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In the Name of Safety

Castile-Philando

By Tia Will

There is often a large separation between our perception of reality, and reality itself.  Nowhere is that more clear to me than in the area of safety. As individuals, and as a society we have definite ideas about what will make us safe and seem to pay little attention to what the statistics and evidence would indicate is a safer course.

This morning I chose to watch a video of the aftermath of the shooting in Minneapolis.

We are far from knowing all of the facts, so I am going to stick to what is seen in real time on this social media post. The comments on it are my own perspective. I am not writing as a reporter but as a deeply concerned citizen.

The audible portion of video begins with Ms. Reynolds (a passenger in the car) recounting how she and her boyfriend Mr. Castile, with her four-year old daughter in the back seat, were pulled over by a police officer for a broken tail light. The officer told Mr. Castile to produce his wallet. Mr. Castile, according to Ms. Reynold’s account, informed the officer that he had a concealed handgun which he was licensed to carry and began to reach for his wallet as requested when he was shot repeatedly by the officer. I do not know whether or not her accounting is accurate. I do not know what caused the police officer to shoot. But what is clear is what happened subsequently because it is on tape.

First consider the actions of the officer who fired the gun. We can clearly see him with his gun still pointing into the car and hear him justifying his actions. Mr. Castile has clearly been rendered helpless and in need of medical assistance. The child is confined to the back seat and Ms. Reynolds is gripping her cell phone in both hands. And yet the officer makes no move to assist the man he has just shot. Who is being made safer here? Who is being protected or served?

As Ms. Reynolds continues to pray and exclaim in disbelief over what just happened the officer yelled at her to exit the car and approach other officers who have just arrived on the scene. She was forced to her knees and restrained. During this portion of the incident, her four-year old can clearly be heard screaming in the background and Ms. Reynolds is heard asking after her. There is much to question and focus on here and doubtless there will be the usual hashing and rehashing of every detail of this episode. For now, I would like to focus only on what is captured on tape.

In order to protect our citizenry, we have armed our police with lethal weapons. We have trained them to use these weapons when they “feel” threatened, not necessarily when they actually are being threatened. We then defend and justify their actions not only within their own departments but throughout our legal system all the way to our Supreme Court. But has any of this actually made us safer?

The statistics would seem to indicate “no.” As reported on the compilation site killedbypolice.net this am, there have been 604 killings of civilians by police since the beginning of 2016. Multiple sources have reported the deaths of civilians at the hands of police for 2015 as approximately 1000.

Does it make anyone safer for a police officer to yell at and further brutalize a woman and young child long past the point when it must have been obvious that they presented no threat?  Where was the protection for this woman and child?  Where was the decency, humanity and compassion that could have been extended to them by those sworn to protect them?  If you choose to watch this deeply disturbing tape, I would have you ask yourself these questions: “Is this the behavior that we want from our police? Is this the best that we can do?  Is this what you would want for your daughter and granddaughter? Who was made safer by these actions, the police, bystanders, she and her daughter?  Who did they serve?

I am now going to diverge from what is seen on the tape into the realm of speculation. Ms. Reynolds stated that her boyfriend was licensed to carry, and had with him at the time a concealed handgun. He purportedly informed the officer of this fact prior to reaching for his wallet.  Since this was presumably not a weapon used for hunting, I am going to speculate that Mr. Castile had and carried this weapon because it made him feel safer. Ironically, he and his sister who also has a concealed carry permit were recently discussing the pros and cons of concealed carry as related in an interview with their mother. I would argue that based on his shooting, it served only to put him at greater risk as is often the case.

Consider the response in 2013 to the question “Why do you own a gun?” as reported by the Pew Research Center in which 48% of respondents replied that it made them feel safer (see www.people-press.org/2013/03/12/why-own-a-gun-protection-is-now-top-reason/ ). Note the variance from the previous response in 1999 when only 26% listed safety as the main reason with the largest percentage stating for hunting. But the more critical question in my mind is: Does it make us actually safer? My interpretation of the following statistics would indicate “no”: https://www.thetrace.org/2015/12/gun-violence-stats-2015/. I particularly call your attention to No. 7 in this compilation of statistics which relates the number of deaths and injuries at the hands of toddlers who have managed to get their hands on an unsecured firearm.

