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Words from Winterbilt

Why – do we not agree?

Shannon Bohrer

(3/2015) A few months ago events with police shootings and police use of force dominated the news for some time, and they probably will again. There were large protest about these incidents and there was controversy over the protest. America often seems to have two camps, one being for something and the other being against something. The question we might want to address is why. Why would we think that people would think the same way and see the same things? People are different, we know this and yet we always seem to be surprised when the differences are expressed.

There are multiple reasons why we think differently. One is that many of us have inherent biases that filter what we see and hear. The filter is our schema. According to psychologist we each have our own schema, which is like have a filter that surrounds us. Our Schema is our beliefs, what we know and what we believe and if information does not fit with our beliefs, our schema often filters it. We know that people can unconsciously filter what they hear and see. This filtering itself is called a Conformation Bias, we unconsciously confirm information we believe and discount information that is not from our perspective. Given our individual differences, our backgrounds and our biases, it should not be a surprise as to why two people witnessing an event can have different opinion and views of what they witnessed. Since we have different perspectives on many topics, it should not be a surprise that we have different opinions about a use of force incident or a protest. The differences we start with before an event occurs influence what we each see and hear and confirms our beliefs.

The differences that we have that affect what we see and hear are well known in the law enforcement community. If a crime occurs and there are three victims and one offender, the police often end up with three different descriptions. The same is true in many court cases. Listening to the testimony on both sides one can sometime wonder if they are describing the same event. It has been said that many times we hear and see what we want. Maybe it could be said we see and hear what we believe, often filtering out what we don’t believe.

"When two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person see him and each man as he really is." William James, psychologist

The law enforcement community was front and center in the news about the use of force and the protest. They were and are aware of the different perceptions that people and groups have, and yet they seemed surprised with the controversies and the demonstrations. Considering that they deal with different perspectives every day, you would think they would have a better understanding. Of course, since they are the focus of the beliefs and the protest, the law enforcement community may have felt like they are under attack. Maybe – just maybe that is their perspective.

I watched with interest a sports commentator talking about professional football players that were wearing shirts – that sympathized with the protesters. The commentator talked about the courage the athletes had because they could be fined and or fired by the team owners. He added that it was nice that the players demonstrated their support for the protesters. The commentator then continued that it was his position that the majority of police in the country were good people that do good work. He even gave examples of his own very positive interactions with police. Obviously the commentator felt sympathy and/or empathy with the protesters but he still held the majority of police in high esteem. I wondered how many people watching and hearing his words, felt the same way. I wondered how many police and/or protesters felt the same way.

No one can defend every police officer in the country, as there have been officers that have committed crimes and have been arrested, found guilty and have gone to jail. You could say the same thing about every segment in our society. If we examine the number of people found guilty of a crime, then incarcerated and later found to be innocent, we know we have problems with our justice system. But the recent protest might indicate that large segments of the police are untrustworthy. If one believes that the police community cannot be trusted – that would be a very strong belief. We do have multiple politicians, television personalities and community leaders, constantly telling us that the government is the problem. Might this influence our perceptions and beliefs about the police?

With an estimated 850,000 sworn officer in the United States and less than 500 justifiable homicides (where police legally shoot and kill someone), I don’t believe there are officers going to work each day – looking for someone and/or an excuse to shoot. Every time an officer does take a life, it is a tragedy. The officers are affected as well as the family members of the deceased. It is understandable that segments of our society believe that race contributed to the recent shooting and deaths of citizens. But just having a belief - does not always makes it true. Politics is a good example of this.

Nothing may be more scrutinized in our society than a police shooting, as it should be. Additionally, all sides in any issue have a right to express their views, in print, in demonstrations and to question our government. While there may be strong opinions on both sides and a compromise may not be met, both sides have a right to express their views.

No matter how you view our government, it does give you the right of free speech. Just as the news focuses on the demonstrations, they also focus on the illegal behavior of protesters; the vandalism, theft and arson. Every segment of society has individuals involved in illegal behavior. Too brand one segment for the behavior of a few, is exactly what some are doing - on both sides of this issue. The entire police community is not bad nor is the entire protester group involved in illegal behavior. It is important to remember, that it is the United States Government that gives you the right to complain about it.

"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." George Washington

If you agree or not with the message of protesters, that is your choice. But you should be thankful that they have the right to protest.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer