Fruitvale Station: Subversive Humanity

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67 Responses

  1. David says:

    Am I as guilty of one-dimensional depiction as anyone? Yes.

    Well, yes and no….

  2. Mike says:

    The problem as I see it is how we as a society hate to see someone as multiple conflicting things.

    If we humanize someone, we become too willing to excuse their dangerous actions. We let rapists be forgiven if they make movies we like. We say that self defense wasn't justified because they were turning their lives around and they were just mugging someone. We act as though the only thing separating the average person on the street from a mass murderer is opportunity, not morality.

    But when we dehumanize someone, suddenly we don't care if they get raped, or beaten, or murdered by the prison system. Or left to starve, to live under a bridge because they can't get work or rent shelter.

    It's a tricky balancing act for a culture that likes black and white answers.

  3. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    I've watched this same problem with the Trayvon Martin hullabaloo; one side is absolutely determined that Martin was an innocent unarmed choirboy. The other is equally certain that he was a violent street thug well on his way to being a drug kingpin.

    The possibility that Martin was a typical teenaged boy; full of hormones and attitude and lacking the common sense that God gave a fruit fly, is beyond the grasp of both camps. That Martin might be basically an innocent, and simultaneously have endangered Zimmerman's life, making Zimmerman's self defense plea totally justified is incomprehensible to them.

    Fundamentally innocent teens, full of good intentions, do (through inexperience, overconfidence, or other factors) endanger people every day. This is why insurance companies charge roughly the gross national product of Monaco for any teenaged driver.

    In my opinion, the people who are guilty of Martin's death are neither Martin nor Zimmerman, but the air headed idiots (in every age, we are hardly unique) who (through the popular culture) told Martin that it was acceptable, and even cool, to knock and adult to the ground, and then straddle him while hammering his head on the pavement. The writers of cheap, violent pulps, rap, what-have-you.

    Similarly, the real guilty parties in the Fruitvale Station tragedy (assuming that the cop didn't lie) are the nitwits who have spread the fantasy of tasters as harmless, and the idiots who gave them out to the police like Cracker Jack prizes, without adequate training.

  4. MEP says:

    I suspect there is another essay hidden in here where we talk about our political divides and the ultimate divisive senselessness of labels like "conservative", "liberal" or "libertarian".

    @Mike

    I don't think humanizing people helps us excuse their irresponsible actions in any way that would encourage those actions to continue. If anything, the more we humanize the more we care, and the more we care, the harder it is to just let someone self-destruct. Humanization isn't the opposite of discipline, it's just the opposite of apathy.

    What humanizing people does is allow us to try and find a *solution* to their problems rather than always try to enforce a *punishment* for them. That's not to say that punishment can't sometimes still be part of the solution, but right now our culture is so focused on the vengeance aspect of our justice system that we all too often enable a cycle of violence and fear rather one of stern compassion (which is what most "tough on crime" hawks tend to paint themselves as).

  5. James says:

    Call me one-dimensional, but when you say …

    The film shows that Grant genuinely loves his girlfriend even though he wrongs her. The film shows he is devoted to his daughter even as he's made choices that separates them.

    I don't think "genuinely love" and "devoted" mean the same thing to you as to me.

    Did he deserve to get shot? Few people do. Was he an angel, on the brink of greatness? Even fewer people are.

    @Mike and @CSP have the right of it: depicting life filled with shades of grey (far more than 50 of them) is difficult when the only options are black and white.

  6. CaulynDarr says:

    In my opinion, the people who are guilty of Martin's death are neither Martin nor Zimmerman, but the air headed idiots (in every age, we are hardly unique) who (through the popular culture) told Zimmerman that it was acceptable, and even cool, to strap a gun to his hip and act as the unofficial sheriff of his neighborhood, and then be immediately suspicious of a young black man he didn't recognize. The writers of cheap, violent pulps, country music, what-have-you.

    There, fixed it for you.

  7. Craig says:

    did Mehserle lose control and execute an unarmed man in a moment of rage? Did he make a terrible, reckless error reflecting bad judgment and bad training in a moment of chaos?

    Well, Mehserle claimed he "accidentally" grabbed his gun instead of his taser. This could actually be the case, and I wouldn't characterize that as either "executing an unarmed man in a moment of rage" or "a terrible reckless error reflecting bad judgment and bad training". I don't think more or better training would necessarily have prevented such a mistake. Perhaps the basic problem is that these cops have too many gadgets on them and sometimes grab the wrong one in the heat of the moment. The nice thing about just having a gun, a pair of handcuffs, and a handheld radio is that there are only three of them and they're so different you couldn't possibly mistake one for the other. When you have both a gun and a taser, such confusion, in the heat of the moment, is not inconceivable. Depending on what model you have, a taser may resemble a gun in its general shape and how you hold and fire it.

    This is not an excuse for Mehserle; his manslaughter conviction seems appropriate. But it is perhaps a reason to limit the number of gun-like gadgets that police carry around with them.

    This is all somewhat peripheral to the point of your article, with which I am fully in agreement. The mass audience does not like subtlety or nuance. There are just good guys and bad guys. Trayvon and Oscar (and the men who killed them) were either innocent angels or depraved criminals. This sort of imbecility is one good reason why democracy on a large scale doesn't work.

  8. hymie! says:

    I seem to recall similar complaints about the movie A Beautiful Mind — that the movie failed to sufficiently portray Nash as a homosexual, and thus, was not … well, i don't remember the conclusion.

    A movie is not a biography. A movie tells a story. This is the story the writer wished to tell. If you would like to tell a different story, then write your own movie.

  9. Bob says:

    For some reason this whole discussion reminds me of a scene from the movie Rat Race:

    "Klaus Barbie, sometimes known as the Butcher of Lyons. Let the Jew revisionists talk about their death camps and so-called crimes against humanity. This museum is lovingly dedicated to the Klaus Barbie that nobody knows. The husband, the devoted father, the wine connoisseur, and three-time ballroom dancing champion."

  10. Craig says:

    A movie is not a biography. A movie tells a story. This is the story the writer wished to tell.

    Yes, but one can still ask whether the story is honest, especially in the case of a story based on fact.

    I suspect if someone made a movie about the tender love story between Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, and managed to avoid any reference to the Holocaust, the Jews, or the war, it could probably quite fairly be said that the movie was a bit of a whitewash. That it is "the movie the writer wished to tell" is at best a very weak defense.

  11. Ryan says:

    @Schofield and CaulynDarr

    At the risk of furthering the off-topic, you both raise equal points of guilt in the Martin/Zimmerman fiasco. Martin wouldn't be dead if he hadn't given Zimmerman justification for lethal force; Martin wouldn't be dead if Zimmerman hadn't had a gun and a free hand to walk around his neighborhood with it strapped to his hip like a wannabe cop. That fiasco, as I refer to it, was caused by a collection of circumstances which collided in absolute tragedy. Schofield wrote a wonderful post about nuance, then ignored what he had just written for a conclusion about Martin. CaulynDarr appears to have ignored the nuance as well and blamed Zimmerman. True culpability lies on both, as demonstrated by the different criminal (not guilty) and social (morally guilty) verdicts of the case.

  12. David says:

    A movie is not a biography. A movie tells a story. This is the story the writer wished to tell. If you would like to tell a different story, then write your own movie.

    One need not be a policeman to critique the police. One need not be a filmmaker to critique a movie. To insist on speech in kind is absurd.

    For some, and perhaps most, viewers, the quasi-biographical film will serve as biography; few will look behind the cinematic presentation for historical evidence and disputed points.

    Whether that's a problem is a much-disputed issue: how much allegiance does historical fiction owe to truth (on some definition of "allegiance", "historical", "fiction", and "truth")? One may plausibly argue that there's a social duty to weigh whether playing fast and loose with evidence under the aegis of "fiction", when most consumers will fail to distinguish that fiction from fact, causes avoidable and important harm.

    Maybe le degré zéro de l'écriture noble oblige, so to speak.

    A similar, and possibly related, problem is whether some portion of an artwork's audience will emulate behavior represented in that artwork, and, if so, whether that fact should serve in some sense as a constraint on the artwork or its producer(s). (This debate goes all the way back to Plato, and yet it's usually handled quite horribly in contemporary discussions.)

  13. CaulynDarr says:

    @Ryan

    My intent was to point out how Schofield ignored his own point and then went on to blame everything on Martin's cultural baggage without taking a hard look at Zimmerman's.

    Though the argument is a false equivalence. Just because both are to blame doesn't mean that both are equally to blame. An older armed person should be held to a higher moral(and legal) responsibility to avoid situations that could lead to a deadly conflict.

  14. Shane says:

    Having been raised by an alcoholic parent, it is hard for me to see the good side of human behavior. The good side is there and I now force myself to try and see it, but honestly my parent didn't get nicer as time went on. I haven't seen the movie, I agree with @Craig on the too many gadgets angle. But as time has worn on me, and I am sure the lawyers can agree that there are no innocent parties (maybe very rarely). Once the sordid details of both sides of a story come out to the bright light of day things aren't so nice.

    I am a little tired of the movies that show one side, I kinda like the train wreck stories that show how 2 (or more) people based on a confluence of events their personal principles and more, collide and explode. I can't imagine that there wasn't an interesting story about the cop here. Agreed we should see people in toto but I also think that we should see the events in toto also. This to me is more realistic and much more fascinating.

  15. Craig says:

    An older armed person should be held to a higher moral(and legal) responsibility to avoid situations that could lead to a deadly conflict.

    Had you said "situations that would probably lead to a deadly conflict" I might agree, but "that could lead to" makes it sound like people should avoid any situation where the probability of deadly conflict is greater than zero, which would be an extreme and unreasonable view, rather like saying you should never fly because the plane might crash.

    The difference between "possible" and "probable" is important here. Zimmerman carried a gun because it was possible that he might have to defend himself. This does not mean that he should have considered it probable that approaching Martin would lead to a deadly conflict. That being the case, I don't agree, based on what we actually know, that he has a greater responsibility for what happened.