My point in writing this piece is not to point fingers at the police, or careless gun owners, or criminals, or the mentally ill, or any other specific group. It is to question the basic assumption of many that owning and/or carrying a weapon or giving essentially free rein to our police to do so actually makes us safer. My personal belief is that it does not. We can all recite a number of incidents in which the possession of firearms actually made either the possessor of the gun, his/her family members or members of the public or police less safe. However, as a firm believer in evidence-based decision making, all I would really ask at this time is that we do on the national level what California has chosen to do. I recommend full funding at the national level of research on gun safety. I respectfully submit this idea not as a means of depriving safe and legal gun owners of their weapons, but as a way of closing the gap between what makes us feel safe and what would actually result in increased safety for our police, our adult citizens and our children.

About The Author

Tia is a graduate of UCDMC and long time resident of Davis who raised her two now adult children here. She is a local obstetrician gynecologist with special interests in preventive medicine and public health and safety. All articles and posts written by Tia are reflective only of her own opinions and are in no way a reflection of the opinions of her partners or her employer.

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49 thoughts on “In the Name of Safety”

  1. sisterhood

    Several readers have mentioned in the past that they are tired if me discussing an old police incident that happened to my friend and my family. You know who you are, so you don’t  need to read this comment any further.

    Under the auspices of “safety”, several law enforcement performed an unwanted home invasion in my Davis home, approximately 10 years ago. At 6:55 a.m., with CBS camera crew following them, they beat on my front door, screaming “open it now, or I’ll kick it in.” I ran down my staircase in nothing but a long cotton tee shirt & let them into my home. They then proceeded, again under the guise of public “safety”, to terrorize my teenage daughter. They then made a comment about her weight.

    I firmly believe law enforcement was baiting me, or her older brother, or my male friend, to take a swing at them. Luckily. being raised by a cop myself, I did not fall for their pathetic attempt to bait us.

    Over an hour later they finished their unwanted home invasion, and found absolutely nothing illegal in my home.

    We did not feel safe. We felt extremely violated

    I was not a witness to the incident you describe here. But why did the cops terrorize the small child in the back seat of the car?

    Why?

     

     

  2. Tia Will Post author

    sisterhood

    But why did the cops terrorize the small child in the back seat of the car?”

    In fairness to the police, I do not believe that that they intended to terrorize the child. I believe that this was the natural and inevitable consequence of their hyper adrenalized response to the appalling, horrifying scene at which they had arrived. There is no evidence that the newly arriving officers on the scene had been adequately briefed about what they were facing as they pulled up. I do believe that extreme caution would have been warranted on their part as they probably did not know how many people were in the car or whether or not anyone might be armed.

    My objection is that once they were able to see that what they had was a woman alternating between prayers, questions and sobs, and a restrained child, that their response should have been to console and comfort, not to force to her knees, restrain and keep mother and child separated.

    To me, this speaks to training. Yes, the safety of all on the scene, civilians and officers should be paramount. But does yelling at people at whom you are pointing weapons increase safety ?  Or does it merely ratchet up one’s own neurotransmitter driven response and make exaggeration of existing danger and excessive use of force more likely ?

     

    1. sisterhood

      If your last question isn’t rhetorical:

      I believes those actions ratcheted up the situation.

      Also, if the child was a bit older,  what lasting effect would the officers actions have on that child?

  3. quielo

    I’m glad to hear you are “a firm believer in evidence-based decision making”. Since the evidence is indisputable that people of lower socioeconomic status commit more crimes of violence than people of higher status I presume you would agree it’s safest to actively remove these people from our community?

    1. Tia Will Post author

      quielo

       I presume you would agree it’s safest to actively remove these people from our community?”

      And I presume that you value provoking me verbally with a ridiculous assertion more than you value an honest discussion of the issues. Would that be about right ?

       

      1. quielo

        Tia,

         

        You are wrong to believe I had any intention to involve you in this discussion at all. You are a volunteer, but a welcome one. The ridiculous assertion is “a firm believer in evidence-based decision making”. Rare indeed is the person that can truthfully assert this. Most people make decisions based on evidence, principal, and prejudice in some combination.

