Taken from a Facebook Live on March 15, as spoken by Brian T. Dunn.
In almost every officer involved shooting, if you really dig into them and isolate the dynamics and the energy that precipitates this use of deadly force, what you’re going to see is some combination of fear and anger. And anger has a lot of components. Being disrespected is a component of anger. Feeling as if a person does not have the right to talk back to you is a component of anger. How dare this person do this? Those are all manifestations of a feeling of anger. And fear has been said to have been the flip side of anger. Fear and anger, in every psychological discipline that I’ve studied, are very closely related. We tend to feel angry towards things we don’t understand. And we tend to fear things that make us angry. And we tend to express angry as a human race, anger, more often in situations where the subject of the anger is someone or a group of people that we don’t understand and have been taught to fear.
Now if you look at situation where there is a family, and someone in the family has an episode, it could be drug-induced, and the family members are in the living room with this person, and the person say picks up a bottle, it is going to be the furthest thing from the mind of the family members to shoot that person. That’s going to be the furthest thing, to inflict deadly force on this person. Why? Because they love that person. And not only that, they understand and have spent their lives with this person. So they’re more apt to see the good in this individual. They’re more apt to see what it is that is happening to them, divorced from acts of violence.
If a police officer approaches, for example, a mentally ill individual, with the mindset of, “How can I help you? What can I do to help?” The outcome will be totally different than if the officer encounters a mentally ill individual with the mindset of, “Do what I want you to do so that I can complete my investigation. Do exactly what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it. And if you don’t there’s going to be some consequences.”
So when we juxtapose all of that energy into a situation where you have a police officer encountering an African American man who is belligerent, who may have committed a crime, who may even be talking back to them, trying to resist, the concept of what that officer is thinking is going to be invariably affected by that officer’s mindset. And thoughts always precede actions. And if the officer is seeing that person through the lens of an individual that doesn’t understand the territory, doesn’t understand where he comes from, doesn’t understand his family dynamic, he’s more likely to look at that person through the context of someone who I’m afraid of, and not only that, but he’s making me angry. And you can become desensitized to violence when you have that attitude.
I took several courses that studied the dynamics of slavery when I was in college. And we don’t really talk about slavery in any great detail in American schools anymore. But one of the things that was thought was that black people don’t feel pain. Black people don’t feel pain the same as everyone else. So if you want to get the attention of a slave or someone you must do things that you wouldn’t normally do to someone that you know. You have to beat them excessively. You have to hit them over the head. And in many cases the concept of shooting is a close second to that because deadly force can come in many forms. But the idea that these people who are living with is, in close company with us, they just don’t feel pain on the same level, that has many effects. It dehumanizes the person, it distances one man from another man, one family from another family, but mostly it makes the person who is not suffering completely desensitized to the suffering of the other individual.
And so when we see so many of these shots being fired, and when we see individuals who are unarmed and running away being shot, I think that when we’re talking about race and when we’re talking about officer involved shootings, I don’t think you could ever make the argument that unless it’s an extremely unusual circumstance, that an officer will wake up in the morning and say, “I am going to shoot a person of color today.” That’s not the way it works. But the concept of a situation that could otherwise be resolved with thoughtful compassion escalating to a situation where force is used, where voices are raised, where anxiety is lifted, a lot of it has to do with things that that officer himself may not even be aware of. It’s things that he was taught about this other person. And these kinds of thoughts are reinforced in the locker room, they’re reinforced in the family environment.