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As a Marine Infantry Corporal I’d scope out my guys’ gear before every patrol, ensuring that they hadn’t forgotten something essential. One of my guys, Rosy, was a minority from some depraved area of New Jersey. As a white kid who’d grown up in a Chicago suburb, I’d walk up to him and say;
“My Nigga Rosy. You got all your shit?”
“My Cracka Corporal. Fuck ya I do.”
To a black civilian, I probably sound like a racist asshole. But, to a white civilian, Rosy probably also brings to mind a prejudiced prick. Rosy and I, however, were making fun of the societally suggested differences between us. Stepping off into one of the most dangerous places in the world, Marjah, Afghanistan, we weren’t white, black, asian, or hispanic. We were both Green.
The bullets that insurgents fired at us didn’t discriminate based upon our economic background, religion, or race. Just like every military member that served in combat, we looked past racial divisions and saw each other as Americans, and really, just similarly-aligned people doing their best to survive. In a shit-hole far from home, we both had the same likelihood of dying or getting maimed, and that shared experience combatted the prejudices that our segregated upbringings had initially bestowed upon us.
That’s why I’m in shock that two military veterans carried out instances of racially motivated domestic terrorism against Dallas and Baton Rouge law enforcement.
It seems, based upon these attacks and the slew of anti-white tirade on social media, that some black veterans have returned into racial enclaves and reassumed old prejudices. That’s not to say, however, that certain white vets haven’t picked back up on ugly racial views that they may have held in the past. We all used to BS in the smoke-pit together, put dollar bills in the same strippers’ thongs, and collaboratively rained down unrelenting barrages of lead upon our enemies.
Nonetheless, this racial tension in our country has divided even the strongest of old comrades. We point to our sources and say “Look, I’m right,” while rejecting any contention veterans of the other race have to offer. Here’s the reality; both sides aren’t completely off track. Once veterans recognize that, we can reassemble and add a voice helpful, instead of detrimental, to the national conversation.
The Black Lives Matter Side
Black Lives Matter argues that systemic racism, as institutionalized by white-privilege in law enforcement, is killing black men at a disproportionate rate. Given the recent increase of media focus on each instance of a police officer gunning down or beating an African American (whether in justified self-defense, merciless murder, or reckless policing), it’s understandable that a surface observation might lead one to that conclusion.
To voice this perception, there’s a lot of protestors blocking streets,inflicting property-damage, and in extreme cases; killing cops. The policy objectives of BLM, aggregated and forgotten atop a filter of angry screaming and violence, have lost their salience in the mainstream.
How many BLM opposers know how BLM leadership intends to change the current situation through policy? Not many… I’m sure. I would even bet that many BLM protestors also have no idea what BLM leadership has submitted as policy ideas to effect societal progress.
So, let’s go there. What is BLM leadership suggesting could change their perception that police disproportionately kill blacks? Last August, BLM leadership released a series of proposals to change perceived problematic law enforcement on JoinCampaignZero.Org.
These steps, among others, include turning investigations on possible police misconduct over to civilian oversight, providing more in-depth and sustained de-escalation training to police, limiting the use of forceby such means as requiring an officer to give a verbal warning before firing, and (the one we all know) body-cams for all police officers. As you can see, there’s substantive suggestions here that have evaded the general American audience due to the riots, mischievous conduct, and murderous brutality emanating from within and/or inspired by BLM.
The Pro Law Side
On the other side of the argument, there’s a consistency that police officers are just doing their job. There’s no racial bias here for the men and women in blue that are just trying to get home. As us combat veterans know, confrontations go south quick, and in those split moments an individual faces a decision, or maybe just a natural physiological reaction, of whether it will be him or his attacker returning to their family that night.
On top of that, the pro-law side maintains that inner city violence is out of control, and 90% of blacks are killed by other black people. So how is it that the African American community demands different behavior from officers who are causing less death to African Americans than those from within the black community?
We see things in black and white, while leaving little room for grey area. This is especially true now, as American news outlets are heavily skewed towards one side of the political spectrum in order to satisfy their viewership, rather than challenge firmly held beliefs.
A working paper came out last week though, that simultaneously flips and solidifies each of the exclusive paradigms that BLM and its opponents assert exist. The study, An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force, as conducted by Economics Professor Roland Fryer of Harvard, found that police officers are no more likely to use lethal force against African Americans than they are against whites. Using his big data skills in an attempt to voice his own form of protest,Fryer actually set out thinking he would show police bias in shootings, but he ended up having to reject his hypothesis (good fucking scholarship gents).
The study also discovered, however, that law enforcement is 21.3% more likely to use other measures of non-lethal force against African Americans than whites. As I read through the study, I figured that the excessive use of non-lethal methods against African Americans had to be tied into the fact that African Americans are more likely to live in poverty stricken, and thus higher crime, areas; necessitating a need for hyper vigilance and forceful policing. My assumption was broken, however, as I noticed Fryer controlled for disparities in economic status and police-civilian encounters occurring within high crime locales.
Proponents of law enforcement have argued that this newly discovered non-existent bias in police shootings invalidates any claims of discriminatory actions by cops.
