KilledByPolice.net. They compile names of civilian casualties and added links to the initial news accounts. They also open a Facebook page on each person killed to post follow-up news accounts and to collect any local comments about these cases. Most of these fatalities are police homicides, justified or otherwise, but the data also includes murder/suicides by police officers, fatal DWI accident where the officers were intoxicated, police assisted suicides of mentally ill persons and other such categories. This effort turns out to be the most comprehensive data resource I’ve seen so far on police action fatalities. Based on this raw material I have begun my own analysis of the data.

Here is a brief summary of my initial findings to date.

Between May 1, 2013 and April 4th, 2015 there were 2,181 people killed by police officers in the United States. That works out to around 95 per month or 3 police action fatalities per day. There is clearly a gender bias in police action fatalities. Almost all are males, 2,044, with only 135 females killed in this 23 month period. In six other case the gender was undisclosed.

The full identity of 565 fatality victims were not disclosed to the media as of yet. The average age of the known fatality victims is 36.9 years, which is also the national median age of the population. This means that there is no age bias in police action fatality. Younger people are not more likely to be killed in a police action, for example.

Regarding race and ethnicity, Latino’s make up 18.7% of the general population and were 17% of the fatality victims during the past 23 months, suggesting their rate of police involved fatalities is proportional on a national scale. This may not be uniformly true in every locality.

Whites make up 77% of the population but only 48.1% of the victims. African-Americans make up just 13.2% of the general population but 30.5% of the total fatalities. This clearly suggests a racial bias in police action fatalities.

When the data was sorted by U.S. Census regions, 41.5% of all police action fatalities took place in the Southern states. Add California’s 730 incidents to the Southern total and the subsequent total account for 58.4% of all cases nationwide. In contrast, police action fatalities in the highly populated Northeast make up 9% of the total. (see pie chart) The large regional differences strongly suggest that these incidents are not the random acts of a few bad apples, as some suggest, but real differences in police training, policy and culture.

 

The states with the highest rate of police action fatalities, in descending order, are Alabama, Wisconsin, Washington State, Arizona, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Wyoming, Vermont and Idaho have the lowest rates. The states with the highest annual average of civilian fatalities are California (193), Texas (112), Florida (93), Arizona (50) and Illinois (33).

The data contained in the KilledByPolice Website is far more extensive since in contains reports of the police accounts and some follow-up articles, but this information is not yet in a form that allows for statistical analysis. It seems that most of the reports I reviewed so far involve police shootings, but this remains to be verified.

Defenders of law enforcement will say, with some justification, that the vast majority of police officers are honorable, law abiding and competent professionals who put their lives on the line to serve and protect the public. This is a true statement. As a whole the incidents of police action fatalities involves a tiny fraction of the overall mortality rate and it is sure to be a tiny fraction of all incidents of police engagement as well. This, however, is not a high standard to judge whether the current rate of fatal outcomes is significant.  To help put these numbers a national context, there were only 70 civilians killed by the police in Great Britain in the last 90 years.

The better standard to judge the significance of this problem is to ask how many of these civilian casualties could we have avoided. Even when a police shooting is ruled a justifiable homicide, for example, different tactics and better training might still have avoided a fatal confrontation. The justifiable use of deadly force is predicated on existing policies, procedures, tactical training, departmental culture and the careful vetting of law enforcement personnel, to list just a few factors. It is our obligation police action casualties and protect the life and safety of every citizen, including those who are subject of police actions. The problem is very real and it deserves public attention.

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How Free is “Free Will”

by Brian T. Lynch

This is purely my opinion, but my understanding of “Free Will” is very narrow compared to most people I talk to about it. I see it as something that emerges gradually along a continuum from actions that are totally coercive to purely rational and independent. It isn’t an all or nothing phenomenon, as some see it. I exclude all impulsive actions taken due to internal urges from my definition since urges aren’t rational and follow from completely different pathways in the brain. Also, actions that spring from emotions may or may not involve free will in my view. It is here that the gradual blossoming of free will is most evident. 

When ever we act to satisfy urges or emotions we really cannot distinguish “free will” from the actions taken since acting on a urge feels identical to acting by choice.. That is why people don’t even know they are addicted to something until they discover they can’t simply choose to stop. Addiction in insidious that way. No one can say for sure that they smoke by choice after that first cigarette because even six months later the brain can trigger powerful urges for another cigarette.

