Sunday, July 10, 2016

How Police See Us, and How They Train Us to See Them

The first image you see when you play the video is the face of a black woman. She is sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle. Then the camera turns to a black male in the driver’s seat, leaned over, eyes half-closed, T-shirt slick with blood.

The woman, Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, is narrating the shooting of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, 32, in Falcon Heights, Minn. Her 4-year-old daughter is in the back seat. A police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, stands outside, pistol drawn and aimed through the driver’s-side window, yelling obscenities.

“The police,” the woman says calmly, “they killed my boyfriend. He’s licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket, and he let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet, and the officer just shot him in his arm.”

“Ma’am, keep your hands on the wheel!” the officer shrieks.

“I will, sir,” Reynolds reassures the officer. “No worries, I will.”

Castile is drawing his last breaths. Sickeningly, none of this feels jarring or unfamiliar. The true horror of the video is that there is a video at all, that Reynolds knows just what to do.

“I told him not to reach for it!” the officer shrieks.

“You told him to get his ID, sir,” Reynolds softly corrects. It isn’t until she’s handcuffed in the back of the police cruiser that she finally breaks down and sobs.

In a vacuum, it isn’t natural to pre-emptively shoot people to death, just as, in a vacuum, it isn’t natural to keep your gun trained on a person who has been rendered incapacitated and is bleeding out before you. This is specialized behavior, the sort expected from military forces entering unfamiliar war zones. Soldiers are trained to consider everyone and everything a potential threat, to neutralize any man, woman or child who could potentially cause them harm. The highest priorities are to protect themselves and to accomplish their mission, and that requires the trained dehumanization of the local population. In such an environment, the burden of not killing is lifted from the soldiers, and local people are tasked with the burden of not provoking death.

In a vacuum, the United States of America is not a war zone. Falcon Heights, Minn., is not a war zone. Dallas is not a war zone. The nation’s thruways are not war zones. In a vacuum, police officers shouldn’t kill the very citizens they swear to protect. But the police, especially officers who commute to patrol communities not their own, are — or can act very much like — an occupying force. You can see their training at work when an officer fires into a car with a 4-year-old child in it. You can see it when Reynolds is directed to get out of the car, lift her hands over her head and walk backward toward a group of officers: Her camera glimpses several guns aimed squarely at her back.

All of this is so routine, so imprinted through repetition, that despite Yanez’s panic, he was still drilled enough to keep his gun trained on a dying man. But Reynolds recognized a routine, too, and her actions showed how, just as in any war zone, the local population will eventually become trained as well.

“No worries.” Reynolds knows to de-escalate the situation by being reassuring, even encouraging, to the man who just shot her boyfriend. She knows that her boyfriend is likely to die. She knows to document everything, to give her own accounting of events, to create a record. She knows what will come next.

by Greg Howard, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Yana Paskova/Getty Images