Making things up

Our President has admonished us that "Communities of color aren’t just making these problems up." I never thought they were. On the other hand, police officers working in neighborhoods where apparently it's OK to rough up store clerks and get in cops' faces (not to mention loot and burn stores) aren't making up their problems, either. I don't think a police officer is ever obligated to let a furious 300-lb. guy--armed or unarmed--close on him without shooting to protect himself.


Cass said...

Tex, Tex, Tex.

Wilson should have unleashed his furious kung-fu fists of peace and tranquility.

Grim said...

I'm going to make the philosophical observation that you have just invoked nature to justify an inequality in the law. This claim means that, practically, a man or woman of 120 pounds enjoys a substantial protection from lethal force; a man of 300 pounds is then subject to much reduced protections from state violence. Because his nature caused him to grow larger and stronger (I think here of Andre the Giant: "It's not my fault -- I don't even exercise!"), he is compelled to accept a higher standard of personal conduct than other citizens if he is not to be shot and killed.

If this is equality before the law, it's only because the law is formally the same for them both: it says that force is justified in reasonable fear of death or grievous bodily harm. But that formality imposes quite different actual standards that are functions of the nature of the person.

Cass said...

The reasonable person standard is well grounded in common law wrt to self defense: if a person reasonably believes himself to be in danger of death or great bodily harm, he may use lethal force to defend himself.

One need only use the exaggerated case of a toddler to show that size forms a critical part of that reasonable expectation.

So does behavior. A 300 lb man who never does anything threatening would not cause a reasonable fear of death or great harm. A 300 lb man who tries to take your gun away, on the other hand, creates a very reasonable fear.

This is common sense. Women, because they are smaller and physically weaker, will experience reasonable fear in more situations than men who are larger or women who are armed.

Of course circumstances matter. How should they not?

Texan99 said...

I'm with Cass. I've always thought notions of equality should take into account particular circumstances. Where we usually part company is in the usefulness of assuming that humanity can easily be divided into neat categories for this purpose; I prefer to look at individuals whenever feasible. Scandinavians may tend to be taller than Asians, but I'd still confine height requirements to situations where height demonstrably matters, and then I'd write them in terms of inches rather than continent of origin.

Who could doubt that the situation might have turned out completely differently if the guy charging the policeman weighed 62 lbs.? The cop had already suffered one terrifying wrestling match with the Gentle Giant, and knew he couldn't hold him off physically. He couldn't just John Wayne him out at the end of one outstretched arm until he calmed down. Brown gave the cop a choice between killing and being killed; a waif wouldn't have created that dilemma.

If Brown hadn't just finished using his size to terrorize a clerk, I might feel more sorry for a young man who "didn't know his strength," so to speak. As it is, I'd say he was completely comfortable with using his fearsome size to his advantage. He was well on the path to becoming a dangerous predator. He just hadn't thought through how deadly it is to frighten a smaller but armed human being.

Eric Blair said...

The whole problem here is that Michael Brown was black and Darren Wilson was white. Reverse the races (or make them the same) and this barely makes the local news.

The real issue here, (and events have changed my mind on this) is the the media.

Cass said...

The real issue here, (and events have changed my mind on this) is the the media.

Yes, and outside agitators.

This gets right back to Tex's point about putting people into (somewhat arbitrary) categories that are somehow supposed to trump the individual circumstances. "But for" Brown being Black (there's a joke in there somewhere), this isn't nearly such a big deal.

"But for" Wilson being White, again, this isn't a big deal. Sad, yes. But there are no protests and Ferguson doesn't get terrorized and end up burning.

Which is pretty much what was supposed to be so awful about racism: no one sees the person. Only the skin color matters.

Grim said...


I wasn't complaining about the invocation of nature -- in this sense, weight -- but merely noting it for the record. I think you're right to invoke it. I just wanted you to notice that you're invoking it.

I'm actually much more suspicious of categories than you think; in terms of what I've actually given under my right name, I argue that the form governing development can't be something like "man" or "dog," but has to be an individual form. So every case is unique, in a way.

Still, the strong categories are the ones you've given: any police officer, any 300-pound guy who is furious. Those are the kinds of claims one would formalize with a set of universal quantifiers:

Px: x is a police officer
Tx: x is > 300 pounds in weight
Fx: x is furious
Sxy: x may shoot y


Now some of that is simply because we speak in logic, but logical objects don't really exist in the world. Thus, what's really being proposed is a general analogy framed as a logical argument. That's a problem with rhetoric: it's the only way we have to talk, but it can never match what we really mean.