More liberal sources have suggested that the increased use of non-lethal measures against African Americans proves systemic racism lives within the law enforcement institution and, as such, there’s more black men dying at the hands of cops than there should be.
Who’s right? To some extent, both sides.
If you’re like me and you analyze both sides of an argument before taking a stance, you’re probably already seeing that the study’s conclusions give weight to either opposing platform. Given the mental and financial costs of killing another person, most people (including cops) don’t pull a trigger on another human unless they feel that their life is threatened. That reluctance is reflected in the lack of racial discrimination in police shootings and the understanding sympathy for cops in-hot-water by law enforcement supporters. When you look at the heavier-handed non-lethal policing in African American communities, though, it is easy to understand how a mishandled racial minority would perceive police shootings as disproportionately aimed at blacks, especially when the media is highlighting every episode of (white) cop-on-black citizen violence.
Black veterans need to look at the data and take notice that police officers aren’t systematically killing African Americans. BLM has to understand that because if it believes their suggested policies can diminish the rate at which black men are killed by police, at least in comparison to other races, then it is doomed for disappointment. And, black veterans can help their community recognize this.
This realization is crucial, because social movement members who get frustrated with a lack of progress start voicing their frustrations through domestic terrorism. We saw this radical frustration in the two military veteran shooters in Dallas and Baton Rouge. So, understand what’s attainable, and also realize that something can’t be changed if it’s a media-manufactured fiction.
On the other side, white and pro-law veterans have to come to terms with the fact that objective evidence suggests some abuse of authority by at least some police when operating in African American neighborhoods. This was difficult for me to admit, but then I thought about how on-edge I would be just hanging out in a poor African American community. In contrast, I’d feel relatively comfortable in a poor white community. Unless I hear a banjo… then I’m fuckin out.
The point is, we’re not as comfortable in unfamiliar environments, even if we’ve developed individual relationships with members native to that environment through our military experience, and that holds true for police officers as well. If the pro-law side of the argument refuses to hear out any of the actual policies offered out, then those perceiving injustice, or who have yet to perceive injustice, will move to a more radical path.
Looking past the idiots assassinating cops and blocking emergency vehicles for a social movement is hard, but there may be some possible political concessions to the BLM movement that are worthwhile to investigate for the African American community, as well as Americans in general.
As shown by officers’ verbal warnings in several of the videos that have come out in the wake of a police shooting, the BLM suggestion that police must offer a verbal warning before firing is a moot point as many suspects still won’t comply. Nonetheless, getting more training to our police officers benefits both police and the general population. A cheap little camera, nevertheless, might possess more efficacy than costly training.
What Might Help Both Sides: Body-cams
Body-cams are a method worth considering. According to data compiled by the Washington Post, in the 532 instances of fatal police shootings in 2016, only 70 of the cases included a police body-cam. You and I can’t run a red light without our photo being taken, so given this omnipresence of surveillance technology, there’s no reason that the state has been able to kill 462 American citizens in 7 months without providing video evidence that each shooting was necessary. After a trial has taken place, the population should have access to video evidence of when, whether in justification or malevolence, a police officer takes a life of any color. This access allows Americans to reflect on legal proceedings and see if their judicial system is, in fact, in good health.
Furthermore, body-cams arm good cops (ya know… the vast majority) with evidence for further prosecution, provide a low-income individual with a voice in a legal system system favoring the rich (am I right Hillary?), and even give a pretty little white girl ammo against a police officer who may have sexually harassed her.
Cams take power away from the state, and give power back to the citizen; all while gifting morally-outstanding domestic gunslingers with a better means to uphold the law and put criminals away. That’s pretty fuckin’ American if you ask me. The only people that body-cams hurt, are the few authoritarian dickheads hiding behind a badge and the criminals that can be prosecuted through video evidence.
Back to the Smoke-Pit
It’s time for us veterans to get back in the smoke pit with each other regardless of race. Let’s look at the evidence, hash shit out, present a multi-racial dialogue, and maybe even offer some solutions to our fellow Americans. Let’s help calm the polarity in this heated debate and show that we can share our ideas without screaming in each other’s face. Even with this latest study in hand, there’s still plenty of room for us to discuss the sweep-under-the-rug realities of black-on-black violence and what the appropriate tactical use of police force actually is.
Veterans, however, possess a unique experience that should enable them with the ability to take on such controversial topics. The military is a rare place in which most of us learned that people of all races can not only get along, but also develop meaningful and lasting friendships. There’s a line between the opposing sides that we can thread; giving those black lives perceiving injustice a chance to be heard, all while maintaining support for the blue lives protecting our communities.
Given the camaraderie we shared in the service, and the current lack of unity along racial lines in the general population, we have an exclusive opportunity to show the public that if us veterans can get along regardless of race, so can they. As Rosy and I know, the Green United is a pretty powerful thing.
Alex Latreb served as a Marine Infantryman from 2008-2012. While active, he participated in combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, humanitarian efforts following the 2010 Haitian Earthquake, and the training of foreign soldiers in several African and European countries. Currently, Latreb is pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Relations at the University of Chicago.