If we want to improve Black (and all) lives in America

With the need to improve the lot of Black and all lives in America, there are some things we can do and stop doing legislatively. And, there are things we can do as citizens. We must play a huge role in being civil to each other and tasking our leaders to lead, rather than divide with demonizing comments. The latter serves no purpose other than appealing to an overzealous and bigoted faction in our country.

Legislatively, we can ask several state governments to reconsider Jim Crow like Voter ID laws. Many ask what is wrong with requiring Voter ID? Two reasons. First, it disproportionately affects older Blacks because of Jim Crow laws, may not have legitimate birth certificates or other forms of ID. Second, the more unconstitutional parts of those laws reside beneath the ID part. The intent of these laws is to suppress voting, which is scoffed at by the enactors, but where greater risk of Voter fraud occurs is in absentee ballots, but they are usually untouched.

Additionally, we can improve the minimum wage across the country, but in lieu of that, do so in states. There have been bipartisan efforts that have successfully increased the state minimum wage  above the federal minimum in 31 states. There is a movement to demonstratively increase the federal minimum wage by one of the parties to $15 per hour. While that may prove difficult, we need to at least move to a living wage for one person which is roughly $10.10. And, we should index it.

Further, we could leave the Affordable Care Act intact and make necessary improvements. What is not talked about enough are the many successes of this law which has increased the number of insured people by over 20 million. This law could be fully implemented in the remaining 19 states, who have not expanded Medicaid. This would help everyone making less than 138% of the poverty level, as well as their state’s economy and rural hospitals. As a benefits actuary by trade, I fear the elimination of the ACA would throw us into a recession, with money (used by these 20 million plus people) that has been freed up some by ACA for spending, instead going into uninsured healthcare costs.

Finally, we need to invest more in our communities. Job retraining, social and economic infrastructure, road and bridge maintenance and building, etc. are needed and will spawn more economic activity. This investment will also spawn hope. We finally passed the Highway Trust funding last fall, but it was not enough and about four years tardy. Our economy is doing pretty well, but this would have been accretive to the economy and helped areas of need and blight.

However, as citizens, we need to exercise our power with each other and our leaders. We must listen to hear more and not listen to respond. We must be more informed from reputable sources. We must not tolerate bigotry and shine spotlights on such behavior. We must ask the same of our leaders. And, we must not vote for leaders who espouse hateful bigotry and demonize people as a means to get elected. We cannot unite around bigotry. We cannot unite around fear.

 

Why so many gunshots?

In the United States, we live in a world where too many folks are shot. With guns so rampant in our country, it makes a difficult job for our police officers even more challenging. This may explain in part a bias to act when fear sets in. There are many fine police officers who do their jobs well day in and day out. Unfortunately, we do have an increasing number of situations that have arisen, where police officers may have acted rashly or too quickly. We need to evaluate these both within the profession and through the court system when necessary.

Yet, one of my concerns that does not get talked about enough is why are so many shots being fired? I am clearly concerned about the racial profiling that appears to be going on, as people of color are the ones being killed by police officers more so than other races. But, the number of shots is appalling to me as it seems double-digit shots are fired to subdue an alleged attacker in too many incidents.  What happened to shooting to wound an attacker? Why is it necessary to shoot a teen or twelve-year old boy eleven, fourteen, or sixteen times?

Bruce Springsteen wrote and powerfully sang a song a few years ago called “American Skin.” It is sometimes referred to by its subtitle of “41 Shots” which is the number of shots fired to kill a non-English speaking suspect who did not understand what he was being asked. He thought the police were out to get him and ran. When he pulled out his wallet, he was shot 41 times.

The fact that more Black youth are being shot is troublesome, but the number of shots the police officer feels obligated to use to defend himself or herself is also troubling. We need to be asking ourselves why? Why so many shots? Why are the shots fired so quickly? Were there no other actions that could have been taken?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book “Blink” he mentioned the circumstances behind the Springsteen song. The essence of the book is we use gut instinct which is really our in-tune subconscious that sees situations before our conscious mind can register what is going on. In one example, he notes how a fireman told his colleagues to back quickly out of room as his experience was giving him an uneasy feeling. The fire was not burning as per the norm. What his subconscious experience told him was correct – the fire was actually beneath the room they entered and if they went in, they would be consumed by the fire when the floor collapsed.

Gladwell notes the same is true for police officers. We must train and retrain how to recognize danger and when danger is not present. Those few instances in the “blinking of an eye” matter. This is why the job is so hard. A judgment call has to be made and, unfortunately, those calls are not always right. With adrenalin flowing, the reaction can be to shoot often. I hope that is all it is. I would hate to believe there is an unstated rule somewhere that if an officer shoots someone, they need to be lethal. Yet, we must ask these questions, as the number of shots used to subdue someone are too common and too many.

The best suggestions beyond the training and retraining are two-fold. The police union needs to be as involved and engaged as a pilot union is around an air crash. We need all parties looking to see why something happened, not with the primary motivation to say the police officer was not without fault. Good people make mistakes. Good police officers make them, too. Let’s understand why and use that information to avoid it going forward. And, it needs to be said, not all police officers are equal in experience, talent and temperament, just like everyone else.

The other good suggestion is more community policing. Encounters with law enforcement officers should not only happen in negative situations, where you messed up or someone thinks you messed up. The more interactions that are positive will help reduce crime. More police officer visibility will help reduce crime.

Let me end that we need to get to better answers. A better answer does not include police officers getting shot. That serves no purpose other than making a bad situation worse. And, a life is lost. Saying All Lives Matter is 100% correct, but this theme usurps the reason for the Black Lives Matter protests. We need to help police officers serve the community better in a tough job. That involves training, evaluation and improvement and community policing. It also involves understanding that difficulty.

I recognize fully that as a White man I am treated differently and can go anywhere I want, treatment that a Black man is not afforded even when dressed in a suit. When a Black man is stopped by the law, he knows he must move deliberately or this may be the last thing he does on earth. Black youth are given “the talk” by their mothers to do this very thing – be respectful and move slowly. This is sage advice for all of us, but please know how hard a job the police officer has, even when less biased to act. All it takes is an instance and someone is dead. So, we must respect the law, while we still seek answers. But, we do need answers.