Thursday, May 20, 2021

Helping Someone Or Going Viral?

 By now you’ve probably seen the latest video. If not, here it is:

Notice as one woman savagely beats another in a Georgia pizza shop, people are quick to pull out their cameras and videotape the shocking attack. But no one moves in to stop the assault.

It’s not, of course, the first time.

We seem to be conditioning ourselves as a society to value our videos going viral over everything else. How else to explain people taking to YouTube to do stupid things on camera that get them injured or even killed?

Several years ago a pedestrian was hit by a car on a Detroit freeway. Other drivers stopped but they didn’t jump out of their cars with their smart phones in hand with the intention of helping the injured person. State police say just one person, a nurse, gave the victim first aid. And she had to implored the others to stop using their phones to videotape long enough to phone 911.

In 2019 police on New York’s Long Island reported that a group of teens witnessed a 16-year-old getting beaten in a parking lot. But instead of calling for help, they videotaped his death.

In 2015 in Beaverton Oregon a group of people stood around videotaping a woman trapped inside a burning car. A teenager who saw that none of them were helping the woman rushed up and pulled her through a window. Fortunately the woman lived. But how could the others not help?

Smartphone cameras are getting better and better and I include myself as among those who have used mine to take and publish photographs. But we’re sadly becoming a narcissistic society where many people publish their lives online. Gracing social media with selfies and photos of the latest meal or drink they’ve ordered or prepared. This self-involved attitude extends to the need to be recognized for the videos we take and post. And this compulsion sometimes overrides another human trait - to be compassionate and to come to the aid of our fellow human beings.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in psychology or neuroscience. But I don’t think we need to be experts to observe that our brains can adapt to technology and the instant gratification one gets from going viral. It could be becoming a desire that overrides compassion, which Dr. Emma Seppala, a psychologist and science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education called “our first instinct” in a 2013 Psychology Today article. But can that first instinct change?

Some scientists think the answer to that question is ‘‘yes.” In 2017, a pair of biology professors published a paper in the journal Science in which they conclude that instincts evolve from learning. Which raises the question; are we training ourselves to be instinctively less compassionate?

Clearly all this deserves greater study and public discourse. Not just because of the impact on individuals who suffer a “going viral syndrome.” But because of its implications on society as a whole.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Jewish Man’s Throat Slashed At Protest But What Happened After Is Even More Shocking

 It’s been happening all across New York City.

The Israeli-Hamas war leading to confrontations between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Sometimes they shout at one another. Sometimes they shove each other. Sometimes it gets violent.

A video making the rounds on social media shows a particularly disturbing incident at Bryant Park, which abuts the main New York Public Library in Midtown Manhattan. It shows a Jewish man bleeding from the neck. It looks like the wound is superficial but there’s a lot of blood for sure.

A cop, one wearing a white shirt so he’s a command officer, can be seen leading the wounded man by the arm and running away from an angry crowd of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who seemed intent on at the very least further intimidating the wounded man, at the worst, wanting to do him more harm. Some are shouting at him. Others are videotaping.

The officer opens the door to a store across the street from the park and shoves the guy inside and then closes the door. Then he and other officers turn to face the crowd. And here’s the part that is even more disconcerting.

The crowd shoves the cops, seemingly wanting to break through the tenuous and hastily assembled police line to get to the bleeding man inside. One of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators can be heard shouting “break the window.”

Police shove back and then so does the crowd. Profanities are thrown. One of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators tells a cop to “stop fucking touching me,” as he advances toward an officer again.

The officers appear to be holding their ground. And then the video ends. So we don’t see if anyone got their asses kicked by the police (although certainly had that happened the video would have surfaced by now to condemn the cops). And we don’t know if anyone was arrested.

But here’s my point.

Emotions are high over those who support one side and condemn the other over what’s happening between Israel and Gaza. Folks are going to demonstrate. And sometimes there will be counter demonstrations. We can almost expect that the two sides will confront one another. And sometimes there may even be violent interactions.

That’s why the NYPD shows up. To keep the peace. In this case, officers were also doing their duty by protecting an injured man.

What is happening in our society when people attack police officers rendering aid to a man bleeding from the neck? It shows a disregard for policing. And that’s a disregard for public order. It also puts all of us at risk.