    The most interesting question, and one which unfortunately we do not have enough information to answer with certainty, is why and how the exchange of words turned into a physical fight. To lay the blame fairly, you have to have a convincing answer based on multiple independent unbiased witnesses and/or physical evidence. In this case, we have neither. We have only Zimmerman's account, which you can believe or disbelieve as you choose — and the choice you make says more about your biases than about what happened.

  16. Xenocles says:

    "If we humanize someone, we become too willing to excuse their dangerous actions."

    I agree and the converse is true as well; we can become too quick to dismiss the achievements of great people because of their clay feet. I suppose it's all there in the human package.

  17. Federale says:

    Shall we reducto al Hitler? Didn't Hitler love Eva Braun, didn't he love Blondi, didn't he love Germany? Yeah, and that and $4 will get you a cup of coffee. Grant, like Trayvon Martin, was thug who was going downhill fast. It was only a matter of time before either killed someone. Both made severe mistakes by letting their terrible tempers get in way of sound judgement. Both are dead because of it. Grant because of an accident, and that is all it was, and Martin because he chose the wrong target. What would have happened if the gangbanger that Grant attacked on the BART train was armed? Or what if Grant were armed that night? There would have been blood. And given the fact that most black murder victims are killed by other blacks and both usually have criminal records, the future was as good as written in stone. Bad decisions, an inability to control ones impulses usually end up badly, especially if you are black.

  18. CaulynDarr says:

    @Craig

    If you are armed and approach someone who you believe is committing or about to commit a crime, someone ending up shot is a possible occurrence. Even a small chance of a fatal shooting should be enough to give pause to escalating that type of situation. In a high risk situation with no take backs, going by what's probable is insufficient.

    Confronting someone who is harassing you is a different beast than confronting someone who is harassing you while armed.

  19. Matthew Cline says:

    @Federale:

    How does one tell the difference between a "thug who was going downhill fast" where "it was only a matter of time before [he] killed someone", versus (as Schofield said) "a typical teenaged boy; full of hormones and attitude and lacking the common sense that God gave a fruit fly".

  20. Grifter says:

    CaulynDarr, the evidence presented was that TM was the confronter, initiating the dialogue (but we don't know if he initiated the violence, of course).

  21. perlhaqr says:

    Sounds like a well made movie that I just don't have the spoons to watch right now at all.

  22. En Passant says:

    Ryan wrote Jul 29, 2013 @11:33 am:

    … Martin wouldn't be dead if Zimmerman hadn't had a gun and a free hand to walk around his neighborhood with it strapped to his hip like a wannabe cop.

    Please cite any evidence presented at trial that Zimmerman "walk[ed] around his neighborhood with it strapped to his hip like a wannabe cop". Zimmerman had a concealed carry permit. Cite any trial evidence that he did not carry his gun concealed that night.

    Cite any trial evidence that Martin even knew he had a gun, until Martin was on top of Zimmerman and pounding his head into the concrete.

  23. Craig says:

    In a high risk situation with no take backs, going by what's probable is insufficient.

    In the interest of making a clear and simple distinction, I perhaps overstated my case by making the distinction too clear and too simple. Allow me to try again.

    In any situation with a non-zero chance of violent death (which includes crossing the street or going to kindergarten — just ask the people of Newtown), you have to make your best estimate of how likely violent death is, and decide what the threshold is for the level of risk you're willing to take. To say that any non-zero chance is unacceptable is ridiculous, since there is always risk in life. When I said "probable" I suppose it seemed like I meant "greater than 50%", and I would agree that a 50% chance of violent death is too high. What I really meant is just that 0% is an impossibly low threshold, and that different people will have their own sense of how much risk is too much, and will act accordingly.

    We all tend to think of ourselves as the gold standard of judgment; for example, we tend to think that anyone who drives slower than we do is a slowpoke, and anyone who drives faster than we do is an unsafe driver. You're basically doing the same thing here by arguing, in essence, that anyone who would take a risk you wouldn't take is being irresponsible. I disagree with that attitude and I try not to fall into it myself.

    Your facts are also wrong, which may be affecting your view of the situation. Zimmerman never claimed Martin was committing a crime or was about to do so; he just said he was an unfamiliar person who seemed to be looking at houses as he passed by them. It was (to Zimmerman) somewhat suspicious but not illegal per se. If I were in a situation like that, I would not expect to be attacked just for asking what the guy was doing. Either the guy is innocent, in which case he may be annoyed, but unlikely to do more than to tell me to get lost; or he's guilty, in which case he will most likely prefer to seem innocent and not cause trouble. Either way, violence is just not that likely. (But you can still carry a gun for self-defense, because there is always a gap between "unlikely" and "impossible".)

  24. Richard says:

    Federale

    Grant, like Trayvon Martin, was thug who was going downhill fast. It was only a matter of time before either killed someone.

    You must travel a lot between SF and Florida to know both Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant as well as you claim. That is, to know that it was not only possible, but absolutely inevitable that each of them would have become murderers if they had lived long enough.

    Federale also wrote:

    And given the fact that most black murder victims are killed by other blacks and both usually have criminal records, the future was as good as written in stone.

