Video doesn’t lie—or does it?

A video of a police shooting has been going viral on social media today. Yesterday, a police officer in a neighboring city shot a male subject while bystanders recorded the incident. The officer has already been found guilty of murder by countless users of social media. After all, they all saw the video of the shooting and video doesn’t lie. That may be true but video can be very deceiving.

Here is the video that was making the rounds on facebook but I warn you to not play it if you do not want to see a person shot:

That looks pretty incriminating against the police officer, doesn’t it? But what the video does not tell you is the full story. An officer from the Huntington Beach Police Department contacted the subject outside a 7/11 store. As the officer began to talk to the subject, a verbal confrontation began and the subject refused to listen to any commands given by the officer. As the incident escalated and became physically violent, the officer attempted several force options, including his taser, which were all ineffective. The subject violently attacked and assaulted the officer when a struggle over the officer’s gun belt ensued. The officer tried to retain his weapon while the subject continued to grab at the officer’s belt. The subject then removed a piece of equipment from the officer’s gun belt. It was then that the officer fired his weapon at the subject.

Presenting a longer version of the incident from a different angle that corroborates the details presented in the previous paragraph, here’s a different video of the same shooting:

Huntington Beach Shooting – WARNING – GRAPHIC CONTENT!!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKWHXI-izG8
(Embedding disabled by request)

As you can see, this video paints a very different picture of the shooting than the first video does. Let me be explicit that I am not claiming the officer was blameless in this shooting. Even the longer video provides insufficient information for me to reach that conclusion. But by the same token, the shorter video is insufficient for a multitude of armchair cops to leap to the conclusion that the shooting was unjustified.

My point is that even a video does not necessarily provide a comprehensive understanding of all facts related to the subject of the video. In fact, a video clip can even distort the truth on the matter. So we should reserve our convictions of people in the video until the incident has been fully investigated and a we have studied a complete accounting of the results of the investigation.

We are not the enemy

It’s a sad reflection on Americans to see what our political discourse has devolved into. If you review my political posts, you’ll see that I am careful to keep them fact-based and don’t resort to personal insults. I do this because I can have a substantive, reasoned discussion about politics when it’s based on facts and devoid of fallacy. But I also disagree with others’ politics in a respectful manner and avoid publishing commentary that is emotionally driven and hostile so that I don’t make enemies simply by exercising my freedom of speech.

In spite of my diplomacy when discussing politics, what do I get in return? Vitriol and ad hominem attacks—and this from people who don’t know me from Adam and often make false assumptions about my politics. For example, I voice a lot of criticism of Donald Trump and some people mistakenly assume that means I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter. As expected, Trump supporters respond to me as if I’m their enemy. Just this morning, someone I never met called me an “idiot” for simply stating a fact that did not resonate with her preconceived narrative about Trump’s virtues.

But I’m far from the only one being attacked personally for voicing a political position and it happens on both sides of the spectrum. Trump opponents often make derogatory comments about his followers, calling them racist and worse, even though they don’t even know the individuals they denigrate. Even Clinton said, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.” You’re right, Secretary Clinton, that is gross.

Americans are segregating themselves into tribes and, now more than ever, demonizing any American that doesn’t share their ideology. They feel as if it’s “us against them.” Although many of these fellow Americans are their neighbors and family, they see them as enemies if they’re not part of their tribe.

Social media is only exacerbating this effect. People say things online to their fellow Americans that they would never utter if they ran into that same stranger face-to-face on the street. I often feel like I need to take a shower after reading some threads of political commentary on facebook posts, YouTube videos, and tweets. All sense of common decency and empathy for fellow Americans is thrown out the window in these media.

But the truth is that we are all Americans and we are far more alike than we are different. We all love our family and (real) friends and just want to live in peace and prosperity. We all feel blessed that we live in a country that, despite all its follies and foibles, is far preferable to living just about anywhere else on this planet. And we all need to respect each other’s personal opinions and positions, especially those with whom we disagree politically, if we are to retain this sound democratic foundation that America is built upon. In the words of Rodney King, “can we all get along?”

If influential people can be intimidated into staying quiet about the national weaknesses they see in the USA, how can we identify the improvements we need to make as a country? The whole reason our founding fathers added the first amendment to the US Constitution is so that the powerful could not stifle dissent against the government. Now with social media, we Americans are stifling our own dissent by demonizing people who speak out as unpatriotic. It’s much easier to hide our collective heads in the sand than it is to face our weaknesses.

Stop demonizing police and start fighting racism

It’s been a crazy week. Police officers shot two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, dead within 36 hours of each other. This immediately ignited an uproar against police in which they were widely condemned across social media. Later the same day, a sniper ambushed white police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five and injuring seven others with a semi-automatic weapon. He said he wanted to kill white officers, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Regardless of the facts behind the cases of black men killed by police that have been in the media in recent years, we don’t have a police problem. We have a problem with racism in the USA. I do not deny that there are racist police officers who treat black people differently than they do white people, sometimes killing them when it was unwarranted. But there are racist people in every profession and we don’t call racism a systemic problem in other professions.

We lack reliable data on how many black people are killed by white police officers in the USA. Whatever the number is, many of them are warranted because they occur during the commission of a crime while the officer is performing his or her duty according to standard procedures. But we can be confident that there are more black people murdered by white people who are not police officers than are murdered by white police officers. That means we have a racism problem in the USA that goes beyond police work.

Our police officers perform a critical role in our society. They bravely do their duty under the most dangerous circumstances, literally putting their lives on the blue line every day to protect the safety of all the people in their communities. The vast majority of police officers do their jobs with patience and restraint regardless of the color of the people they encounter. If you think racial violence is bad in the USA now, imagine how much worse it would be if there were no police forces enforcing the law.

Unfortunately, calling all police officers racist only exacerbates the racial division among Americans. We need to bring Americans together to fight racism across our society. Yes, that includes fighting racism in police work. But it also includes fighting racism in our schools, in voting, in housing, in government, in religion, and in all work places. Stop pointing the finger of blame for racism at police or gangs or other sectors and recognize that it is prevalent throughout America and needs to be addressed societally. Until we do so, we won’t be able to fight what racism there is in police work effectively.