Pick Wayne's Brain

November 7, 2015

Adrenaline Rush To Judgment

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 2:51 AM

There is a misunderstood problem in America that is not being talked about from the proper perspective. There are police officers, few in number to be sure, but there nonetheless, who have killed unarmed people who were absolutely posing no life or death danger to the police officer whatsoever. What has exacerbated the problem are the fruitless attempts to hold these police officers criminally liable for taking those lives. Time after time, a police officer caught on video killing an unarmed civilian has walked away free and clear of any punishment for his (or her) crimes. And they clearly were crimes from a moral standpoint. There shouldn’t be any way to defend these actions, should there? Well, if you don’t consider being human as part of the problem, there apparently is.

We are human beings, which means we are animals. I’ll give the more religious ones of you out there a moment to absorb that fact……….[looks at watch]………that’s enough time. And as animals, we have things called survival mechanisms. These are the natural, innate reactions we have to certain stimuli. When we suddenly smell a new aroma we hadn’t noticed before, our brains immediately kick in to identify it. Once we are confident we know its origin and have assessed any danger to ourselves, we unconsciously desensitize our nose to it (if it isn’t too pungent.) This makes our nose and brain better able to notice new smells, like smoke, which alerts the brain to the danger of fire (an association we learned as youths.) This is when our innate flight or fight response kicks in. The adrenal glands start producing adrenaline in case we have to move quickly or exert great strength. Fear can also stimulate the flight or fight response, which likewise produces extra adrenaline. You are now in an adrenaline rush, stimulated into believing, rightly or wrongly right now (but who has time to check?), that your life is in danger. And we humans in this situation do not think, we act. We do something. (Assuming we are not, literally, paralyzed with fear, which does happen, no shame in that.) But we have to do something, as they say in the movies, we can’t just sit here and wait to die. And what we often do is act without thinking things through thoroughly first. We are trying to resolve the situation in a way that puts us out of danger as quickly as possible. This is just part of the reality of being an animal prone to chemically reacting to stimuli in a certain way. If you were to inject yourself with adrenaline right now, you would be so hyped up you’d be looking for something you could call dangerous, just so you could react to it. Your brain would tell you that you are seeing danger where a less hyped-up mind, able to calmly think for a few moments, not subject to a reflex action that demands swift resolution of a crisis situation, would not. You’re not thinking clearly when your brain is telling you to react to anything you see as possibly being dangerous until you feel calm enough to decide that the danger has passed. Your brain is telling you to do whatever you have to to remove yourself from danger. Either you’re going to run as far away from the danger as you can (take flight), or prepare to battle against whatever you think is about to kill you (fight). Some refer to this as “standing your ground.”

Do you think at this point it would be wise to have a gun?

And that is the perspective from which we should be addressing these police shootings of unarmed people. Now, before we get sidetracked, yes, there has been in many of the cases that have come to the public forefront, an element of racism involved. And that is a serious problem in and of itself, and it often plays a significant role in these killings because it contributes to the sense of fear that the cop is feeling at that moment. That cop with a gun at his side. The one whose flight or fight response is about to kick in, but who knows he can’t resort to flight in this situation. (The cop can’t run away from the guy running away from the cop.) He must resort to fight. And what he is about to fight may very well not be an actual danger to him at all. But his brain is not perceiving it that way. His beliefs, formed in part by his experience, are leading him think a danger exists. Yes, that belief may be that all black men are armed and dangerous, but whatever the reason, however motivated, the belief is that a danger exists where none actually does. And that cop has a gun.

Many of these recent shootings involved either an emotionally unstable cop who shouldn’t have been allowed to become a cop in the first place, a veteran cop of some years with a history of valid excessive force complaints, or a very inexperienced cop not used to being in a situation where he thought his life was in danger. None of these are ideal situations, where you might feel comfortable about the cop involved having a loaded gun available. But that is what has been happening more and more lately. At least we are hearing about it more and more, and that is because of social media. But that begs the question of how many of these shootings are happening that are not caught on video? They are happening, and have been happening more often in the past, when there was less of a chance of the killing being recorded for later confirmation (or manipulation, as in the criminal case against the cops who tried to kill Rodney King for no valid reason.) We usually just took the word of the cop in question because there was no visual evidence to the contrary. Of course, this was usually after he had some time to formulate an explanation for his actions. We’re often never sure of what happened because we only heard one side of it, the other side being dead. And the fact that these cops are getting acquitted even after video of the events contradicts their story, as clearly evident in the case of Officer Lisa Mearkle, who shot and killed David Kassick in Pennsylvania after a foot pursuit, which began as a traffic stop over an expired inspection sticker, is an aspect of the problem that won’t go away without addressing the fact that we are giving cops deadly weapons and letting them use them in non-deadly situations, even though they think it is a deadly situation (or so they claim afterwards.) We can never be sure what happened because they can never be sure what happened. With or without the videos, a cop pumped up with adrenaline is not thinking clearly. (Were they calm and rationale, they would not be pumped up with adrenaline.) We are allowing them to defend their actions by claiming a perception of being in danger even absent a confirmation of a danger to them or the public existing. And we know that the very situation they are in can cause them to misperceive the truth of what is really happening. Is that a gun? I see no evidence it isn’t, so it must be. And we are not only allowing this defense to excuse their actions, we are even training our cops to shoot to kill, rather than shoot to wound. The problem is they are shooting to kill in situations where the person they are killing would never have faced the death penalty for whatever he is believed to have done. And this never seems to come up in the discussions I see on this topic. We are letting cops use deadly force in situations where the alleged crimes being committed would never have resulted in the death penalty.

Eric Garner wasn’t selling loose cigarettes without paying the taxes when cops strangled him to death. He was accused by someone and several cops confronted him to question him about the situation. He wasn’t in the act of selling those cigarettes when confronted. Whatever happened after that point, Eric Garner did nothing that would have brought him the death penalty if convicted in court. Selling loose cigarettes without paying the taxes is not a capital crime. Refusing to talk to cops harassing you for something you aren’t doing is not a capital crime. Failure to obey a cop is not a capital crime. Resisting arrest without any weapon is not a capital crime. Holding a toy gun, pointed down to the ground, is not a capital crime. Holding a toy gun in a non-threatening manner, in a store that sells that very toy gun, while talking on a cell phone is not a capital crime. Why are we letting cops get away with using deadly force at all in situations where the person they killed would not have faced the death penalty for anything he did?

Why are we giving deadly weapons to people we put in tense, but not deadly, situations, where the very natural instincts that are a part of being human, are going to make them think they perceive danger where none actually exists? Why are we letting the misperception of danger excuse the use of deadly force in those non-deadly situations? The human brain arrives at a conclusion in one of two ways – either by factoring in the details one perceives and arriving at a conclusion about what is happening, or presupposing what is happening and using the absence of contradictory evidence serve as proof that the theory is correct. In virtually all of the cases of cops killing unarmed civilians, this is how that cop arrived at the perception that his (or her) life was in danger. He assumed what he saw or heard was a gun, then took the fact that he could not see proof he was wrong as proof he was right. We can’t continue to do things this way. We have to change the rules and the training for use of deadly force. We have to train cops in non-lethal techniques to diffuse situations rather than escalate them. We have to drill it into their heads that the use of deadly force is a LAST resort, not the first reaction to the perception of danger, given that it’s more likely no actual danger exists. We have to do a better job of screening applicants to a police force, such as finding out why they were fired from their previous police force. We have to do all these things and more. But we have to do them now, before another unarmed person is murdered by a cop who had no business being issued a deadly weapon in the first place.


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