So often our misunderstanding about how important you think categories are to me arises from this issue. I think everyone has a nature, because it's the only thing that makes sense: you really do have some sort of ordering principle that's taking (say) the food you eat and putting it into the form of Tex. But it isn't a generic form; it's not putting you into the form of a category. It's putting you into the form of Tex.

Grim said...


"A 300 lb man who never does anything threatening would not cause a reasonable fear of death or great harm. A 300 lb man who tries to take your gun away, on the other hand, creates a very reasonable fear."

Sure, but it's the cases in between where the inequality exists. A 300 pound man doesn't have to go as far as grabbing at your gun; Tex's model includes him being unarmed. I think she's right.

Except in a few states like Georgia, we grant the police an extra power to kill us in circumstances where an ordinary citizen wouldn't be entitled to do so. It's worth noticing that some of us are much more subject to that power than others. It's a real, and very serious, inequality.

Texan99 said...

Generally when I identify people's traits I'm aware of it. I just like to witness the trait before I jump to the conclusion that it must be present, because "all X are Y." Once you witness Y, I think it makes a certain amount of sense to report Y. Predicting Y ahead of time is iffier, but often statistically justified. The big problem is insisting that Y must be present, in the face of evidence to the contrary.

If human categories amount to "individual people who have been witnessed to exhibit traits A, B, C, and D" instead of "groups of people who I strongly believe simply must have traits A, B, C, and D, before I've looked, because I've put them in a category of people of whom I expect those traits," then I have no quarrel with categories.

The next step is what you do with the information about people's traits. I've noticed that 300-lb. guys often are dangerous in a fight; I see nothing odd about operating on that assumption until I receive reassurance to the contrary. Ditto for people behaving as though they had lost control of their tempers. If there's time before the 300-lb. enraged guy kills me, I'll be happy to have my preconceptions modified. He may prove to my satisfaction that, despite his size and rage, he's in control of himself and prepared to vent his feelings in a constructive, ethical way that won't call for me to defend my life. In that case, I won't keep saying, "But you're a 300-lb. furious guy. I happen to know that everyone who fits that category is too dangerous to live. I don't care about your particular circumstances; the evidence can never alter your essential nature."

raven said...

Hard to believe, but I actually agree with Obama- they aren't making up all the grievances- the blacks there essentially seem to have serf status. Look at the reports of how many tickets are issued, arrests made, etc, in proportion to the population- It is not the killing of Brown that is the real issue- that is just a convenient spark- and the people who are involved in rioting there for the most part probably have no idea why things are rotten. The very same system that destroyed their education and self worth and created dependency on the state, is then responsible for creating a police state to keep them in check. The evil that has been deliberately done to them by the Democratic/Communist Party is beyond words. One can find exact parallels in England, in the white subjects of the welfare state- Theodore Dalrymple has written of this- the welfare state destroys cultures.
"we are here from the government and we intend to destroy you. We will take from you every vestige of pride and ethics, and punish you for any attempt to succeed, while rewarding every vice. We are the compassionate torturers."

Grim said...

I'm not sure how clear I've been in explaining my ideas, because I usually try to limit the use of technical terms (or logical structures like the ones above). I try to talk here in natural language, as Cassandra often reminds me that it's my duty to make sure my argument is understandable. Still, sometimes the technical terms really help.

Essence and nature aren't the same thing on the technical model; nature is just the thing that serves as an active, actual organizing principle that assembles you. I mean by "the thing that" whatever it is -- we currently talk about it in terms of 'DNA' or 'genetics'; earlier thinkers talked about the same work in other terms, and presumably later thinkers may also have a better set of concepts and understandings. But we've all been interested in this thing, whatever it is, that causes us to come to be and have a body that grows and heals, etc.

Essence, as a technical term, is much more restricted -- and much more common. The essence of human beings is usually said to be a capacity for rationality, which isn't unique to me or you but is something we have in common.

So my assumption about your essence won't change: I'll continue to assume you are a rational being. But I might learn a lot about you as an individual, because your nature is your own.

Cass said...

Grim, I don't know if you do this because you're following some kind of form or structure, or for some other reason. But I find it frustrating when you say things like "It's a real and very serious inequality".

Of course it is. That's kind of the point. On the one hand you have argued many times that people shouldn't clear a structure away until they understand why it's there in the first place (a la Chesterton). And then you seem to be amazed and offended that *any* structures exist at all.

