Talk, Not Body Cameras

Brown’s family wants to see every police officer working the streets wearing a body camera. The White House has said the cameras could help bridge deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public.

body camera

This paragraph came from a Boston Globe story about plans for sending military equipment to local police force. Most of the article was pretty much gobbledy-gook, but this jumped out at me. How in the world can body cameras build trust? This idea is terrible. It is just another example of the addiction we have to technology. This one is particularly disturbing because of the nature and importance of trust.

Cameras can only provide a record of what happened. They cannot change it. They might help sort out the details of some event, after the fact, but will have little or no effect in altering the event, itself. Would the Ferguson shooting have been different in the Officer Wilson had been wearing a camera. Would Michael Brown even seen it? But the forensic arguments are not what concerns me at all. My concerns are about trust.

Trust has nothing to do with technology. Trust is a quality of relationships. It is not easy to define, but means, more or less, an acknowledgment that the other in this situation shares the same values and norms as I do. So, if any sort of request is made to me, I will consider only the request itself, but not its historical context. Trust is built up over time, and starts to build only when people’s assessments of the past indicate the other is trustworthy.

In the case of the police and black men, there is no such history. Whether justified or not, the assessment of the police, as I read about it in the news, is that they cannot be trusted to treat you like others. There is no acceptance that they acknowledge you the same way as white men. Much will be written whether this judgment is valid or not, and police will defend themselves against the claim, but truth here is irrelevant.

An assessment is an assessment and as such sets the context for action. If either side wants to get beyond reactions without trust involved, only a change in the nature of the relationship has any chance of working. Offering up technology is a poor, thoughtless substitute, and indicates to me how little understanding of the true nature of this problem and other related issues we share.

Human beings all carry many prejudices around in their brain. It’s part of our enhanced cognitive abilities. It is part of the evolutionary tools we carry to avoid danger. We have evolved to have instinctive, that is prejudged, responses to certain situations. When these prejudices become unreasonable, for example, fear of objects that do not pose a danger, they get called neuroses or worse, psychotic phobias, and the normal response is to seek treatment.

I do not see any difference between this and the situation in Ferguson or any other place where police roam the streets. Some sort of therapy is essential to sever the link between the prejudices on both sides and their immediate responses. Technological solutions can do little and may even make the situation worse by delaying the essential trust building processes.

To call this situation an act of racism is to inflame those who deny or downplay its existence. President Obama, the most potentially powerful actor, risks using the term for obvious reasons. But, what if we looked at the situation as one where human prejudice is at work, as it does in many less tragic cases. The word prejudice, if understood properly, loses the negative and pejorative context of racism and other isms. It is a normal, although problematic, human trait.

This case is only one where acting out of prejudice is causing harms to individuals and our collective society. The stalemate in Congress has prejudice at the base. “I have the right idea bout this situation and I am going to act on it before I pay attention to anything you say.” Fuggedaboutit.

Trust is a mood that may have developed to deal with prejudice as human culture evolved. It permits reasonable or normal action to take place even when latent prejudices are present in the brain. Trust creates a conversation like, “You are an object I instinctively reject, but I have learned not to let that run me, so lets get moving together.” Learning is absolutely essential and, again, cannot be substituted by some artificial mechanism installed to overcome that instinctive rejection.

When trust is absent, people are more likely to be hurt, as consequent actions come from prejudice (instinct) and fail to utilize the parts of the brain where experience and reason operate. The lack of trust in Congress is a national tragedy, with far more serious consequences than the case in Ferguson. Perhaps, if people would begin to see the equivalence, they would call for as much action as is following the tragedy there, but only of a non-violent kind. The President could use his bully pulpit without being called a racist, himself. It might even be possible to redefine compromise as a necessary human, not political, process.

Only talk therapy will work, psychotherapeutic drugs will not work here. Please stop trying to evade its necessity by following one of our civic addictions, the use of technology to solve all our problems. Are we afraid to talk to one another? Why? Is it that the solution to the problems we share may lie somewhere beyond the horizon of my prejudice. Have we forgotten that as humans we have both prejudice and reason, albeit in different parts of our brains? We are here today only because we learned to use both parts in combination. We cannot afford as a species to let either one decay.