Taken from a Facebook Live on March 15, as spoken by Brian T. Dunn.
It’s very interesting to me that since about the last three or four years, ever since the situation involving Trayvon Martin, the national consciousness has been thinking about police shootings and thinking about why they happen. And it’s been very interesting for me because I’ve been kind of obsessing over these topics for the last 25 years that I’ve been working here. But specifically I think that I want to focus on one aspect today of this phenomenon that most people have asked me about. And just by way of history, following the death of Trayvon Martin and some of the other high profile shootings that happen throughout our nation, there was a movement that was called Black Lives Matter. And the movement of Black Lives Matter has essentially been coordinated to raise the public awareness as to the phenomenon of officer involved shootings, and the fact that many of the victims of officer involved shootings are men of color, specifically African American men. But the more interesting question to me is why does this happen, and what is about the particular dynamics of an officer involved shooting that result in such a high incidence of people of color, specifically African American men, who are shot often times while unarmed, by law enforcement.
In order to truly appreciate the dynamics of this question we have to have a little bit of an understanding of our history as a nation. Specifically, the fact that for many many hundreds of years our nation practiced an internal policy that was enforced through our laws of racial segregation. And racial segregation is almost always associated with certain psychological constants. And it all boils down to seeing a person that is in another race as being an other or as being different or as somehow having a different way of life, way of thinking than the dominant race, such that their experience can become marginalized. And this has happened in America, but we’ve seen it happen throughout world history. You can look at any situation involving a situation that there’s been ethnic cleansing. We saw this in Yugoslavia. We’ve seen this happen in Rwanda. We’ve seen it happen under certain situations during World War II. You had an absolute institutional hatred for Jews that actually manifested itself in some of the most directed acts of homicidal brutality that we’ve ever seen.
Why does it happen? It happens because our way of thinking can result in human violence, but more logically the callousness to the human suffering of someone that is seen as an other. Now, when we look at that, and when we look at why we are seeing these kinds of shootings, and why we have the incidents of police brutality that we do, that is so often directed at people of color, we cannot divorce ourselves from the historical backdrop of this country. If you look at it, the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. So we are only a few decades removed from a situation in which institutional segregation was part of the way that our nation was founded. It was literally written into the laws.
So with that in mind, think about the concept of law enforcement. Our society is indisputedly multicultural now. And there is absolutely no way that a police officer is not going to come in contact with many different races of people if they’re working in an urban environment, or even a rural environment, that has a multicultural population. And this is something that happens all of the time. And when you look at the concept of deadly force, and when you look at the mechanics of a police shooting, having studied hundreds of them, literally deeply studied hundreds of them, I can tell you that the concept of what leads to a police shooting happens in the mindset of the shooter before the shooting actually occurs. In almost every instance, when we look at them, when we go to court in these cases, these are very fast moving situations. Often times it’s less than 10 seconds that pass from the time in which the initial threat is perceived by an officer and the time in which the first shot is fired.
So what is it that causes this officer, who has this weapon on his hip, that has the propensity to kill, that has the ability to take human life, what is it that causes this officer to make this fateful decision? And if you look at it, what you’re seeing is whether it be an officer who exercises admirable restraint, whether it be an officer who exercises compassion, whether it be an officer who exercises kindness; versus an officer who exercises brutality, who shoots first, who continually tries to resolve situations with violence: It is the mindset of that officer that is going to almost always control the outcome of the situation.