    So, by "the future was as good as written in stone," are you saying that "all black men with criminal records are destined to become either murderers or murder victims?" Because that's how that is coming across.

  25. Ryan says:

    @En Passant

    Ah, strawmen. If you paid attention to the trial, you know full well Zimmerman had his gun in a holster, on his waistline – which is technically a "concealed carry" – but which is not what I was actually referring to and you know it.

    No, what I was referring to is that Zimmerman could legally walk around armed and engage with other citizens – whether they wanted to be engaged with or not – knowing full well that if he provoked violence, he had his gun to fall back on.

    Good bets are that if Zimmerman had not been armed he never would have left his vehicle, or initiated any sort of contact with Travyon Martin – and one man's life would not have ended in the street in the rain, and another's been irreparably altered by those events because of it. Both parties could have prevented the incident from happening and bear near-equal ultimate responsibility. Anyone claiming otherwise has an agenda.

  26. En Passant says:

    Ryan wrote Jul 29, 2013 @2:20 pm:

    Good bets are that if Zimmerman had not been armed he never would have left his vehicle, or initiated any sort of contact with Travyon Martin – and one man's life would not have ended in the street in the rain, and another's been irreparably altered by those events because of it. Both parties could have prevented the incident from happening and bear near-equal ultimate responsibility. Anyone claiming otherwise has an agenda.

    Please cite any evidence that Zimmerman initiated contact with Martin. Or is walking on the same pathway as Martin is "initiating" contact?

    Zimmerman had lost sight of Martin and was walking back to his truck. The next thing we know he was on his back being pummeled. That's what we know from trial about the "contact" that proximately resulted in Martin's death.

    I am not privy to Zimmerman's thoughts about whether he would have left his truck without being armed. And I doubt that anybody else is either.

    Maybe if Martin's family sues Zimmerman we will learn more. But I wouldn't count on that.

  27. Grifter says:

    Again, the only trial evidence we have is of TM initiating verbal contact with GZ.

    All this is a tangent from the OP, though…

  28. Craig says:

    Good bets are that if Zimmerman had not been armed he never would have left his vehicle, or initiated any sort of contact with Travyon Martin

    I think you're taking advantage of 20/20 hindsight. You don't normally expect to be physically assaulted by someone just because you ask what they're doing. Most people are more temperate than that.

    Both parties could have prevented the incident from happening and bear near-equal ultimate responsibility. Anyone claiming otherwise has an agenda.

    I think it's fair to say that either of them could have made decisions that would have led to a different outcome, but that's always true of any situation. It's sort of like saying, "If she hadn't made the decision to walk down that dark alley alone, she wouldn't have been raped" — literally speaking, it may be true, but it evades the core issue that she shouldn't have been physically assaulted regardless of where she was. Walking down a dark alley doesn't mean a woman deserves to be raped or that she's equally to blame for it. Doing something that may seem ill-advised (in hindsight) is not the same as doing something wrong.

    My view is that whoever initiated the physical fight between Martin and Zimmerman holds most, if not all, of the blame for Martin's death. Unfortunately we have only Zimmerman's story, so it's hard to really be sure who is responsible for the transition from words to violence.

  29. Ryan says:

    @En Passant

    Witness 8 testified that Martin said he was being followed; she heard Martin call out "What are you following me for?" followed by a male voice saying "What are you doing around here?" This testimony is found in the trial transcript.

    Zimmerman initiated contact by following Martin, an action he was required neither by law nor moral code to do, and which I am of the opinion – as I stated earlier – he would not have done were he not armed.

    None of this absolves Martin of attacking Zimmerman in a manner that could cause death or grievous bodily harm, events which the jury accepted as having happened. All I have been very clear to say is that there are two people responsible for the circumstances leading to the death of Trayvon Martin: one is George Zimmerman, and the other is Trayvon Martin. The nature of your posts thus far suggests to me that you view Zimmerman as bearing no culpability – legal, ethical, moral – whatsoever. Is that correct?

  30. Ken White says:

    Would it be possible to keep the Zimmerman/Martin discussion in the threads about that case instead of compulsively re-arguing it in every case remotely thematically related?

  31. Ryan says:

    @Craig – I've mentioned before that I work in law enforcement (not as a police officer). In no circumstances (in my private life) would I leave my vehicle in the dark and the rain to follow a person I believed was acting suspiciously and like they were "on something." I'm 6 feet tall, 250 lbs and trained in use of force. I don't carry a firearm either at work or in my personal life. I'm not using hindsight, I'm using the benefit of my own experiences. In my view, Zimmerman had a gun and a hero complex. I don't for a moment think he left his vehicle intending to kill Martin that night, but I think his actions were needlessly reckless and he therefore bears some responsibility for Martin's death. Both he and Martin made choices that night – he chose to get involved in a situation he was incapable of handling; Martin chose to engage in a fight he couldn't win.

  32. Ryan says:

    @Ken – Sorry, posted that last bit after your request. I'll quit it.