The same holds true, by degree, with our emotions. We can’t know for certain if we are acting on free will when we acquiesce to our feelings since emotions can also overpower free will. We even say we are “acting on our emotions” to explain certain behaviors, but it still feels exactly like a choice, even if we can’t help it. So inwardly speaking, we can only no for sure that we are acting on free will when our actions are contrary to both our urges and our feelings. It is only when we place them in check that we can know for sure we are acting on our own free will.

That said, what about free will in circumstances when our only available options for action are proscribed by others, or by circumstances out of our control? If we have no choice but to act, do we have free will? If we have only bad choices, are we exercising free will by making that bad choice? Was Socrates exercising free will when he choose to drink hemlock rather than face a public execution? It so, and I believe he was exercising free will, then a limited form of free will must exist even under extreme forms of coercion.

How we define “free will” has enormous social and political implications because it thereby defines how responsible individuals are for their actions. It is here we see the continuum of emerging free will run its course. Some folks believe everyone is 100% responsible for their actions. They might then blame the poor for being poor, or the sick for being sick (live style choices) and would probably not accept an insanity defense for crimes committed by the insane. Speaking of justice, we see the role “free will” plays in our action played being calculated in criminal sentencing hearings when mitigating and aggravating circumstances are used to determine appropriate punishment. We punish people for criminal intent but not acquit them, or lighten their punishment if they were not in control of their actions.

These are just examples. In fact, we use these sort of calculations everyday with each other or our children in judging their actions and in modulating our responses. So the idea that free will is an all or nothing phenomenon just isn’t born out in our every day experience.

Anyway, here is an interesting article on the subject.

It has become fashionable to say that people have no free will. Many scientists cannot imagine how the idea of free will could be reconciled with the laws of physics and chemistry. Brain researchers say that the brain is just a bunch of nerve cells…

SLATE.COM

“Serve and Protect” or “Enforce and Collect” The Changing Character of Local PD

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Police officers come in two basic flavors, the “serve and protect” peace officers and the “enforce and collect” enforcement officers. These represent (in the overly simplified terms used here) two fundamentally different and incompatible philosophies that are competing for the heart and soul of the profession. I needn’t mention which view is winning out since 9/11. Still, the drama playing out among departments also plays out within departments, which might help account for some of the reasons behind the article below. You might not see it at first, but so often the emotional motivations behind what seems like petty disputes are really underlying rifts involving fundamentally different world views. That’s what I suspect is happening here in New Jersey and elsewhere around the country.

http://j.mp/1nP5kBV

Good Cop, Bad Cop: How Infighting is Costing NJ Taxpayers

Police officers across the state are suing fellow cops and departments over everything from sexual harassment to being sent home for wearing the wrong shoes — and residents are footing the bill. We unearthed the details, and the latest tally.

In the opening account in this article a female officer in Camden is made Chief of Police. When she inspects the unmarked car that comes with the job she discovers that one of her fellow officers planted crack cocaine in the car to derail her promotion and her life. Incidents like this reveal just how serious the clash of ideologies can be within public police departments.

I had a good friend who spent his entire career in local police departments. He dedicated himself to serving the public. Sometimes that meant arresting people who endangered others or disturbed the peace, but it also meant going the extra mile to help out a resident in a pinch. In smaller towns and communities it isn’t all bad guys all the time. He was never cynical or jaded by his work, but his philosophy on small town policing set him at odds with a segment of his fellow officers. It played out in many internal conflicts and unfavorable personnel decisions over the course of his career. In the end he retired early in part because of the hostility he felt in the workplace.

I have other police officer friends, even some who are of the “enforce and collect” variety who received negative attention in their careers when they strayed a bit from that philosophy. Another person I know who aspires to be a police officer was turned off by the militancy and hardnosed cynicism that has been built into the police training curriculum. Just what does the current police training curriculum look like these days? The public has a right to know.

What all this really means is that the drama playing out in society as a whole between ultra-conservative ideologies and more liberal ideologies is also playing out in all our institutions, including police agencies. Local departments are not immune to what affects society as a whole. What’s different here is that even small, local police departments shun transparency. While they work for the public they tend to view us as civilians outside of their fraternity. It is hard to penetrate a Departments cultural view. At the same time, there is clearly money and military style equipment flowing into even local law enforcement agencies, which serves to alter the character of local policing.

These changes are real. What is missing, in addition to transparency, is a robust public debate on what role we want local police to play in our communities. Are we aware of the changes character of our local police departments and are we comfortable with those changes?

The Worthy and Unworthy Rich

By Brian T. Lynch, MSW

How should sensible people respond to divisive attacks on the poor and vulnerable? Should we begin making similar distinctions between the worthy and unworthy rich? Should we affirm those who earned their great wealth and provide social benefit but rescind all advantages given to those who use their inherited wealth to squeeze the people and their government for still more?

It should be obvious that social polarity is not between Democrat and Republican, or between liberal and conservative, but rather where it has always derived, between rich and poor.

http://aattp.org/gop-senate-candidate-republicans-must-turn-poor-against-each-other-video/#comment-190804


GOP Senate Candidate: Republicans Must Turn Poor against Each Other (Video)



Watch N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis explain: .What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance,” 

Tillis said. “We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice, in her condition, that needs help and that we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say at some point, ‘You’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.’ And we’ve got to start having that serious discussion.”

 ATTP.ORG

 

New Study – Sword Violence at an All Time Low

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

A new study released by the O.K. Institute of Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, confirms that the rate of injury or death by swords continues to be exceeding rare in the 21st century. Once the leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults, both the incidents of sword play injury and sword related homicides remain at an all time low as a percentage of the population. In many US cities, even those with extraordinarily high homicide rates, the rate of sword related homicide was nearly zero between 2001 and 2012.

sword

Researchers speculate that the low sword homicide rate may be the result of the present low rate of sword ownership in the United States. Less than one in one-hundred households currently own a sword and fewer than 1 person in 100,000 openly carry a sword. This is in stark contrast to the 18th Century when it is estimated that 1 out of every 20 men owned swords. Sword ownership rates may have been considerably higher in some urban areas where swords were openly carried in the streets for protection.

In their remarkable analysis, the researchers believe they have found a direct correlation between the decline of sword ownership and the decline in sword related deaths. This correlation remained robust even when compensating for variables such as sword safety training, blade size and such demographic differences as age, race, religion and economic status of the sword owners.

A spokesman at the O.K. Institute, speaking on behalf of the researchers, speculates that the results of this study could have practical implications for understanding the current high rate of gun violence in the United States. Further studies will be needed to confirme these results and to explore whether these findings can be generalized to the prevalence of violence by other types of lethal weapons.

[Obviously satirical]

How Wide is the Gender Gap – The Difference Between Mars and Venus

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

 Are men and woman really so different?  Newly published research suggests that how men and women think may be even more different than we suspect!
Gender Differences
You have probably noticed that we humans come in two genetically distinct biological groups, males and females.  All other genetic distinctions are trivial by comparison.  We usually assume that our genetic differences are limited to these physiological distinctions. We take for granted that all social differentiation between men and woman is driven by these obvious biological traits.  More recently we have accepted that gender roles may be malleable characteristics molded in childhood according to the prevailing social norms.  Strip away the gender imprinting from society and we might find no psycho/social differences at all.
Support for this idea has come from scientific research which found that the frequencies with which various personality traits are exhibited in males and females are not so broad (see Hyde’s “gender similarities hypothesis”, 2005, Am Psychol 60: 581–592.).  This suggested a lot of overlap in the constellation of personality traits between men and woman.  At the same time there is a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to a genetic component in personality development.  This support the idea that both nature and nurture contribute to the person we become.
Now a new statistically sophisticated analysis of this earlier data on gender and personality traits appears to turned the previous findings upside down. In a paper entitled “The Distance Between Mars and Venus: Measuring global sex differences in personality,” three researchers named Marco Del Guidice, Tom Booth and Paul Irwing looked not at the frequency of distinct personality traits in males and females, but at multi-variant patterns of personality traits that appear to be associated with gender.  http://bit.ly/x2SsfL
In their analysis of these statistically correlated patterns, the researchers concluded there may be as little as a 10% overlap in the personality make-up of men and women.  This difference in gender personality traits is larger than previous differences found in other specific traits, such as aggression rates between the sexes, according to the researchers.  In their paper they also bring in the views of some evolutionary psychologist who hold that:

 divergent selection pressures on males and females are expected to produce consistent – and often substantial – psychological differences between the sexes.  By the logic of sexual selection theory and parental investment theory,  large sex differences are most likely to be found in traits and behaviors that ultimately relate to mating and parenting. More generally, sex differences are expected in those domains in which males and females have consistently faced different adaptive problems.” 

