All opinions are not of equal value

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In recent weeks I’ve seen a significant uptick in debates where people seem to take the view that their uninformed opinion on racism, civil rights, and police brutality are of equal weight to an informed opinion. That just isn’t the case. This is a somewhat long post, but I’ll try to be as brief as I can without skipping anything important.

A couple of years ago I hurt my shoulder in a martial arts accident. I could tell something was quite wrong right away. I was unable to pickup my children, or even lift my hand above my head without pain. So, I went to my doctor. He said that he thought there was something torn, but that I would need to see an orthopedic specialist. I was given a referral to an orthopedic doctor who was an expert when it came to shoulders. After a few minutes of talking to me, that orthopedic doctor said he was pretty sure I had torn the labrum in my shoulder. An MRI proved the doctor correct, and I had surgery. My shoulder is essentially good as new and I’m back to martial arts with no restrictions.

The reason I mention that story is because it really illustrates a point that some people are missing these days. One person’s ignorance is not as good as another person’s knowledge. When it comes to shoulders, I don’t know much. I’m not a doctor. I didn’t even know what a labrum was until the doctor told me that I had torn mine. It would be nonsensical to think that my thoughts or opinions on my shoulder injury were worth anything in comparison to the orthopedic doctor’s thoughts and opinions. Even my regular doctor’s opinions on my shoulder were greatly surpassed by the specialist doctor’s opinion. That makes sense, as a doctor who spends all day working on shoulders should be the most knowledgeable about that part of the body.

Getting back to the issue at hand, during these last few week issues of racism, police brutality, and civil rights have been discussed more widely than at anytime in the last 50 years. There have been massive protests, some riots, curfews, and real changes to the law enacted in response. That has also caused a lot of people to develop and share opinions on the subject.

I’ve had several people I know express opinions on racism, policing, civil rights, protests, etc. In many of those cases, the opinion expressed is the sort of superficial opinion that could be expected from someone who lacks education and experience on subject. Just as I had friends with no medical experience who expressed disagreement with the orthopedic doctor’s diagnosis and treatment of my shoulder, I now have friends who lack any knowledge or education on this issue loudly proclaiming ridiculous things when it comes to the civil rights issues gripping the country.

There are a great many things in the world that I don’t know much about. But I do know a good deal about racism, policing, and the law. I’m black, and my earliest memory of the police involves a cop falsely accusing my parents of shoplifting a baby carrier from a toy store. That toy store didn’t even have the baby carrier that my parents were using to hold my sister. I’ve dealt with racist cops throughout my personal life, and have had those cops make up false traffic charges. I’ve dealt with racism in school, and at work. The last time someone called me a racial slur to my face was this year. Professionally, I’m a lawyer and have seen the racial bias in our criminal justice system. I have represented clients in civil rights cases against the police. I have studied this area of law extensively, both in law school and in the decade since then. This is an area where I am an expert. While my opinions on medical matters, plumbing, roofing, boating, and a whole host of other areas are worth nothing, when it comes to criminal law, police misconduct, and racism, I know what I’m talking about.

We would all do well to recognize the limits of our knowledge and ability. Just because a person is entitled to hold and express their opinion, it doesn’t follow that their opinion has much (or any) intrinsic value.

Communication security for protesters (and everyone really)

I wanted to throw out a suggestion as to communication security.

I believe (and hope!) that we are in a pivotal moment in civil rights history that may prove to be just as important as the work done in the 1960’s. While that is great, it also causes to me worry about governmental interference. Whether that is local police with those Stingray cell tower simulators that allow them to capture and spoof messages, or some more concerted effort at the national level with all of the resources that the Federal government has available, I think it would be a good idea to make use of encrypted communications wherever possible.

The good news is that the free Signal app that is available for both iPhone and Android does all of that quite well for both voice and SMS. If you install it, it will automatically encrypt text messages you exchange with other people who have signal installed. Your ability to message with people who don’t have signal installed is just like normal. There are also an encrypted voice call function.

So, my advice (I’m a lawyer whose B.S. degree was in Computer Science) is to make use of encryption whenever possible. That advice applies to everyone, whether you are a protester or not.  There is no reason not to use encryption for your texts and voice calls when it is easy and free.

Why I don’t focus on “black on black” crime instead of police brutality

In response to the question of why I don’t focus on “black on black” crime and do focus on police brutality, I would offer the following.

“Black on Black crime isn’t a thing

As The Root correctly points out, according to the FBI’s uniform crime-reporting data for 2016, 90.1 percent of black victims of homicide were killed by other blacks, while 83.5 percent of whites were killed by other whites. While no life is inconsequential, the statistical evidence shows that—just as for blacks when it comes to black-on-black crime—whites are mostly victimized by other whites, with the vast majority of white murders committed by whites. This is because most victims of crime personally know their assailants. And while this is a truth across racial boundaries, no one ever talks about “white-on-white crime.”  So, black people kill each other just like white people kill each other just like Asian people kill each other.

The focus on police brutality makes sense

Since most non-police murders are committed by a person who the victim knows well, I am able to reduce my risk of be murdered by not associating with people who are likely to murder me. I’m not friends with violence-prone people. I choose my friends carefully.  My risk of being killed by someone I know is quite low.

I’m also able to reduce my risk of being killed by a random person.  I put in the time at school and in work to afford a nice house in a nice neighborhood with very little crime. I lock my doors, have an alarm system, and have guns for home defense.  I also have rather large dogs.  My hobbies include both striking and grappling martial arts, so even without a gun I’m in a pretty position to defend myself.