  33. Matthew Cline says:

    Would it be possible to keep the Zimmerman/Martin discussion in the threads about that case

    No. The gravitational pull of the Zimmerman/Martin case inexorably pulls all discussions towards it. We could be discussing quantum chromodynamics and the subject would eventually drift to Zimmerman/Martin.

  34. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Ken,

    Fair enough.

  35. perlhaqr says:

    Oh my God, Matthew Cline! Are you saying what I think you're saying? TRAYVON MARTIN WAS MURDERED BY GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S TIME CUBE?

  36. En Passant says:

    Ken White wrote Jul 29, 2013 @3:28 pm:

    Would it be possible to keep the Zimmerman/Martin discussion in the threads about that case instead of compulsively re-arguing it in every case remotely thematically related?

    Roger Wilco. Rapture of the bytes is ferociously contagious. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

  37. AlphaCentauri says:

    If George Zimmerman hadn't left his vehicle, we wouldn't keep getting off topic all the time ;)

  38. wgering says:

    @perlhaqr: +5 internets for that

  39. CSHunt68 says:

    Gun vs. taser? Why not just use both! Up here in Toronto, we shoot 18-year olds armed with knives, THEN tase them! … If you don't know, just don't ask. :(

  40. Texan99 says:

    I remember seeing videos of this shooting back when it happened. It was a horrible thing. I received a very strong impression that the cop was instantly aghast when the gun went off. I can't believe anyone is that good an actor right on the spot. As awful as it seems, I was convinced he thought he was drawing his taser; he may have been extremely freaked out and not thinking straight. Manslaughter seems fair to me, or negligent homicide. The victim had a big hand in bringing trouble on himself, but he still has a right to expect a cop not to shoot him with a gun when he meant to zap him with a taser.

  41. Mark - Lord of the Albino Squirrels says:

    I think there's a song about this kind of thing…

    You've got to de-eemonize the criminal
    just ignore the whole empirical
    keep all doubt to bare minimal
    and don't mess with mister inbetween.

    (with massive apologies to Johnny Mercer)

  42. Matthew Cline says:

    @Richard:

    So, by "the future was as good as written in stone," are you saying that "all black men with criminal records are destined to become either murderers or murder victims?" Because that's how that is coming across.

    Having skimmed through Federale's blog, I'm fairly certain that's what was meant.

  43. James Pollock says:

    There was a somewhat similar case of mistake here in Oregon, where the police fired what he thought was a beanbag round at the person, but the shotgun turned out to be loaded with regular shells. (They're supposed to check at the beginning of every shift, but hadn't).

    On the one hand, the less-deadly weapons allow for flexibility that police didn't use to have… it was hit 'em with a stick or shoot 'em before, now there's a third option in-between. On the other hand, because it IS less deadly, less-deadly weapons are more likely to be used than are firearms. On the whole, use of Tasers probably led to a reduction in suspects killed; proper training in their use should be carefully maintained. Ultimately, the most important factor is still not the weapon, but the hand holding it (or, more correctly, the brain directing the hand.)

  44. En Passant says:

    Texan99 wrote Jul 29, 2013 @6:32 pm:

    As awful as it seems, I was convinced he thought he was drawing his taser; he may have been extremely freaked out and not thinking straight.

    Accepting that as true arguendo, the issue that comes to mind is what can be done to prevent such incidents. I'll presume that proper training is among those things. But what kind of training?

    There are at least two kinds:

    1. Training purposed to make physical or mental confusion of taser and gun less likely.

    2. Training purposed to make situations more clear where use of taser or gun is appropriate.

    I think the second is more important. IMHO a gun is for self defense or defense of others against imminent threat of death or GBI. IMHO a taser is appropriate only where a gun would be appropriate but police or other's death or GBI can be prevented by use of a taser instead.

    In other words, training should emphasize that a taser is not a compliance tool. A taser is a self defense tool.

    The underlying training issue in the Mehserle case is that if he had actually drawn his taser, he would be using the taser as a compliance tool. I don't doubt that he was trained to do so. I think police should not be trained that way.

    There are considerable cases (Radley Balko has covered a few) where police use tasers as compliance tools in grossly inappropriate situations. I recall one where two strapping policemen tazed an 80 year old woman in her bed, because she didn't get up immediately upon command. Her daughter had called for medical assistance because the woman was having some kind of severe health crisis.

    That's about as wrongity wrong as things can get without some citizens' death or GBI by taser. But one underlying basis for the event is the same as in the case of Mehserle killing Mr. Grant: police using taser as a compliance tool.

    Police should be trained that tasers are for self-defense or defense of others against imminent threat of death or GBI, not compliance — just like guns only usually not fatal.

    Police who do use a taser as a compliance tool should be disciplined for doing so.

  45. Shane says:

    @En Passant

    1. Training purposed to make physical or mental confusion of taser and gun less likely

    The more complexity added to a system only increases it's instability. A better alternative is to remove the complexity in the system. In this case get rid of the Taser or the gun.

    2. Training purposed to make situations more clear where use of taser or gun is appropriate.

    This is a response of someone who has not dealt with a situation that is happening fast and involves a lot of adrenaline. Once again "training" isn't some magical salve that cures all of the ills of police violence. Ever tried to teach/show someone something that you know would help them, when their mind is set on not learning it. Hmmmm schools come to mind, but I digress.

