Something interesting about #Ferguson

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To bring lasting change requires data. Protest all you want, give speeches on the National Mall, craft memorials, write memoirs. None of that will bring change. One of the consistent failures of social justice advocates is their reliance on mid-century strategies to bring about lasting change. What was effective in the 50s and 60s? The big marches, the famous speeches and protests. Rallying around a hero and a cause changed the course of this nation but we are beyond the age of heroes. Welcome to the soundbite era. The meme generation. I was impressed with the variety of ways social justice advocates tried to get attention. They protested of course, blocked roads, gave interviews, symbolically raised hands. Classic. My personal favorite were the “die-ins”.

If I sound dismissive please believe me I’m not. It’s an important cause and I was genuinely moved by the events. I just don’t think it has a prayer of having any kind of affect.

The most interesting thing about Ferguson was this. We have no idea how many people are killed each year by police and law enforcement. None. The FBI and assorted groups of journalists have some interesting and widely disparate guesstimates but that is the best they can offer. Isn’t they remarkable? I find it shocking that in an age of so much information we don’t know this one basic fact. I suppose it’s easy to not to keep track of information you don’t want to have.

The other thing we found out is that with incredibly rare exceptions, police are never indicted for killing. Never. Literally there is a 99% acquittal according to politifact for police officers.

On those two facts alone can much policy be built. Take the following snippet as an example:

There’s data out there about police departments who have been required by the courts or have otherwise implemented copcams. These programs have been successful enough that the Obama administration is making moves to have these cameras installed more generally. We’ll see what, if anything, comes from it. Simple. End of story.

This is the take home message. the data generated from a few low key pilot programs was powerful enough to have created a concrete policy objective that is being implemented now. This tiny amount of data is vastly more powerful that all the social networked flash mobs making momentary headlines. This is true power. Not massed protests.

Let’s suppose Darren Wilson was indicted. Let’s suppose he was even found guilty and sent to prison. So what? You got your sacrificial lamb and you brought him to the slaughter. Then what? Nothing. That’s end game. That is the completion of your quest. And by the end of it , you will have achieved nothing of note. Certainly nothing to prevent the next Michael Brown. The punishment of Darren Wilson, while certainly just, is a useless for affecting change. Arguably, having lost the indictment might even further the goals of social advocates by deepening the injustice of it all.

What will bring change? Fix or create the data gathering process. Mandate that all police offices must report officer involved shootings and killings to the FBI. Fund deescalation training programs and track their progress. Shine a light on all the missed opportunities for data gathering.

Your only other option is to wallow in self-pity. Publicly for as long as the cameras will allow, and privately thereafter.


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