What I can’t really mitigate is the risk that some racist police officer will kill me (and likely get away with it due to qualified immunity).  I can’t reduce the risk that such a fate will befall my children.  Every time I drive down the road, I run the risk that a police officer will fabricate a reason to pull me over, and escalate things from there.  That is not just a hypothetical as I have personally experienced situations where a police officer pulls me over without any cause, lies about his reasoning, and harasses me. I’m “fortunate” that the worst that has come out of those stops are relatively minor undeserved traffic citations.

Leaving aside how all of that applies to me personally, addressing police brutality makes sense as a matter of justice as police brutality goes unaddressed currently and that needs to change. Logically we should be working to put a stop to wrongs that go without a remedy, and that is exactly what happens when a police officer maims or murders and is then shielded from any liability by qualified immunity.  Contrast that with a crime of violence committed by an ordinary citizen in which the suspect is brought to justice, and my focus on police brutality makes sense.

Finally, there is something especially wrong about government-sponsored violence. When the police beat or murder someone, that person is literally being harmed by their own tax dollars at work. They are being brutalized by the people who have sworn to “protect and serve.” That is tragic for the individual, and a serious danger to society as a whole.  History teaches us that great countries are rarely conquered, but rather tend to die from internal decay as the government turns against the population.  It is in all of our best interest to prevent that sort of outcome for our country.

My response to the “Believe it or not, its OK to be all three” meme on Facebook

I’ve seen the following picture floating around today, and would like to take a moment to explain the problems with it.

Starting in the top left circle, almost all of the people I’ve seen sharing that picture have never said a single word against police brutality or racially-motivated violence. Instead, they ignored the issue for years, and only now post the above picture. That strikes me as disingenuous in the extreme. It is also worth noting that this is not only about George Floyd being murdered. The police abuse and murder so many other people, and have done so for so long with near impunity. But, when we’re talking about George Floyd, why call it a mere “death” as though he slipped and fell. It is a Murder, so don’t minimize it.

Moving to the top right circle, we have the creation of equivalency between murder and rioting and looting. I strongly suspect that many of the people sharing that image do see the value of George Floyd’s life as being on par with some insured merchandise at Target.

In the bottom circle we have “supports good police officers” and that point seems to miss that just about all the misconduct of the “bad” police officers is routinely covered up and ignored by the “good police officers.” Sticking with just the George Floyd example, one cop committed the murder, 3 other cops were nearby and did nothing. Also remember that the cop who murdered George Floyd was a “good cop” you would have been supporting 20 weeks ago.

So, if you have been silent about police brutality for years and are now sharing the above image, it is clear you really care about property damage and riots that might affect you, rather than actually caring about the police brutality and racism that is the root of this problem. The fact that you stuck in the “good cops” part tells me that you care more about offending the feelings of cops than putting a stop to them murdering.

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My response to the “those who hate us will still call us when they need us” pro-police meme

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The above image is total garbage.

When the police involuntarily take my money through taxes and have a monopoly on law enforcement, of course there are some things for which I have to call them. I also use the electricity from the electric company no matter how displeased I may be with that company, since they are my only option for electricity.

I also make a point of being well armed, as I will not trust my safety to the police.

To my friends and “family” who turn a blind eye to racism and police violence

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There is something that I don’t understand, and which I’m hoping someone can help me understand.

I know people (on facebook and in real life) who don’t seem to care about the police violence that has led to civil unrest. I have people that I call friends and even family who have not said a single word when it comes to the ongoing, well documented, and pervasive problem of police brutality. Even more confusing to me are the ones who not only remain silent about violence perpetrated by the police, but go as far as to post “back the blue” type messages this week.

So, in all seriousness I ask how you can consider me a friend if you don’t care about the fact that a police officer could almost certainly murder me and get away with it?

How can you claim to love my children if you choose not to take even 1 minute out of your day to oppose police violence that could one day claim their lives?

If you’re not only silent on police violence but are actively promoting the police now, what value do you place on my life and the lives of my children?

Grouping people together by Race versus Grouping people together by Occupation

I think it is worth exploring the difference between having distrust or even hatred of “all cops” versus having distrust or hatred of “all black people.” The two just aren’t equivalent.

Forming an opinion about someone based upon an immutable characteristic (such as race or sex) is wrong. The color of my skin is not something that I can control, and so it tell you nothing about my thoughts, beliefs, dreams, hopes, etc. Just knowing that I’m black doesn’t tell you anything about my character, my job, my education, or my morals. It only really tells you how resistant to sunburn I might be.

On the other hand, forming an opinion about me based upon the career I’ve chosen is quite reasonable. If you learn that I’m a trial lawyer you can probably conclude that I’m fine with public speaking. You can infer that I don’t mind arguments and will vocally voice my opinions. You can probably conclude that I have enough willingness to see things though to spend 4 years in college and then 3 more years in law school. You may also determine that I probably have a pretty high opinion of myself since the personality type needed to a be a lawyer would fit with that. You may also assume that I’m more arrogant and convinced of my own correctness than average (and honestly, you wouldn’t be wrong).

Applying that to occupations, it is completely fine to form an opinion of a person based upon their decision to become a cop, just as it is fine to form an opinion based upon my decision to become a lawyer.

The same is true for every profession really, and I think we already all do that. When it comes to firefighters, I love them so much that it might not even be rational. Same is true for doctors and nurses. On the flip side of that, if you learned that your new acquaintance spent the last 2 years working as a torturer for a cartel, I think you would reasonably draw some adverse opinions about them.

So, holding opinions about someone based upon an immutable characteristic such as their race or sex makes you a bigoted piece of human garbage. Forming opinions about someone based upon choices they make (such as what they do for a living) is entirely different.