A message for our black neighbors – by Charlotte clergy and community leaders

The following brief editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer on June 2, 2020, signed by about 80 clergy and community leaders.

In the wake of yet one more unjust killing of an unarmed African American, we clergy and community leaders who are white say to our Black neighbors:

We feel outrage, grief, disgust and remorse.
We stand with you in horror, lament and weariness.
We’re fed up. It’s time.
We confess our complicity, inertia and timidity.
We own our responsibility right now.
With God’s help, we will change ourselves.
With you, we’ll change our institutions and our community.”

Having worked in the human services agencies as a volunteer Board Member, I support these words and have benefitted from working with a few of these voices to help people in need. We all must be the part of the solution. We cannot stand silent when injustice is being done to people who feel their voice is not being heard.

We must ask our police officers and leadership to police their own, identifying and improving on non-exemplary behavior or actions, painfully investigating all deaths to ferret out and punish unjust actions (the Pilot’s Union has a good model with their involvement in investigating plane crashes). Police officers have a tough and dangerous job, and even the best of intentions can go awry in a moment’s decision. But, every group has some bad apples, as well. The repeated and unchecked actions of those bad apples paint all officers with a broad brush.

So, police officers must be empowered and supported to call out their own, especially in the heat of moment of questionable actions. It is hard to call your own on the carpet, but that is what is needed and necessary. There is too long a list of names where such behavior led to a death (Floyd, Arbery Taylor, Cooper, Bland, Garner, Scott, Martin, Garner, Brown, Gray…). Eric Garner was also choked to death and the officer was not charged by a grand jury. But, if the others present had told the officer to “cool his jets” or “the man said he can’t breathe,” Garner or Floyd would still be alive.

I am encouraged by police officers participating in and being supportive of the civil protests. I have seen more than a few officers call out the bad actions that killed Floyd. I am encouraged by the diversity of the civil protestors. I am encouraged by people around the globe also protesting racial injustice.

Yet, I am also discouraged by protestors who have conducted violence and looting. That is harmful to their message and punishes the wrong people. We must speak out against such violence, while shining a spot light on the greater majority of peaceful protests. But, we must seek and get change.

Talking to Strangers – another good read by Malcolm Gladwell

I just finished reading “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell and highly recommend it. Gladwell is one of my favorite non-fiction authors and has penned multiple best sellers such as “Outliers,” “Blink,” and “The Tipping Point.” His style is to season examples with a touch of data and analysis, without infringing on the story.

“Talking to Strangers” shares numerous examples and data that we humans tend not to read strangers very well. The main reason is we “default to truth.” In other words, we give more benefit of the doubt to strangers than we should. A healthy dose of skepticism would help in this regard. Without giving too many of his examples away, here are few to think about.

  • Neville Chamberlain wanted to meet Adolph Hitler to see if he could be trusted at his word. It should be noted that Chamberlain was not the only person to meet Hitler and misread him. The ones who saw Hitler more clearly never met him.
  • Amanda Knox was convicted of a crime she did not commit on very flimsy evidence, primarily because she did not react to the news of her roommate’s murder as the Italian police expected her to. Her manner convinced them she had something to hide.
  • Bernie Madoff did not come across as someone who was running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. When investigators met him they could not believe he was so doing. Yet, a man who had not met Madoff named Nat Simons handed the case to the investigators years before they paid attention – he saw too may red flags and dug deeper.
  • Fidel Castro had seven double agents working in the CIA that went unnoticed for years until the US allies caught a key Cuban agent in Europe. The CIA dismissed what would have been red flags rationalizing that the lie detector was picking up a false positive, for example.
  • Brock Turner was convicted of raping a co-ed at Stanford, primarily on the evidence that two Swedish grad students came upon him having sex with a comatose women near a dumpster. Gladwell notes meeting a stranger at a college party is bad enough, but made far worse when both have been drinking.
  • The Penn State president and Athletic Directors could not believe coach Jerry Sandusky was a prolific pedophile. People gravitated to all the good he had done without heeding the first witness to have observed something. The witness was not forceful enough to follow-up and make sure something was done.
  • Sandra Bland was arrested on a very minor traffic offense in a conversation that went awry when it needed not. There were too many incidences where the conversation could have been diffused, yet was not. She was taking a job at Prairie State University in Texas and her Illinois license plates gave Officer Brian Encinia pause. She committed suicide in her jail cell.

Gladwell highlights a study that concluded through tests that we tend to think people who are innocent, but nervous or anxious, as guilty and tend to give a free pass to the good bluffer who is guilty. The folks inbetween, we tend to judge a little better. Given the above CIA and other intelligence, judicial and police examples, those who say they are better at judging are not as good as they think.

One of the examples noted a computer algorithm looking at criminal history was far better than a judge who met the person at setting bail or releasing the offender. The judges released too many that should have had higher bail. Another noted the use of torture was not a good elictor of truth, as when people are tortured, they go into trauma and cannot recall the truth very well.

Like all Gladwell books, “Talking to Strangers” is a quick read. Yet, I hope you will walk away with a few nuggets of knowledge as I did.