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The Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2015: Police Shootings

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", check out the articles below...

- Learnings from Kunar: Police Shootings and the Lessons of Counterinsurgency

- Winning the Battle but Losing the Crime War: Three More Connections to COIN and Police Shootings

- Wolves, Sheepdogs and the Cops I Know

- The Cover-up is Worse Than the Crime: The Walter Scott Shooting

- The Golden Rule for Policing

- Director's Cut: Five More Thoughts on Police Shootings)


Starting today, we’ll be writing about our most thought-provoking event of the year. Judging by media coverage, three issues dominated 2015: ISIS, mass shootings and police shootings. And the winner is...

Police shootings.

(Yeah, it’s not really a singular event, though our choices rarely are, like the Green Revolution in Iran (2009), Wikileaks (2010), the Arab Spring (2011), Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks (2013), and Iraq re-descending into chaos (2014) last year. Our 2012 picks (Petraeus and Benghazi) were singular events, then we paired them together.)

First off, focusing on terrorism or mass shootings would be, in some ways, a disservice to our readers. Both events remain incredibly rare, statistically. Gun violence, overall, is down in America and your chances of dying from a terrorist attack remain infinitesimally small. In short, you can’t decry buying a ticket for the Powerball and worry about terrorism...they have the same likelihood. Yet both will probably remain a part of society for a long time. Crazy people will keep using guns or bombs to scare the rest of society for political purposes (terrorists) or gain fame (mass shooters).

Ironically, as well, if we focus on those events, though we’d be telling people not to be scared, it may still have the opposite effect. On the Media explains:

“Scholarship has made more than clear, that even when the media try to debunk a rumor, that the very process of debunking tends to cement the misinformation in the minds of people who don't necessarily want the debunkitude.”

More importantly, for the “Most thought-provoking event of the year”, neither ISIS nor mass shootings inspired a lot of fresh ideas. Hence, the “thought-provoking” part. Here’s our take on the Paris attacks:

- 138 people is a very small number, statistically. That may sound cold, but it’s true. France has a population of over 60 million, and Paris over 2 million. The chances of being killed by terrorism is tiny.

- Disagree with what I wrote above? Am I being hyperbolic? Not as hyperbolic as conservatives who say, citing the deaths of 138 people out of 60 million, that ISIS is an existential threat to America.

- Our (America’s, Europe’s) reaction to this attack was a massive over-reaction. France suspended their Constitution (including a free press) and issued mass arrests.

- Then, of course, ironically, this over-reaction alienates more Muslims. Did you know that Muslims make up 70% of French prisons, but only 8% of the population?

Yeah. Covered that issue. Here’s our take mass shootings: get rid of guns. Sure, we could write a lot more proving this, but reading all the studies, more guns equals more gun deaths. Here’s our only original take: when terrorists start using lax American gun laws to attack Americans, well, that’s probably the end of gun rights. (Unless we make laws that selectively target Muslims for gun control, and well, that’s the end of religious liberty.)

But with police shootings, we have tons to say and write about. They represent something bigger, the way the state--which should have a monopoly on violence--uses that monopoly. But no other thoughts are more important than this one:

The coverage of police shootings actually represents a positive step forward for America.

The issue around police shootings (and really this goes back to 2014 with the Ferguson, Missouri shooting of Michael Brown) isn’t that police are shooting civilians at a higher rate. We actually don’t know if unjustified police shootings are going up or down. Law enforcement doesn’t keep good records. But what we do know, thanks to the rise in cell phone cameras, is that they’re being filmed and broadcast to the world. Technology is holding police officers accountable. It is no longer one man’s word against the dead.

And this publicity is leading to all sorts of smart, long-term positive changes to law enforcement, including body cameras for police, a rise in the prosecution of bad cops, the push to document police shootings, and the release of personnel records in police departments across America. This will change the country for the better.

And we have a lot more ideas. We’ll hit on long-running On V themes, like whether cops are wolves or sheepdogs. We’ll relate this discussion to counter-insurgency. We’ll talk about the ironies of race and gun rights. We’ll write about the philosophy of violence. Most importantly, we’ll offer solutions.

So stay tuned.