Most policing is local. People decide the rules they want to live under, and they change depending on their preferences and the conditions on the ground. That's what federalism is supposed to be about.

"Inequality" isn't a bad thing: there are all kinds of very real differences between people. A 300 lb guy can easily overpower a much smaller man in a fight just as most men can easily overpower a woman in a fight. In both cases, size confers an "unequal" advantage.

It's downright bizarre to try to equate ordinary people with Wilson in this situation. Ordinary people don't get paid to stop fleeing criminals, nor to arrest them.

An ordinary person could have walked away from this fight because we have police that he could call. Wilson's the guy ordinary people can call so they don't have to confront 300 lb thugs in the street.

Another "inequality".

Texan99 said...

Grim, all kinds of provisional assumptions are often reasonably good ideas. It's only a problem when your assumptions aren't alterable by new evidence.

Cass, I agree, and I think Ron put it well on another thread: there was nothing "routine" about Brown's interaction with Wilson. Brown wasn't acting like an ordinary citizen lawfully about his business on the street, and Wilson was not an ordinary bystander who might be expected to turn tail and run rather than let the situation get serious--not that it seems he had the slightest opportunity to do so, anyway.

Grim said...

I don't mean to sound amazed by it. I was noting the nod to it. It's the sort of thing I do all the time, and sometimes I get pushback on grounds of "equality!" I just want to note that it's not only evil white men with Medieval viewpoints who do this -- it's a very sensible thing to do.

Generally I question the idea that equality is a worthy standard more than many. It seems to me to be a kind of magic word in American society, as are "Freedom" and, for that matter, "Justice." When people say "No justice, no peace," what exactly do they mean? What's the actual thing they are naming with the magic word, and is it worth having?

I do think that part of the reason you and I see the police in such different terms is that I am the sort of person that is theoretically much more subject to police violence. In fact I've never had a moment's trouble with them, but I have to think about it when I encounter them. They aren't a purely protective force: every interaction with them is potentially a deadly one for me, and that's something I have to keep in mind. I do it with courtesy and adherence to the proper forms, and that's always worked just fine. But it's something I think about, because they often kill people who scare them, and I'm very much more likely to scare them than you are.

Cass said...'s something I think about, because they often kill people who scare them, and I'm very much more likely to scare them than you are.

"Often"??? Really? Police "often" kill people who have done absolutely nothing other than look scary?

I'm sorry, but I just don't think this is true, Grim. It's the way you feel, but your definition of "often" seems to be radically different from mine.

I don't thing police "often" kill anyone, including criminals.

Grim said...

I'm just noticing a difference in perspective. From your perspective, the police are a kind of warm and fuzzy presence: they stand in between you and people you find somewhat scary. From my perspective, the thugs aren't scary at all. Thugs I meet go the other way, and even if they didn't, they lack the discipline to be a threat. The police, on the other hand, have a duty that occasionally brings us into interactions, and those interactions are always potentially deadly. I worry a lot more about personally being killed by a police officer than by a criminal.

Police "often" kill people who have done absolutely nothing other than look scary?

That's not what I said. I said police often kill people who scare them. I presume all of these accidental killings resulting from SWAT raids in warrant service are examples of this kind, from this reasoning: 1) The reason to use a SWAT team to serve a warrant is that you perceive a danger justifying a tactical team and dynamic entry; 2) A danger of that type is scary.

The guys who shot my eye-doctor were a tactical team like this, with guns drawn and leveled, serving a warrant for gambling on football at Applebees'. He didn't look scary at all: he was as meek and nice a guy as you could meet. But they must have been scared by the confrontation, otherwise what would justify that level of force?

Cass said...

Actually, I see police as a necessary evil - not a 'warm and fuzzy presence' at all. If we lived in a perfect world (we do not by any means) I'd happily get rid of police.

But I think you'd sadly mistaken in concluding criminals pose no real threat to you. You're elevating a secondhand experience over pretty much everything else. You can think of one case where the police killed someone, but you can't think of a single case where a criminal threatened you personally (FWIW, I think that's wrong, as no police have threatened you either - not an apples-to-apples comparison b/c you're ignoring TONS of stories about criminals harming other people). You're comparing one case of police harming someone ELSE with... well, actually you're ignoring tons of cases where criminals have harmed other people. If you don't know a single person who has been harmed by criminals, it's still not a terribly accurate way to assess relative risk.

I'm quite cognizant of the dangers of giving one person authority over another - how could I not be, as I've often warned of those same dangers wrt the military?

