August 15th, 2014

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Ferguson and the Power of the Self-Narrative

One of many lessons of the tragic shooting of African-American Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and its aftermath is the power of our internal and societal narratives. How we frame a situation dramatically influences how we respond, and thus influences others.

Policing -- particularly crowd control and protests -- has two competing narratives. We have the "cop on the beat" as part of the community "to protect and to serve." More officially, we call this "community based policing." It centers on the idea that the vast majority of people in the community are peaceful and law abiding. There are occasional moments of danger and potential violence that require carefully measured force to address the very specific danger, but the objective is to resolve situations without force if possible, with minimal force if necessary. Critically, the "cop on the beat" is a member of the community. A part of the community as much as the fireman, the teacher, the teenager, whoever.

The second narrative is the "war on crime" or "thin blue line" model. It is a hostile jungle out there. The only thing that defends poor, frightened desperate law abiding folks (coincidentally envisioned as white -- not that we're racist!) is the brave thin blue line of grim and gritty policeman (coincidentally mostly white and male -- not that this makes us racist or sexist!) willing to put their lives on the line and do what it takes to stop those criminal animals (coincidentally envisioned as young black men -- not that we're racist!) and anarchist mobs from destroying what's left of our once great Nation. It's Dirty Harry and Fort Apache the Bronx. And anyone who thinks all this stupid "rights" stuff that panders and protects criminals (coincidentally envisioned as young black men and young Latino men -- not that we're racist!) is part of the problem.

And, of course, an army conducting a war on crime needs weapons, right? Real weapons, 'cause it's a jungle out there and we're all just one step away from living in a Hellscape where criminals gangs that just happen to be visualized as young black men high on drugs rape our women who just happen to be visualized as white, attractive (but not 'slutty,' obviously, if they were 'slutty' they'd be prostitutes) and suitably grateful when rescued.

We got to see both these narratives play out in Ferguson.
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