I’d like to say this is an isolated incident. But it’s not. Citizens have been posting anecdotal descriptions of police not making arrests where clearly arrests are warranted. Their concerns are even supported by police officers. I try to chat cops up about this issue whenever the opportunity arises. And what I hear from them is that they are reluctant to take enforcement action. Because there’s an anti-cop bias permeating society. And they correctly assume there’s always a camera that might capture them in a moment where they may make a split-second decision they will later regret.

Of course we don’t want cops indiscriminately beating people or violating their civil rights. But do we really want them flying the white flag? And do we really want to develop a society where people feel they can actually attack with imunity police officers who are protecting injured citizens?

I understand the outrage over police overreach especially in the black community. It certainly came to a head with the killing of George Floyd. But Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted in Floyd’s murder, has the support of no cops I’ve ever spoken with. They find what he did deplorable, sickening and inexcusable. Just like the rest of us.

Now there are calls to defund the police. That sometimes translates into defund, disrespect and disobey lawful orders of peace officers.

Even the most ardent blanket opponents of the police depend on them whether they want to admit it or not. An example:

In another recent video, protesters decided to express their disapproval of police by demonstrating outside a Bank of America in Lower Manhattan. One of the demonstrators scaled the side of the building like Spiderman spray paint in hand and began defacing the side of the building. D-E-F he spray painted while his cohorts on the sidewalk chanted anti-cop slogans. But then, the daredevil protester lost his grip and tumbled to the sidewalk cracking his head open. There was a LOT of blood. He was definitely seriously hurt.

One of his fellow protesters ran to his side and cried out to onlookers to help. And guess what the first words were out of her mouth?

“Somebody call 911!”

Funny how she had so much disrespect for the police. Until she needed their help.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The New York City Crime Watch Never Stops


When I was growing up in Detroit in the 50s and 60s I, like everyone else across the nation, was well aware of the soaring crime in New York City. Detroit was no paradise either. In fact, crime comparisons between the two cities were often made.

In the ensuing years crime showed a marked decline in the Big Apple. But no longer. In fact, violent crime now occurs with regularity in neighborhoods like the Upper West Side and Times Square where it had been rare.

This was underscored by the shootings of three people, one of them 4-year-old girl, at Times Square.

Today I reported on yet another Asian woman being attacked in New York City. She and a friend were walking through Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan when, police say, a homeless woman confronted them and struck the victim over the head with a hammer. Police have arrested the suspect and are investigating it as a hate crime.

The 31-year-old victim, who came here to study, says she’s had it and she’s returning to Taiwan until New York is safe again. But when will that be?

Any local news site gives the impression that New York City isn’t very safe these days. Just now, as I write this, on the Fox 5 New York website, I see these stories prominently displayed:

“Man Stabbed in Gang Attack in Bronx Bodega”

“Arrest After Two Men Viciously Attacked, Robbed in Queens Road Rage Incident”

“4 Violent Attacks in 4 Hours in NYC Subway”

Not yet reported on the website was the shooting tonight of a police officer in Brooklyn.

I have colleagues who used to routinely take the subway. They say they won’t any longer. They don’t feel safe underground.

I used to walk the mile each day to work from Penn Station. And the mile back. A bit of exercise each work day that I thought was good for my health. But it no longer is. Because what was once a safe stroll is now dangerous because of all the violent crimes taking place in midtown Manhattan.

If New York City wants to ‘‘come back” from the pandemic, it needs to be safe for tourists. It’s great that Broadway plans to reopen in September. But Broadway won’t stay open very long if people are afraid to come. And without a vibrant tourism industry, the city will continue to suffer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

What Went Wrong In Brooklyn Center


A retired police chief and I had a conversation about the events leading to the shooting death of Daunte Wright by Kim Potter, a Brooklyn Center Minnesota police veteran who has now resigned. He had some interesting observations that I’d like to share.

The chief, who wishes to not be put in the spotlight so I’m not identifying him, says the genesis for the tragedy can be clearly seen on the body cam video. He says Wright should have been quickly handcuffed and not in front of an open car door which, he says, was an invitation for him to ‘‘jack rabbit.”

The door, he says, should have been kicked closed. He should have been taken to the rear of the car and put in a position that made it unlikely that he could have run. Or made to lay on the ground with his ankles crossed so he could be handcuffed without fear that he’d take off on them.

In other words, he says, the situation should never have escalated to the point where Potter pulled a weapon.

But when it did get to that unfortunate point, the officer and her partners still had opportunity to prevent it becoming a lethal incident.