But you're making a HUGE assumption when you say police "often" kill people who scare them. You're not looking at the universe of "times they're scared" because you can't possibly know that. So instead, you do something that's wrong(conflate "times someone gets shot" with "times the police get scared" - a subset at best of times they're *actually* scared, but manage not to shoot anyone). If you artificially make the denominator in a fraction smaller (in this case, on no evidence), you make the ratio of fatal shootings/times police are scared far larger than it likely is in real life.

Grim said...

Maybe your standard for "often" differs from mine: you seem to want it to mean something like "mostly" or "in a plurality of cases," which I suppose would be a sensible definition for statistics. I want it to mean "it happens pretty often," in the sense of on the order of every day. The FBI statistics shows the the police commit more than 365 justifiable homicides a year, presumably usually in scary conditions.

So it's not a comparative claim, in which we'd find out how many times an officer was scared, and compare it to how many times an officer shot someone. It's a claim about the rules of the road: whenever you encounter an officer, you have to assume he might kill you if he gets scared. So, it's very important not to scare him. And as it happens, though I'm a very courteous person, I'm physically somewhat scary. This is true because of my size -- not 300 pounds, but over 200 -- and build. It seems to hold true when I am well-groomed and wearing a suit; it certainly holds true when I'm wearing appropriate leather gear to protect me from the hazards of motorcycle riding. So it's something I have to think about.

The other point is, interactions between police and myself are more likely than between myself and criminals. This is not a 100%, 'it could never happen' claim. It's just that police have a duty to challenge me under certain circumstances, and criminals (relatively fewer anyway) don't. They can choose a safer victim.

The police are supposed to pull me over if (as happened just the other day) I appear to be driving on expired tags. In fact the tags were fully paid up but the bike had been in the shop when I went and paid for them, and I'd just forgotten to put the sticker on when I got the bike back from the shop. The cops who pulled me over were nice guys. They were respectful, polite, and let me go with a warning once they realized it was a simple mistake. But they also bracketed me and one of them kept his hand on his pistol the whole time.

I was also polite, and it wasn't at all an unpleasant interaction. There's no civil rights violation or anything here. I'm just saying, police license to use violence is a lot greater against large men -- for rational enough reasons, but there it is. It's a hazard that is one I have to take seriously.

Grim said...

I'm not even complaining about this, just trying to explain a gap in our experiences of the world. They were objectively correct in their assessment of potential danger from me, until they could evaluate my intentions. It was wise policy to take up clear fields of fire and have one person on overwatch. They were doing something very smart, from the perspective of protecting their lives. It puts my life at risk, but I'm not sore about it. I'm just saying, it's something I have to think about whenever I interact with police.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

raven, everything you list is commonly believed, but I don't think there is evidence for it. Nationwide, African-Americans have a significantly higher rate of violent crime than hispanics, whites, asians, at similar rates by county. It is not credible that all police departments are almost exactly as prejudiced as the next.

Few people of any race are violent criminals. Most are decent (which is why I believe black people in bad neighborhoods should have the right to protect themselves with firearms) folk. But the small percentage of criminals is 5-12 times greater among blacks. It's not pretty, but it's true. I have little idea what we should do about this.

Cass said...

Grim, the vast majority of police officers never fire their guns (even once) at another human being in their entire careers.

And from an article you cited a while back, the vast majority of people shot by police have a history of criminal activity. Most are also armed:

Most police shooting victims were armed with handguns. The next most common weapon involved vehicles (used as weapons), followed by knives (and other sharp objects), shotguns, and rifles. Very few of these people carried assault weapons, and a small percentage were unarmed.

So, the tiny percentage of police who ever fire their weapons at another human being in their entire careers aren't firing them at people like you.

"Often" is a synonym for "frequent" or "common". Police shootings - especially of people like you - are neither frequent nor common. In fact, they are extremely *uncommon*. The likelihood of a police officer deciding to shoot you is what I'd call extremely remote. It's a possibility, but nothing even approaching a likely one.

Cass said...

FWIW, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be cautious around them. I am too, and frankly I'm not the least bit worried about being shot by a police officer.

It's such a simple thing to avoid that it makes no sense not to do what you can to avoid it.

But that is NOT the same as it being at all likely. It's just that the avoidance cost is so low and the consequences of being that one-in-a-million so high that taking normal precautions is a no brainer.

Grim said...

