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By Stuart Soffer

Black Lives Matter, and So Does Yours

Uploaded: Jul 14, 2016

It is with some trepidation that I step into this radioactive topic.

The startling events of last week are cause for reflection. One of my Facebook friends living in Berlin asked me whether these events were a result of gun control (or lack thereof). In formulating a response to him I ended up with the seed for this commentary. Firearm regulations, and culture, vary by state, city and county. California is quite restrictive; Texas is minimally restrictive. Nonetheless, gun control mantras took a back seat last week. That silence was probably due the gravity, complexity and the need to digest what we all observed nearly simultaneously.

My first impression, during this election cycle was that Black Lives Matter (BLM) could be ambiguous in usage. There is a formal group called BLM, as well its use as a social commentary and aspiration. I was confused by a lack of distinction. Early in the recent presidential primary cycle BLM supporters interrupted a Bernie Sanders rally. Bernie quickly responded, “All Lives Matter.” Bernie’s comment was also my immediate reaction upon hearing an implication that only one ethnic group’s lives matter. Bernie took a lot of flack.

A few years ago while bicycling up Palm Drive on the Stanford campus, I witnessed a police stop of a SUV. The driver of the SUV, a black gentleman, trained his cell phone on the police officer to record the interaction. I dismounted my bike and watched. I was surprised by two things: that this occurred at Stanford; but more perplexing to me, what in this man’s experience prompted him to feel it necessary to record his session with the police? Recording with my cell phone certainly wasn’t anything that I would naturally do.

But now, I understand.

Minneapolis, Permitted Concealed Weapons, Instantaneous Decision Making

On July 7, Philando Castile was a passenger in car driven by his girlfriend. Because of an allegedly broken taillight the police stopped this car. While reaching for his wallet, presumably to present his concealed carry weapon permit, Castile was shot in the arm and killed by the police. His girlfriend had the presence of mind to live-stream the interaction via Facebook. This video brought to millions of people a crystal reality concerning race in America and police. I was stunned, appalled, and this immediately illuminated for me the context from which the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement emerges, as well as what I saw on Palm Drive.

Recording Truth via Cameras

Many police organizations have as part of their equipment body cameras intended to record close interactions between the police and the public. These document the interactions for future use. For example, in a domestic violence call the actions of the parties are recorded so that not only physical expression, but emotion and expression is on the record. This is also used a record in the instance that parties fail to appear in court. The use of body cams is disputed and subject to various rules such as length of retention, who may view the video and when. As cameras could record unflattering views of the police, there is a suspicion that the cameras and/or camera content may be altered retroactively before police reports are manually written. The question is: whom do the cams protect? They are to record facts, no matter the consequence. Their use needs to be consistent and reliable.

“Only two of three Menlo Park police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a burglary suspect on Nov. 11 were wearing body cameras. One camera may have been turned on after the shooting, and one may have been left off…”

See, Menlo Park Shooting May Not Have Been Recorded.

See, Body cam policies of various US cities.

There’s an App for That

Of course there is.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has state-specific cameras software for download. See, ACLU Apps Record Police Conduct

See, Mobile Justice California

Stop and Frisk

Much of this discord arises from a philosophy of ‘stop and frisk’. In response to a high level of crime in impacted communities in New York City, then Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg instituted a targeted, stop-and-frisk policy used by the NYPD to get illegal guns of the street. It was successful, improving the safety of citizens, while putting pressure on potential bad actors. Crime rates declined. When Bill De Blasio succeed Bloomberg in 2014, Mayor De Blasio attempted to reform the implementation of stop and frisk. See, Did Bill De Blasio Keep His Promise To Reform Stop-And-Frisk and

Stop and Frisk in New York City

Some parts of Menlo Park, and NYC and elsewhere have a much greater need for uniformed and non-uniformed support, compared with other districts. Much of this is at the request of the people who live there – they want safer streets and homes. I’ll add that the Menlo Park Police, as well as other districts, play important unsung roles of social worker, crisis intervener, and family counselor. These stories don’t make the papers.

‘Black Lives Matter’, and ‘All Lives Matter,’ are not mutually exclusive. But as has been amply demonstrated the decision process before the use of deadly force needs to be reliable, and only as a last resort.

(I am not ignoring the terrible event in Dallas. I wanted to simplify this post. I'll come back to Dallas, but the big takeaway for me was the unintended consequence of open carry of firearms, and how that added to the confusion.)