From their academic perspective the authors go on to say, Given the contrast between the predictions derived from evolutionary theory and those based on the gender similarities hypothesis, there is a pressing need for accurate empirical estimates of sex differences in personality.”  From an academic point of view this study will almost certainly intensify research and professional debate in this area of study.  Findings of this magnitude always do, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs, which take time to develop.
From my perspective, if future evidence does convinces society that men and women have innately different templates from which our personalities emerge, this belief will have profound and far reaching consequences.  For now, however, this news simply makes for interesting parlor talk.

When Beauty is Average

Beauty is average. This is truly a paradigm shifting truth.  It is confirmed by both digital photography studies and new understandings of how our brains process information. It turns out Plato had it right when he said there was a place where ideal objects existed, he just didn’t know he was describing a function of our cerebral cortex.  The ideal table, for instance, is a mental construct or image in our brain that allows us to recognize infinite variations in size, shape, purpose, color, aspect, texture, design, etc.  as an object that is still a table. This is a remarkable fact in itself. But then comes the discovery that the most beautiful human faces ends up being the average face. This is mind blown.

http://faceresearch.org/students/averageness

individual face individual face individual face individual face individual face composite face
Individual Faces Composite Face

The idea that beauty is average comes from the digital age where photographs can be rendered in pixel formats.  The size of the pixels determines the resolution of the photographs.  High resolution photographs have many more pixels.  Some researchers got the bright idea of taking a lot of high resolution digital portraits of men and woman and then averaging the value of all the pixels that comprised the human male and female face to create a composite image.  The images they created of the pixel averaged faces for men and woman turned out to be strikingly beautiful.

Next the researchers took the composite images along with the digital photos of the faces that made up the composite face, and showed these to lots of people. They asked the subjects to rate or rank the beauty of the faces.  The researchers found that the average pixel face was most often rated the most beautiful.  And so we discovered that beauty is literally the average.

The researchers suggested that as a species the ability to identify beauty, or the average face, may have served a natural selection purpose.  They speculated that people with an exactly average appearance are more likely to be healthy, normal and able to have children.  Maybe so.  Who knows.

What the study also proved, but what the researchers didn’t highlight, is the amazing ability of the brain to identify the exact average of so many faces it encounters.  If you think of a bell curve from statistics, the exact average is a relatively small or thin line within the normal range while the normal range of human faces is huge.  Just look around and you will see tremendous variations of human faces and body types.  But the exact average, or median, of all faces or body types occurs in very few individuals within the population.  This fact preserves the truth that beauty is actually very rare.

If it seems like an impossible task for the brain to identify the approximate average human face, then recent understandings of the hierarchical nature of how our cortex processes data suggest how this is done.  It turns out that our cerebral cortex creates idealized images of every object we see in our world.   This allows us to  rapidly and correctly identify object no matter what portion of them we see or individual attributes they may have, such as  color, size, texture, composition, design, etc.  This attribute also allows us to create idealized images of a human face.

So beauty is average and our brains have a nearly universal sense of beauty.  We share this sense because we all have a similar pool of faces from which to identify the average face.

This has profound implications for the arts, but even more profound social implications.  It explains how in my desire to be different as a young man I found myself conforming to my peers.  When I was young and wanted to distinguish myself from my parents generation.  One way I did this was by crudely cutting off the legs off my jeans to create cut-off. It turns out everyone else in my generation was wearing them.  I was one of the crowd.  In trying to be different from my parents I conformed to others who, like me, also wanted to be different.  I identified with an image of who I wanted to be that happened to be the idealized, or exact average, of every other young person wishing to make the same statement.

As it turns out, this self-identified peer conformity is a ubiquitous feature of our human nature.  It is possible because of our ability to sort out and idealize groups of objects or people. If I asked you to imagine yourself as a Harley motorcycle biker, you would conger up an idealized version of a biker that approximately represents the average Harley biker.  If you acted on this image you might buy and personalize a leather jacket, and do the same for other garments and accessories, until you were satisfied that you fit in with the self-identified peer group of Harley bikers.

We almost effortlessly do this sorting and self-identifying all the time.  It explains how we are both so diverse and yet so conforming. We are always moving toward some idealized average image of the groups or things with which we identify even as those idealized averages are shifting over time.  But when it comes to thinking about beauty, there is something reassuring about the fact that what makes beautiful people so special is the fact that they are so average.  It somehow makes me more content being more or less “normal”.