There will be a lot of talk, mostly based on spurious information–because, quite frankly, that’s all we have for now and the near future–about the shootings that just took place in Dallas. Unfortunately, they will do much to shape how we think about the challenges associated with it even as the better information trickles in later–first impressions, all.
The first reaction that I had to the shootings was that this will draw us further into the vicious cycle. Whether it is empirically demonstrable (with much clarity) or not, so-called Ferguson Effect has been drawing attention: there seems to be a distinct impression that is credible to many in the law enforcement that they are increasingly operating in a hostile environment in interactions with the African American community. This, in turn, has been feeding a more standoffish and confrontational approach, including trigger-happiness. For African-Americans on the wrong end of this change, of course, this is not an invitation to greater trust, and it is not as if the law enforcement has been particularly trusted in that community either. The attitudes can only coarsen and harden on both sides, setting up the stage for more troubles.
Getting out of this trap is not easy: as I understand it, Dallas PD has been quite assiduous in attempting to de-escalate tensions, with more training and curbing use of force–an effort that has born fruit in the form of drastically reduced number of complaints, but one that had also drawn much controversy. The news broadcast from Dallas as events of yesterday were unfolding was quick to remind the viewers of the latter. Such de-escalation inescapably involves the police taking more risk, and given today’s environment, that added risk takes on a lethal form, as it became reality last night. Quite frankly, nobody can realistically demand, as part of job requirement, that anyone else take on added risk to their lives lightly. I would expect much of the impetus towards de-escalation on the part of the police forces, already troubled politically as it was, to be cast out the window in the near future. It is worth remembering that nearly all the cost, including the added risk to their life and limb, will be borne by honest and hardworking cops. Why should they bear the burden when they have done nothing wrong?
If the police cannot be expected to attempt de-escalation, will the African American community de-escalate? The problem, if anything, is severer on their side. Recent events present equally vivid proof to them that they are subject to much disrespect at minimum and significant risk to their life and limb at worst from the police. The underlying suspicion is very old and the likely trend towards desensitization in police procedures can only worsen the situation. Of course, genuine criminals and thugs are rare among African Americans. Why should they change their attitude when they have done nothing to deserve it?
The likely development, unfortunately, will feature attempts at the “Richard Dawkins solution,” whereby know-nothing-know-it-alls who think they know all the answers but are completely distrusted by “the other side” make grand propositions of “what must be done” in a manner that simply reminds “the other side” why they distrust them in the first place. For the Dawkinses of the world, it will be irrelevant: it’s about how great and right the Dawkinses are and the more showy and controversial the pronouncements are, the better–and there are plenty of Dawkinses on both sides, sadly. The quieter but workable solutions that are at least feasible and acceptable to all sides will be ignored because their proponents will not be able to profit from them much.