        If you make decisions based on evidence then you are driving by looking in the rear view mirror as “evidence” is necessarily retrospective.

         

        1. Barack Palin

          Agreed.  This conversation has happened on here before.  For one to make decisions based only on evidence they would have to rid themselves of all political leanings and biases, implicit or not.

          1. David Greenwald

            My problem here isn’t the evidence but the proposed solution which is close to something out of Jonathan Swift.

        2. quielo

          David,

           

          “My problem here isn’t the evidence but the proposed solution which is close to something out of Jonathan Swift.” Then your problem is that you want to be “evidence based” for whatever reason but in fact prefer to be “principled”? BTW the statement “actively remove these people from our community” is in fact the unspoken policy of numerous municipalities. And Tia, what do you think?

           

        3. quielo

          David,

          “Why do you presume there is one solution to your observation?”. I asked a question and wanted to see if the answer would be evidence based. I did mistake you as the author which led to the miscommunication with Tia. 

           

          1. David Greenwald

            You asked a question that posed an absurd solution in it – I’d argue that’s not a good test of an evidence-based answer

        4. quielo

          David,

          “You asked a question that posed an absurd solution in it” my question was about actively removing lower SES people. This may be the most common policy, though unspoken, in smaller municipalities across the country. Poor people are widely considered not desirable community members as they use more services than they contribute in taxes. The response of many communities is to enact regulations that have the effect of moving poor people somewhere else. Davis does this in a number of ways through zoning and limited growth. Or was the question too direct and should I leverage euphemisms in the future?

          1. David Greenwald

            So to me the answer is not to remove low SES people, but to educate them, empower them, etc.

        5. quielo

          David Greenwald
          July 8, 2016 at 11:10 am

          Why wouldn’t it be?

          Leftist intellectuals are forever trying to educate and empower the poor and while there have been a few notable successes generally the poor do not want to be pawns. They would prefer to watch TV than go to a study session on Dialectical materialism

    2. Tia Will Post author

      quielo

      “Evidence based decision making” does not mean that you pick one particular piece of data, no matter how convenient it may be to your own point of view and then act on it. What it means is that you are willing to evaluate the totality of evidence available, weigh it in terms of sometimes conflicting values, and then consider all of the available alternatives prior to taking any action. It also presupposes that as more information is obtained, one is willing to change one’s perspective and actions so as to incorporate the updated evidence. I do not see any of that reflected in your simplistic and sarcastic solution.

        1. Tia Will Post author

          quielo

          No evidence based does not equal subjective. The values though which one views the evidence will be necessarily subjective. I cannot tell if you honestly cannot appreciate a difference between the two. At this point I am hard pressed to decide which of your comments are sincere, and which are you just jerking my chain.

        2. Barack Palin

          Evidence based is almost always subjective.  Some evidence will get weighed more than others in order to achieve the desired conclusion that the evidence determinists want.

  4. hpierce

    Dallas shooting of police officers… quiz question… what was the race of the shooter?  I’ll bet that everyone has an assumption… yet, as near as I can tell, that information has not been released…

    1. David Greenwald

      They have identified his name, but not race. Also his motives seem a bit mixed, so I would still not jump to conclusions:

      “He wanted to kill officers, and he expressed killing white people, he expressed killing white officers,” Chief Brown said. “He expressed anger for Black Lives Matter. None of that makes sense, none of that is a legitimate reason to do harm to anyone, so the rest of it would just be speculating on what his motivations were. We just know what he said to our negotiators.”

      None of that seems consistent, so I think we still need to reserve judgment since we don’t really know what happened here.

      1. Barack Palin

        It seems consistent to me.  He wanted to kill white police officers.

        If you’re referring to “He expressed anger for Black Lives Matter” do you think he was angry at BLM or does it mean he was angry like the BLM protesters?

        1. Barack Palin

          I saw that last night and the smile on the guy’s face made me feel that he probably wasn’t one of the killers.  That said I don’t blame the police for making him a person of interest.

    2. Tia Will Post author

      hpierce

      what was the race of the shooter?  I’ll bet that everyone has an assumption…”

      And you would lose that bet as I have made no such assumption. Based on a single piece of evidence, the quoted statement, ” I want to kill white people” one might assume that the individual does not consider himself to be “white”. But that is the only partial conclusion that I could derive from the extremely limited evidence to date.