    I think police should not be trained that way.

    The problem is that police are humans and you can't just superimpose "training" over a human being with free will, and expect uniform results. Also you assume that all police "belong" doing what they are doing. To think that the profession of police officer is different in the number of people that really don't belong as compared to say secretaries, is foolish.

  46. James Pollock says:

    "This is a response of someone who has not dealt with a situation that is happening fast and involves a lot of adrenaline. Once again "training" isn't some magical salve that cures all of the ills of police violence."

    Training is exactly how you deal with rapidly-evolving situations that involve lots of adrenaline. Training has applications across the board in such situations… from as broad a range as firefighting and police work, to military, to sports. (Of course, the challenge of creating and applying the correct training remains.) The problem is that adrenaline removes the capacity for careful, drawn out analytical thought, and leaves only the ability to react. Training works because the desired reactions are drilled into memory, and the person needs only to react according to the way they've been trained. (For an amusing, if fictional, example, look at the testing scenes in the first Men in Black movie, when Will Smith is being considered as a new agent.)

    "The problem is that police are humans and you can't just superimpose "training" over a human being with free will"
    That remains an open question, actually, with evidence that points both ways in the academic research.

  47. 205guy says:

    CaulynDarr: Excellent fix. Though, instead of it being a fix, make it an addition, and then C.S.P Schofield's comment is actually pretty good, as Ryan noted before me. Now, what do those two characters have in common: violence. But as CaulynDarr rightly points out, the difference is the gun.

    Craig wrote: "This sort of imbecility is one good reason why democracy on a large scale doesn't work." There goes the baby with the bathwater.

    hymie! and Bob: double Godwin in comments #9 and #10. I'm impressed, I didn't think the topic could go there, but you pulled it off quite well.

    En Passant wrote: "Please cite any evidence presented at trial that Zimmerman "walk[ed] around his neighborhood with it strapped to his hip like a wannabe cop". Zimmerman had a concealed carry permit. Cite any trial evidence that he did not carry his gun concealed that night."

    Ummm, some cops dress in plainclothes and carry concealed weapons and go around chasing bad guys. Some of them are even portrayed in movies for people to idolize and imitate. Granted, "strapped to his hip" kinda implies like a uniformed patrol cop, but not exclusively. There are concealed hip holsters.

  48. Flip says:

    Re: training, from my reading of the wiki page on the shooting, it sounds like the police already had issues with people and guns earlier in the night. It's new years eve, lots of of craziness, and they were just called about fighting on a train… Why did the officers not immediately search for weapons? They were clearly primed into thinking that the passengers might be carrying, so why not search first? (not familiar with police procedure, is it common to handcuff first then search?)

  49. Anony Mouse says:

    I don't know how the police there wear things, but the local police here wear their firearm on their right hip, handle pointing behind them and the taser is 3/4 forward of the left hip with the handle pointed across the body. In other words, placed so you can easily draw either with your right hand.

    With a layout like that, it seems odd that you could pull the wrong one by mistake as the elecrtic rifle requires reaching across your body. To say nothing of the fact that they probably have vastly different weights and points of balance.

    @James Pollock

    "There was a somewhat similar case of mistake here in Oregon, where the police fired what he thought was a beanbag round at the person, but the shotgun turned out to be loaded with regular shells."

    Sometimes it makes little difference. A 95 year old man in Park Forest was killed last week by being shot with a bean-bag round by the police.

  50. Ryan says:

    @En Passant – I can speak for the piecemeal mess that is police training in the broader United States, but it many countries – including my own – police are trained using a "Use of Force" model. On that model, pepper spray and Tasers are considered "intermediate weapons" which are used as an appropriate level of force in response to a person who is actively resisting (e.g. running away) or assaultive (fighting) and continue to be appropriate in situations where the subject is using force intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm if covered by another officer capable of using lethal force (which can come from a baton or service firearm) should the intermediate weapon fail to work…. and by work, I mean reduce the force level used by the subject.

    However, even in countries which use models like this to train their officers, there are clear situations where some police tools are used inappropriately – Taser on 80-year old granny with a walker is clearly unreasonable, even if she's swinging her cane at you (nevermind lying in bed). Taser to gain compliance from a subject who is not actively resisting (running), but rather passively resisting – also known as civil disobedience is another example.

    So you're right – better training is needed.

    Likely what happened in this case is a relatively inexperienced – in terms of use of force – officer had the adrenaline going, was nervous as hell, and defaulted back to the wrong muscle memory – instead of the Taser coming out, the pistol came out instead. Adrenaline does funny things. Doesn't make it any less of a tragedy for both persons involved.