He says cops are supposed to carry their guns near their dominant hand. Tasers are supposed to be holstered near their passive hand. This is to prevent an officer from pulling their gun by mistake.

Then, he points out, Tasers are colored differently than guns. They grip differently. They weigh differently. All by design to avoid tragedies like this one.

Finally he wonders why her partners didn’t catch her mistake before she pulled the trigger. One of them, he says, should have stopped her from shooting by telling her she had a gun in her hand, not a Taser.

I’ve talked here before about police training. I’ve interviewed training reform advocates. Most recently a retired NYPD cop who says officers should be trained in martial arts so suspects can be restrained without permanent damage. The chief agrees, suggesting that if the cops were unsure about how to quickly handcuff Wright, they could have grabbed his wrist and gone for a pressure point which would have caused him some pain but would have made him passive with no lasting injuries.

It’s good that these ex-officers are speaking out about training reform. But active police officials need to lend their voices, too. If they don’t, there won’t be meaningful change.

Mistakenly shooting someone with a gun while going for a Taser occurs about once a year. But other tragedies take place on a much more regular basis.

Just today there are these stories that are overshadowed by the Brooklyn Center killing. But they are no less tragic.

  1. A white police officer from Wisconsin who was investigated and cleared for shooting and injuring a black man during a domestic dispute has returned to duty.

  2. Cops say a 16-yr-old shot and killed by police in Maryland was armed with an air gun and a knife.

  3. The family of a 13-year-old who was fatally shot by Chicago police have been shown video of the killing. But it's not being released to the public, at least not yet.

  4. The DA says in another police-involved fatal shooting that took place in California last week the guy the cops shot was holding a fake gun.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Will George Floyd's Death Prompt Police Reform?


Every time there’s a well publicized controversial killing of a black man by a white police officer there are calls for police reform. But each time the focus on these pleas for change fades away with time. Will the killing of George Floyd be any different?

It’s a question that, admittedly, can’t be answered. But I sense attitudes are changing because of Floyd’s death.

Everyone by now has seen the killing of Floyd at the knee of then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. It seems to me, those images have moved a lot of people who previously were quick to blanketly defend police into taking a new look at policing in America.

A friend of mine, a conservative police supporter, has always been quick to suggest mitigating circumstances in many of these cases. So his comments to me this week were unexpected and jarring.

“Everyone saw what that cop did to George Floyd,” he said. “It was murder, pure and simple.

“I’d like to be the one to flip the switch on the electric chair. In fact, I’d then like to give him a lethal dose just to be sure he’s dead.” (The death penalty was abolished in Minnesota in 1911).

Other people who are typical defenders of the police have made similar comments to me. Perhaps more importantly, so have a number of my police officer friends. They argue, not only were Chauvin’s actions unacceptable but embarrassing to their chosen profession.

“Whenever a cop acts stupid like this it reflects on me and makes it harder for me to do my job,” one NYPD officer commented.

A retired police chief I know also suggested that Chauvin be given the maximum penalty under the law. And says no cop should be defending his actions.

Of course, these kinds of emotive reactions to Floyd’s death are not particularly unusual. But I find the source of the comments interesting. And that’s what leads me to speculate that there may be a growing intolerance to poor police training and supervision, not only from folks who typically defend the cops, but from within their own ranks.

In the end, that’s really where the change must take place. We can discuss and improve training all we want, and we should. But unless the cops on the beat are on board with an attitudinal change we’re not going to get anywhere with this.

I know a lot of cops, both current and retired. And I’m proud to call many of them my friends. The cops I know well abhor excessive behavior by other officers. But all too often their voices are muted. Sometimes because of a culture that suggests that, because their profession is under assault they have to defend their fellow officers no matter what.

Perhaps these anecdotal conversations I’ve shared indicate that attitude is starting to change.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

A Call To Remove Farrakhan From Twitter


A call to kick Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan off of Twitter following the killing of a Capitol police officer.

In this interview, Dov Hikind, founder of Americans Against Antisemitism, says Noah Green posted a vile video of Farrakhan on Facebook weeks before the attack that claimed the life of officer Billy Evans.

Farrakhan has been off Facebook since 2020 when he was kicked off. Hikind says even though Green posted it on Facebook, Farrakhan should be deplatformed  from other social media sites - like Twitter - because his rhetoric is dangerous.