I think we are talking past each other, Cass. You're trying to convince me to accept a definition of "often" I already conceded was plausible and even appropriate for a statistical conversation. I'm trying to explain something about lived experience, which is also an important part of establishing a just society.

The offense I was talking about was a real offense, potentially; it might result in fines of a hundred dollars or so. For some reason, we've got a society in which enforcing that hundred dollar fine involves a confrontation (entirely polite, because of the professionalism and courtesy of the men involved) involving the immediate potential, and clear indication, of deadly force.

Deputies when I was a kid didn't bracket people like that. Maybe these are Iraq vets, bringing that technique home from honorable service abroad -- certainly my similar experience is one reason it was so obvious to me what was happening. Maybe the police training culture has adopted a military practice, intending to save the lives of officers, that has raised the tensions between police and those being policed.

And even if we recognize that the statistics say that it's highly unlikely that any given American will be shot by the police, it still happens often enough in a society of this size that you can read about a new case every single day. And that's only the ones the police or courts deem justified -- meaning that more than every single day, another citizen is killed without the policeman who kills him being punished by the law.

Plausibly every single one of those cases really is totally justified under the law. There could still be a systemic problem about how we're approaching the confrontations, some way in which the mode of confrontation has escalated from what it was like when we were younger.

Grim said...

The significance of all this, since I'm not sure I've been clear to you, is the talk about 'the trend' we're hearing from the ACLU and the protesters. It occurs to me that we don't have a way of addressing that complaint systemically. All we can do is talk about it, 'have another conversation about race,' and maybe try to change the racial composition of some local police departments (which itself might be a dubious practice).

The reason we can't address that problem systemically is that we can't factor in 'the trend' in our evaluation of any of these individual cases of cops shooting citizens dead and then being set free at law. 'The trend' has no place in the evaluation of any of those cases, which have to be evaluated based only on the facts of the case. It wouldn't be fair or proper to judge them at law more harshly because of public feelings about the trend.

If we don't do that, maybe we do something to reduce the temperature of these interactions -- something that would make it clear that, in practice, the police only even think about violence in extraordinary cases. Right now, it's clear they're thinking about deploying it even in pretty ordinary cases, over pretty minor offenses. That's behind these community's fears about the police more, I think, than the individual instances of killing. That's something probably most of them have encountered and felt, which is what makes the fears arising from the incidents of killing seem plausible.

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Ymar Sakar said...

That's behind these community's fears about the police more, I think, than the individual instances of killing. That's something probably most of them have encountered and felt, which is what makes the fears arising from the incidents of killing seem plausible.

The LEftist fiefdoms with their city enforcement Democrats and corrupt o crats, are of one piece with the MSewer media.

It's standard SOP, since decades ago. It's nothing new. It's only new to people because they weren't looking at the obvious tree.

In a sense, the ACLU is profiting from things that involve lawyers, because the lawyer and police unions are working together. But not the way people think.

Gringo said...

Look at the reports of how many tickets are issued, arrests made, etc, in proportion to the population

I have a question for you. Take a relatively liberal state and compare it to a relatively conservative state. [I say relatively, because even in TX, Wendy Davis got 40% of the vote.]

Which is more likely to have a higher disproportion of blacks in prison- the liberal or the conservative state?. Say that blacks are 10% of the population. Which kind of state is more likely to have, for example, blacks comprising 25% of the prison population or blacks comprising 40% of the prison population?

Gringo said...

Look at the reports of how many tickets are issued, arrests made, etc, in proportion to the population

Consider the hypothetical state with 10% blacks in its population and blacks comprising 25% of its prison population. Let us create a
"disproportionate incarceration index" defined by % blacks in prison population divided by % blacks in main population. So, this hypothetical state will have a "disproportionate incarceration index" of 2.5.

Here are some actual "disproportionate incarceration indexes" for some actual states.

Which states are more likely to be conservative/liberal? Which states are more likely to have voted for Obama/Romney?

Inquiring minds want to know.

douglas said...

" It was wise policy to take up clear fields of fire and have one person on overwatch. They were doing something very smart, from the perspective of protecting their lives. It puts my life at risk, but I'm not sore about it. I'm just saying, it's something I have to think about whenever I interact with police."

Grim, they've been doing this in L.A. for at least as long as I've been driving. S.O.P. in urban areas I suspect, and perhaps with Highway Patrols as well. I think it generally a good thing for people to consider wisely their actions when dealing with armed persons- law enforcement or not, and it's really a good argument for an armed society, isn't it?