    3. South of Davis

      hpierce wrote:

      > yet, as near as I can tell, that information has not been released…

      In the racist rural south the local papers would only hve the race of a criminal if he was black.  Today in most major cities the papers only have the race of a criminal if he is white or a “white-hispanic”…

  5. Paul Thober

    Back to the subject of Dr Will’s writing above. We have an unprovoked shooting and what action do the police officers at the scene take?  Assist the victim? Restrain and arrest the perpetrator? Neither. They restrain and detain the proximate bystander who clearly had done nothing wrong and completely ignore the dying citizen whom their coworker had shot. Who is being served and protected in this situation? The police officer who was the perpetrator.

    1. Barack Palin

      The cops that showed up later rolled up on an incident that they had no idea what was happening.  Their first move is to try and secure the situation then iron it out later.  One cop can be heard saying  “Ma’am you’re being detained right now until we get this all sorted out”.  Sounds reasonable to me.

      Now for the cop that shot him that’s a whole different story.  That cop is most likely looking at jail time.

  6. Tia Will Post author

    quielo

    I think that quite a bit of misunderstanding has driven this conversation so far. I clearly need to clarify what I mean by evidence based decision making. This concept comes from my training as a doctor. It is a means of medical decision making which has graded degrees of evidence by strength according to study type, size, and reproducibility as reported in peer reviewed journals. When I first started in medicine in 1979 much of what we were taught depended upon expert opinion. We have steadily moved await from that paradigm to one in which our practice is based on the evidence and not the opinion of some highly regarded professor or senior doctor or surgeon.

    Of course medical decisions will depend on a number of subjective factors including personal preference and beliefs of the patient, cost, tolerance for pain and/ or inconvenience, experience of the physician, and a whole host of other factors. But that does not mean that the clinician should not be basing these conversations and the decision making process on the best available scientific evidence.

    Where I had intended and anticipated this conversation would head would be into the realm of actual safety, in this case as relates to gun related violence, rather than into a discussion of racial factors and a discussion of what “evidence based” means. However, it is interesting to be on the receiving end of what David gets on a regular basis which is the deflection of his article into areas in which he had no intention of taking it. I will accept this as a lesson in how a casually intended comment can lead far, far away from the authors intended topic.

    1. quielo

      Hi Tia,

      I am not jerking your chain though I admit I am not above a disagreement over semantics.  While not a physician I have some insight into the medical world and a given patient who sees multiple MDs will often get different treatments and each physician will be able to cite studies that support their chosen therapy.

      In the social sciences the situation is even worse as their is often no directly comparable cohorts or control groups. Thus when someone says they are “evidence based” I am immediately suspicious. Even of you whose writing I am fond of reading.

  7. Tia Will Post author

    quielo

    One quick clarification. Evidence is not synonymous with fact and every physician is aware of this. The approach I take is to inform the patient of the alternatives as I see them based on the available evidence, and to provide them with any bias I may have of which I am aware. I then encourage them to make their own decision based on their own values. I do not see this as cause for suspicion but rather an acknowledgment that the evidence that we have will always be imperfect in the sense of being incomplete.

  8. Frankly

    Fascinating discussion.  How can I stay away with this good stuff?

    Opinons are never objective.  They are never completely evidence based. Even that gold standard of peer review is proven biased by the hard left drift of the social sciences.

    Where we can see glimpses of objectivity… when someone from one tribe takes up the narrative of the opposing tribe.

    Examples:

    Jonathon Haidt.  The liberal social scientist penned the book The Righteous Mind.  He writes:

    The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. Their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. 