    In general, there are a couple ways to ensure this sort of thing happens: better, repetitive, and frequent training on use of force responses, and physical controls – ensuring intermediate weapons and lethal weapons require different muscle memory from each other. It shouldn't be the same motion to draw both. But the training point is a good one – most police departments only do use of force refreshers once a year or once every two years. Contrary to the movies/TV, the lives of most police are pretty uneventful in terms of use of force – for someone whose weapons only leave their holsters at training, once a year really isn't enough. I don't know the circumstances of the BART officers, so I'm not saying this is precisely their circumstance, but in general police receive nowhere near enough training in communication and use of force theory and practice, mostly because its repetitive and doesn't look nearly as sexy to chiefs as training for explosive entry, marksmanship, etc etc.

  51. grouch says:


    Once again "training" isn't some magical salve that cures all of the ills of police violence.

    Nonetheless, training has arguably reduced the number of times police officers have emptied their guns into a crowd because someone farted with too much enthusiasm.

    Extremes tend to be ridiculous. The hypothesis to which you were responding didn't claim magic nor claim to be a cure-all. There may be statistics available, somewhere, sufficient to test and compare whether training police officers not to use tasers as compliance devices results in fewer fatal or grievous bodily harm mistakes.

    Training may not be a magic salve but it has probably kept a few pilots from leaping from 767s when a seagull is spotted.

  52. Shane says:

    @James Pollock

    Training is exactly how you deal with rapidly-evolving situations that involve lots of adrenaline.

    But training has severe limitations, in that it will only help in scenarios that match the set criteria of the training. It also speeds up reaction time by providing mental shortcuts to physical tasks. But it will never be able to help in situations that require even marginal decision making. This is totally of the individual. The term calm under pressure comes to mind and this is something that can't be trained.

    @Anony Mouse

    With a layout like that, it seems odd that you could pull the wrong one by mistake …

    It isn't the layout that is the problem it is that there is a decision to be made. And making that decision requires brain cycles that are precious during an adrenalinezed situation. You just don't have them. Have you ever tried to say one thing but then half way through the word that you chose you found a better one and then said some sort of weird hybridization of both words. That is what I am talking about. Now imagine that you do this under heavy adrenaline.

    @grouch

    … tasers as compliance devices

    I have no dog in this fight.

  53. Shane says:

    Meh damn blockquotes

  54. perlhaqr says:

    I'm not sure that the TASER isn't a legitimate compliance device. To be sure, the use of it needs to be monitored, but honestly, if I'm being arrested (and for the moment we'll presume my arrest is a legitimate one) and I'm struggling, I'd rather get buzzed with the TASER than knocked around with the hickory, or shot.

    I mean, I'm 6'5", 275#, and fairly strong. Unless you're going to require every cop be built to handle people of my stature, it's beneficial for them to have some other tools on the use-of-force spectrum.

    Now surely, tasing an 80 year old lady because she won't get out of bed is unreasonable, but tasing me because I've been fist-fighting in public and I won't submit to arrest might well be appropriate. I see it as a step between "I am compliant" and "I am a clear threat to the officer". "I am displaying threatening behaviour and could become a clear danger to the officer if I am not brought under control".

  55. James Pollock says:

    "it (training) will never be able to help in situations that require even marginal decision making."
    Tell that to anyone who plays quarterback. Or flies an airplane. Or emergency room staff. Or countless other examples.

    "The term calm under pressure comes to mind and this is something that can't be trained."
    You've confused two things, the ability to function while under the effects of adrenaline, and suppressing the adrenaline reaction.
    … and you're still wrong, because you absolutely CAN train to suppress the adrenaline reaction. This is, in fact, a challenge for "adrenaline junkies", because the stuff that used to give them an adrenaline rush no longer will, so they have to go looking for bigger and bigger thrills.

  56. Shane says:

    @Jame Pollock

    Tell that to anyone who plays quarterback. Or flies an airplane. Or emergency room staff. Or countless other examples.

    Exactly my point. We don't train secretaries to play as quarterbacks. No amount of training will bring them up to speed. Because if you are right then we will all be rich like Warren Buffet, because all we will need to do is train his system.

    You've confused two things, the ability to function while under the effects of adrenaline, and suppressing the adrenaline reaction.

    Actually I haven't confused the two, because the second doesn't exist. Once the adrenal response is set in motion it can't be stopped.

  57. Kelly says:

    The 9th C just issued an opinion on defendants' claims for qualified immunity in the shooting of Oscar Grant and the detention of his companions.
    http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2013/07/29/11-16456%20web%20-%20revised.pdf
    Coincidentally, another QI opinion issued today in another police shooting case. http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2013/07/30/11-55956.pdf

  58. James Pollock says:

    "Exactly my point. We don't train secretaries to play as quarterbacks. No amount of training will bring them up to speed."
    Are you sure that doesn't have more to do with other factors, like, say, arm strength or the ability to be tackled by 300-lb defensive ends without snapping like a twig?

    " if you are right then we will all be rich like Warren Buffet, because all we will need to do is train his system."
    His "system" is remarkably simple and would, in fact, work for anyone. Well, anyone with sufficient capital, anyway. It can be summarized as "buy profitable companies and hire good people to run them for you."

    "You've confused two things, the ability to function while under the effects of adrenaline, and suppressing the adrenaline reaction.
    Actually I haven't confused the two, because the second doesn't exist. Once the adrenal response is set in motion it can't be stopped."

