In the early 90’s I became a soldier and was introduced to combat videos. Over time
these videos changed from Russian aggressors, to Chinese antagonists to ISIS fighters. The objective of these videos is desensitizing combatants to ‘subconsciously identify’ and ‘kill the enemy’. The enemy changed over time as the threat changed in real time.
US Army psychologist, Lt Col Dave Grossman addresses this in his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society highlighting this point with an uncomplicated view that most people have ‘phobia-level’ response to violence, and soldiers need to be ‘trained to kill’. Effectively, we need to facilitate soldiers overcoming this ‘phobia’, identify and kill the enemy.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement originated after the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin. Infuriation intensified in the black community as a trial that unquestionably should have been about lawful authority to take a life was intentionally misdirected, manifesting itself into a character assassination of Trayvon. My colleagues in Law Enforcement circles will tell you, putting the victim on trial is seen as an indicator of the guilt of the defendant.
BLM has an immensely important future in the dialogue between black communities and law enforcement, lines of communication that have historically been lacking, especially in the United States. However, BLM should not be used as an excuse to do violence to others or condone the same. Holding aloft signs stating “Death to Cops” or posting Facebook messages promoting slogans such as “Kill All White PPL” increases the divide, and in is criminal. Nor does it give you the entitlement to block a Gay Pride Parade because the LGBT community have decided after years of justified and warranted mistrust, inclusion of Police on ‘their’ day of celebration, is a better way forward than exclusion.
The retorts ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘Blue Lives Matter’ do nothing to help advance us forward either. These phrases are nothing more than direct censure of BLM but with a spineless translucent attempt to avoid clear racist undertones. It intentionally belittles a movement born out of exasperation and tries to stifle a right to be heard. Nowhere have I seen an indication that true BLM activist are asking for anything more than equality and fair treatment.
The first anti-BLM argument is more white males are killed by police, than black males per annum. I concede that true, nevertheless that does not take into account the statistical disadvantage; the fact black people only make up 15% of the populous. This effectively means if you are black in North America you are five time more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than a white person.
The second contention ‘that black people are prone to criminality’ hence more likely to have adverse interactions with police is feebly supported by the datum that almost 40% of prison populations in the USA are made up of black men, and a higher than average percentage in Canada. Ignoring the clear racist undertones of this statement, I’m sure I could write about the socioeconomic status of black communities, and the fact poverty leads to a higher crime rate but there are educated and better skilled people who have already tirelessly covered this subject. The blatant fact is if you’re black, especially in America, you’re more likely to be jailed than a white person under comparable circumstances.
A prime and current illustration of this would be Stanford swimmer, turned rapist Brock Turner who would receive three months for sexually assaulting an insensible girl behind a dumpster. Equate that with Brian Banks, a high school footballer who was sentenced to five years for rape before a confession of the victim she had fabricated her allegation. Turner is white and Banks is black clearly indicating race has an aggravating factor on sentencing.
So why the disproportionate amount of black deaths in police custody? Many argue that police are ‘institutionally racist’ and I have to concur in principle we are, but not through fault of the individual officer. I believe it’s a factor tied into training modules.
My experience of Use of Force training with a North American service started with a video. A white female officer stops a large black male with his daughter. After short dialogue and missed ‘indicators’ from the suspect of “I can’t go back to jail” the black male viciously attacks the officer, beating her to the ground as his daughter pleads with ‘Daddy’ to stop. Whilst astride the officer he continues to punch her face, with an audible thud after sickening thud whist she lays unconscious beneath him. Then he tries and fails to take the officers firearm, before driving off.
This one minute of footage got right in my psyche. I’m telling you, right under my skin and that was the intent of showing it. I sat there supressing angst when the Use of Force instructor spoke; “You know what to do in a situation like that? Ventilate that fucker!” Even I was taken aback by the cowboy-esque, verbal authorization to take the life of another human being. I fail to recall a time even in the military where we disregarded a lethal action with such trivializing terminology.
And that’s how the day ran. They were supposed to teach empty hand and baton techniques, combined with handcuffing skills. These techniques, although in my opinion weak and impractical are there to add tools to an officers Use Of Force options, negating the need to jump straight from ‘verbal commands’ to ‘lethal force’. It also negates some liability on the part of the service in question. It’s apparent both the instructors and students feel they’re time wasting. Furthermore a number of the officers did not complete the training to an acceptable level, and would not be able to successfully defend themselves in a confrontation.
A disproportionate amount of time is spent working through the ‘Use Of Force’ wheel telling you how to justify a shooting. ‘I feared for my life.’ ‘I thought I would never see my kids again.’ ‘I didn’t want to die.’ followed by the age old cop saying ‘it’s better to be judge by 12 than carried by 6’. If you only dissect that last statement; we are effectively telling our officers that it’s better to kill an innocent person if in doubt and chance prison than wait until the suspect gives you a legal justification to protect yourself or others.
Each lesson portion is broken up with videos to stress the point how dangerous this occupation truly is. These videos repeatedly consisted of an aggressor and a dead police officer. The most notable thing; each and every aggressor was black, and the officer white. The way this training day is configured, we are identifying black people as the ‘enemy’. Then we go down to the range and fire 300 rounds at a black target, to make us more effective at neutralizing that threat.
I raise the issue of a ‘black target’ because some have suggested the use of the “menacing black silhouette targets” also perpetuates a ‘trigger bias’. Notwithstanding blatant racist actions like North Miami Beach Police Service’s using pictures of black suspects for their shooting practice, I would suggest if true this may have a small, but significant bearing on the same. A 2015 University Of Illinois study found shooters were quicker to put firing pin to primer and unload more rounds into a black target.
There’s no plausible quarrel for retention of the black silhouette target. I believe the findings that we are quicker to shoot at black targets, but playing Devil’s Advocate I don’t think that’s a racist bias, more conditioning of training in the fact we only ever shoot at black targets. However, it’s a simple, negative cost change so why take the chance?
Officers were not shown how to de-escalate a situation. There was no attempt to show how to administer first aid specifically for gunshot wounds and to sustain the life we may or may not have ended. That should be an integral part and parcel of the same firearms training day.
The configuration of the training day perpetuates an unconscious bias when dealing with black members of the public. This has a detrimental effect on everything from simple verbal interactions on traffic stops, to violent and sometimes fatal interactions. We are utilizing similar instructional methods used by Militaries around the world to desensitize Peace Officers.
Future training needs to humanize everyone, virtuous or malicious. This in turn will civilize the badge to citizenries, making communication easier. Some training videos need to remain, because they contain important schooling points and officer safety is paramount, but they need diversification. The use of ‘black aggressors’ for training vilifies black people both consciously and subconsciously. Above all we need to lose the vivid and aggressive verbal, swaggering bravado that some officer’s use to impress others and intentionally normalize killing which creates a divide between all citizenry and the men and women who risk their lives everyday making our communities safer.