    To explain this persistence, Haidt invokes an evolutionary hypothesis: We compete for social status, and the key advantage in this struggle is the ability to influence others. Reason, in this view, evolved to help us spin, not to help us learn. So if you want to change people’s minds, Haidt concludes, don’t appeal to their reason. Appeal to reason’s boss: the underlying moral intuitions whose conclusions reason defends.
    Faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, law and order — these Republican themes touch all six moral foundations, whereas Democrats, in Haidt’s analysis, focus almost entirely on care and fighting oppression.
    Leon Wolf of Redstate.com writes:

    http://www.redstate.com/leon_h_wolf/2016/07/08/uncomfortable-reason-came-dallas-yesterday/

    Now imagine, for a minute, that your parents instead grew up as black people in the 50s or 60s in one of the many areas where police were often the agents of – let’s call it what it was – white oppression. How might that have changed, for understandable reasons, the way not only those people but also their children and their children’s children interact with the police? More importantly, how might it impact the belief that police will ever be held accountable for abuses of their power?

    Now we can recognize these two thinkers as being objective here.  They had epiphanies outside their standard biases and shared their enlightenment.  We don’t need to agree with everything they postulate about, but we should pay the most attention in these cases.

     

    1. tribeUSA

      Frankly–yes, well-expressed. However, I would distinguish between ‘reasoning’ and ‘rationalizing’; and in your presentation the larger process described is that of rationalization; which does typically employ at least a partial form of reasoning. No question that pretty near everyone rationalizes (even the good Dr. Spock of the Enterprise on occassion) a lot of the time (and I do not pretend to except myself); it is only by stringent self-discipline and broad self-awareness that the level of an argument can be raised from a biased rationalization to a more balanced reasoning process. I think most people (me too) can do a little better toward that end if they put in the honest effort.

  9. Tia Will Post author

    Fyankly

    Wow ! That is pretty theoretical stuff for something that I see as very pragmatic. Safety.

    But as for the issue of “evidence based”,  I started us down too narrow a pathway when I used the medical example. We all use evidence based decision making every day of our lives. We just don’t call it that. When we comparison shop, we are using evidence based reasoning. If Safeway sells an item for $2.00 and Nugget for $3.50 we will likely make the purchase at Safeway, unless of course we live next door to Nugget and across town from Safeway in which case it may not be worth our time and gas money to drive to Safeway. We have used the information in the stores ads as “evidence”. If we are following a recipe, we might be better off following the test kitchen’s recipe. While a little salt may be great, a lot may ruin the dish. The recipe is a culmination of someone’s experience with these ingredients. Now it may not prove exactly to our individual taste, but it is probably a good starting point being “evidence based”.

    However, Frankly does make a good point that many times “evidence” is used not as the basis for sound decision making, but rather as justification for our own point of view. This is exactly what I am arguing against. There are some beliefs that are so strong in our society that we will not even question whether this belief is accurate or whether it serves us well in its current form ( faith, patriotism, valor, law and order taken to the extreme are all good examples).

    I believe that two such areas are those of policing ( does a militarized and hyper adefalinized police force really keep us safer) and our unwillingness to even fund research into gun safety at the federal level thus effectively stifling the ability to gather new information. These are two ares in which we have allowed our desire to feel safe, to inhibit research and differing views into what might in reality provide increased safety.

     

     

    1. quielo

      Hi Tia,

       

      “If Safeway sells an item for $2.00 and Nugget for $3.50 we will likely make the purchase at Safeway, unless of course we live next door to Nugget and across town from Safeway in which case it may not be worth our time and gas money to drive to Safeway.” This is logical but retrospective. The product is priced and you have direct knowledge of the two stores. A more relevant decision may be “The UCD Entomology department will soon be selling honey from their native grass research station which they believe will provide resistance to allergies caused by native pollens while the National Council of La Raza will be building a fair trade store staffed by undeserved minorities selling fair trade certified honey produced on farms which have contracts with the United Farm Workers”. Which will you buy?

  10. Tia Will Post author

    Hi quielo

    I like your example of the Entomology department and the National Council of La Raza. I think it is a great example of the interplay between evidence based decision making and values. For me, the answer would be I would probably alternate buying from each since I see value in both. Other considerations for me would be could I make the purchase without using my car ? If not, could I align the trip with other chores that I normally would do in the same area so as to minimize the use of the car. What would not play a role for me would be the relative cost.

    Evidence based decision making for me does not mean that one’s own values are not considered, but rather than one starts with the evidence and then makes the decision rather than starting with one’s values or biases and ignores any evidence that does not fit with one’s preconceived notions. Hope that helps clarify my view.

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