    So, your theory is that everyone who's ever undergone an adrenaline release is still under the effects of it? Because that notion runs counter to both common sense and experience.

    OF COURSE you can suppress adrenaline reactions. Remember the first time you got behind the wheel of a car? The first time you were in a fistfight? The first time you had to speak in front of a crowd? These all are commonly associated with adrenaline rushes. With practice, however, these things that produced adrenaline stop doing so. Again, as an example, people with test anxiety underperform on exams because they suffer an adrenaline release from thinking about being tested… but there are methods for overcoming this common reaction.

  59. Richard says:

    @Shane:
    Have you even read that page you linked?
    That page is all about how to control the adrenaline reaction.
    And from the very next page:
    The idea that an adrenaline surge is an unstoppable juggernaut is incorrect.

    Yes, human beings have 'default' primate conflict behaviors that tend to be activated under adrenaline.
    No, you are not a slave to 'having to' follow them.
    BUT, if you lack training in or experience with other strategies, you WILL default to these primate strategies under adrenaline.

    Oh and did we also mention that includes keeping yourself emotionally under control? Because emotions and adrenaline ARE very closely tied into together.

    The fact is, for the average person, adrenaline will destroy their attempts to function on a high level. Except for one thing, that's what training is for!!!

    It is so you CAN still function even while adrenalized.

  60. Shane says:

    @Richard

    Actually I read the whole site.

    Oh and did we also mention that includes keeping yourself emotionally under control?

    This is so that you don't get the adrenaline in the first place. This is not always possible.

    It is so you CAN still function even while adrenalized.

    Note: you are still under the effects of adrenaline. If you read the site further you will also understand what he means by "function".

    Is adrenal decay of fine motor skills a factor? Yes. Is altered perception under epinephrine real? Yes. Is it difficult — for the average person — to perform small subtle movements under adrenaline? Yes.

    Yes you will not be able to function AS well as you can when you are calm. BUT when those pathways are there, you can function very well under adrenaline.

    But you ain't gonna get there over night.

    And here is the crux of what I am saying embodied by the last sentence. It is not training, but practice that ingrains the neural pathways. This article doesn't make precise definitions between training and practice but other articles do and other instructors also. Basically training is the class you take, practice is what you do after the class with what you learned in the class.

    None of what you have cherry picked says anything about stopping an adrenal rush. You have two choices with adrenaline 1) avoid it 2) deal with it. Adrenaline is a drug, a chemical agent that enters into your system. Saying that you can stop an adrenal rush is like saying you can use coffee to come down from an alcohol buzz.

  61. Xenocles says:

    "OF COURSE you can suppress adrenaline reactions. Remember the first time you got behind the wheel of a car? The first time you were in a fistfight? The first time you had to speak in front of a crowd? These all are commonly associated with adrenaline rushes. With practice, however, these things that produced adrenaline stop doing so."

    Perhaps that's not suppressing the adrenal response. That's removing the stimulus for it. The stimulus is not the specific situation but the anxious anticipation of it, which is blunted with practice at that situation.

    You can probably reason yourself out of entering fight-or-flight, but once you're there you're along for the ride, so to speak.

  62. James Pollock says:

    "This is so that you don't get the adrenaline in the first place. This is not always possible."
    Funny, a couple of posts back you said it wasn't possible AT ALL.

    "It is not training, but practice that ingrains the neural pathways."
    Practice alone won't do it. (and practice is part of well-designed training).

    "Basically training is the class you take, practice is what you do after the class with what you learned in the class."
    No. Education is the class you take, practice is what you do after, and the combination of the two is training. (Vastly simplified. For example, the venue for education does not have to be a classroom, and there's no reference to feedback and correction.)

  63. James Pollock says:

    "You can probably reason yourself out of entering fight-or-flight"
    Well, some people can, some of the time.

    "once you're there you're along for the ride, so to speak."
    Except for the well-noted fact that over time, people get less and less severe reactions. You can see it in people who are "adrenaline junkies"… they have to keep looking for bigger and more dangerous thrills to get the rush they're looking for. The same is true, in miniature, from people who get their thrills from watching OTHER PEOPLE put themselves in danger.
    I suggest that the way adrenaline produces smaller and smaller effect is similar to the way people develop a tolerance for many other types of drugs.

  64. Xenocles says:

    Hormone resistance is certainly a real phenomenon (we see it with insulin, for instance), but I believe what you're talking about is a combination of the physiological effect of resistance and of the evolving state of mind with respect to the production of it in the first place. Familiarity with a situation really beats down anxiety, which makes it harder to trigger the hormonal release in the first place.

    Adrenal resistance, if it happens, is not a suppression of the release of adrenaline anyway. It's simply a general blunting of its effects. You are still under its effects, but those effects are less severe than they would have been without the training that caused the resistance. I admit it's a subtle distinction but it's a real one.

  65. Overall, this is a film with powerhouse performances that needs to be seen. The 2013 awards season definitely has a contender in Fruitvale Station along with a soon-to-be Oscar nominated Michael B. Jordan.

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