Sunday, April 19, 2015

Do we live in the "Post-Truth Era?"

It's a good question. The first article explains why the shooting of Walter Scott was a crime, and the wealth of evidence that supports that assertion:

The North Charleston shooting is not another Ferguson
[...] When I was a cop in Baltimore and I heard of some situation that got ugly, my first reaction was usually, "Thank God I wasn't there." Because nobody knows how they'll react. For that reason, most police officers are quite reluctant to criticize others forced to make split-second life-and-death decisions. Yet every police officer I've spoken to says that Scott's death was horrible and that Slager committed a crime.

In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled that police may not shoot at unarmed fleeing suspects, even felons. In line with that decision, shooting without an immediate threat is against the law in every state, and it's against department policy in every jurisdiction. It's also a violation of the most basic human right: life. Any innocent death is a tragedy, but it's worse at the hands of police. It's not too much to ask our civil servants not to murder us.

During his attempt to catch Scott, Slager fired his Taser. When that failed, Slager could have chased Scott or let him run away. But instead, Slager drew his gun and shot. This is why cops see this case so differently: The criminal was the police officer. And Slager was arrested and charged with murder. That is the way the criminal justice system is supposed to work. [...]
The article explains in detail the differences in this case, to many of the others that have been in the headlines in recent months. Of course every case has it's own facts, which is why it's so important to acknowledge them.

Contrast the above case with this next one, about a decorated an honored Boston cop shot in the face by a career felon. The felon was then killed in a shootout with other police officers. So who was the victim? You decide:

A Boston Cop Shooting and Our Post-Truth Era
[...] According to several Boston cops at the crime scene, people began calling them pigs, shouting “Ferguson…Ferguson” and “hands up…don’t shoot.” This despite the fact—the fact!—that an outside camera from a store next to where the shootout occurred captured the image of West emerging from the driver’s side of his car to instantly shoot Moynihan, who had not even drawn his weapon.

“This is where we are now,” one of the cops said. “Everyone has their own reality. Their own facts. The truth of the situation doesn’t matter. People want to believe what they think happened. Not what really happened. That’s the recent history of almost every encounter we have lately on the street.”

Sadly, it seems as if there is no longer any real history. Just momentary reactions to events that disappear like sky-writing with items like Twitter, texts, Meerkat, Snapchat, and Instagram. And in this, our snap-of-a-finger, Chernobyl-like culture, with almost daily explosions occurring only to be eclipsed in a single news cycle, email and Facebook can resemble the National Archives.

A majority of Americans are more aware of what happened in Ferguson last summer than with what occurred on a city street in Boston on Friday night or on too many streets and neighborhoods nearly every day. Know more about the life of Robert Durst than that of a parent who is afraid to let a child play outdoors in places where guns are more accessible than text books.

We have more tools at hand, literally, to make life easier and more productive than ever. We have Google, Wikipedia, iPads, iPhones, iTunes, YouTube, Netflix, and 600 cable channels. We can shop, pay bills, order food, and get nearly everything delivered, all of it with the touch of a finger on a device in the palm of our hand.

Yet we have a criminal justice system that seems unable to deal with proven violent career criminals like Angelo West who threaten lives every day. Our jails are crowded with those doing extended time for possession of drugs while those arrested multiple times for possession of handguns are often free to walk streets like time bombs eager to explode.

We are at the point where the immediacy of the moment crowds out any thought of reflection. Everyone has a smart phone and everything is recorded. One event spills into another. Conclusions come quickly at the near total expense of consideration of what just actually happened. Reality is self defined as the mob, any mob, writes its own history, never to be contradicted by the quiet statement of truth. [...]
The facts DO matter. Instant gratification of social media be damned.

There has always been people who jump to conclusions and make shallow assessments without looking more deeply. That's nothing new. What is new is that such people have access to social media, where they can instantly amplify their misguided opinions to the world. Ironically, that same technology can also make the facts of the situation be known more quickly, for anyone who cares to bother about the facts. In our technological world of instant gratification, people are often too willing to be lazy and treat their opinions like facts. People who don't care about the facts muddy the water for everyone, and do more harm than good.

These are just excerpts, please follow the links and read the full articles for the details, the complete picture.

I'm sick of hearing people talk about their unsubstantiated opinions as if they were facts. Our Brave New World is going to have to do better than that. For all of our sakes.


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