Tag Archives: violence

Confirmation Bias At Work

There’s a line from the Simon and Garfunkel song, The Boxer, that has always seemed perceptive to me: “A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.”

No kidding!

We can really see that phenomenon in the debates, Facebook posts and memes and twitter wars over the widespread Black Lives Matter protests. It won’t resolve the issue of confirmation bias–“seeing what we want to see and disregarding the rest”–but a recent study of the demonstrations documents the reality behind the spin.

The report was from the U.S. Crisis Monitor, which is a collaboration between the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) and Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative. The project collects and analyzes data on protest movements, using news reports, social media and a variety of other sources.

The report covers data gathered on protests between May 24, the day before police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, and Aug. 22. During that period, the researchers collected more than 10,600 demonstration events across the country, with more than 7,750 of them related to the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests peaked in late May and early June, and while they have leveled off since, activists in many places across the country continue to hold largely peaceful demonstrations every day.

The overwhelming majority of the protests — more than 10,100 — involved peaceful protesters, the researchers found. In only about 5%, or under 570 of the protests, did participants engage in violence.“

The vast majority of demonstration events associated with the BLM movement are non-violent,” the researchers wrote. “In more than 93% of all demonstrations connected to the movement, demonstrators have not engaged in violence or destructive activity.”

What about the protests that became violent? The report found that, when violence occurred,  it either began with what the report labeled “state-sanctioned violence”–described as “violent intervention from local, state or federal authorities,” or was initiated by counterprotesters from extremist groups.

The research also reported that the police or military “disproportionately used force while intervening in demonstrations associated with the BLM movement, relative to other types of demonstrations.” In nearly 10% of BLM protests they studied, the police violently intervened by deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and/or pepper spray, and were seen assaulting protesters with batons and other items.

If 93% of the demonstrations were peaceful, why do so many Americans believe they were violent?

The researchers suggest three likely reasons: selective media coverage (they don’t point fingers, but the identity of those media sources isn’t hard to deduce), “disinformation” campaigns on social media, and viewers’ pre-existing political opinions. In other words, confirmation bias.

And for those who are prejudiced against Black people, we have the new phenomenon of right-wing provocateurs infiltrating the protests, pretending to be “Antifa” or BLM members. According to NPR and other sources, far-right white supremacist extremists are responsible for much of the protest violence. The Boogaloo Boys (I wonder where that name came from) are reportedly working to foment a race war, and a white supremacist channel on a messaging app encouraged its followers to commit violence during George Floyd protests, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

These strategies are aimed at Americans who harbor racial bias along with confirmation bias. Trump supporters hope that enough people believe what they are already primed to believe–and disregard the facts.

Guns–A Meditation

Once again, Americans are talking about guns in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy. There is little I can add to the outpouring of conflicting opinions, but after digesting a fair number of them, and for what it may be worth, I will share my perspective.

Bear with me.

  • There are 300 million guns in this country. We aren’t going to get rid of them–couldn’t if we tried. Furthermore, the vast majority of gun owners are responsible people–hunters, sportsmen, people hoping to protect their homes. It’s true that a significant number of the 30,000 plus gun deaths in America each year involve those responsible owners: suicides, domestic abuse, children accidentally shooting themselves or others. These deaths are tragic, but I’d draw an analogy to highway deaths–we don’t ban or confiscate cars because they can be lethal.
  • If we continue with the car analogy, however, there are lessons to be learned. We don’t let just anyone drive; in order to get a license you must pass a test. Your license can be revoked if you repeatedly break the rules. Academics study traffic deaths and issue recommendations for making our roadways safer–and legislatures, by and large, take those recommendations seriously. With guns, Congress has prohibited government from funding research on gun violence, and state lawmakers are constantly attacking and rolling back even the most reasonable firearm regulations. Congress even refused to pass a measure that would have prohibited individuals on the no-fly list–people with demonstrable connections to ISIS–from owning guns.
  • The history and interpretation of the Second Amendment has been twisted beyond recognition. If self-proclaimed “originalists” are really interested in the original meaning of the Amendment (I have my doubts), they might find this explanation by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens edifying.
  • Stevens entire explanation should be read for a full understanding of the history of the Second Amendment and Supreme Court cases interpreting it, but a couple of paragraphs are illuminating.

For more than 200 years following the adoption of that amendment, federal judges uniformly understood that the right protected by that text was limited in two ways: First, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes, and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms. Thus, in United States v. Miller, decided in 1939, the court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated Militia.”…During the years when Warren Burger was chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment, and I cannot recall any judge suggesting that the amendment might place any limit on state authority to do anything….

Thus, Congress’s failure to enact laws that would expand the use of background checks and limit the availability of automatic weapons cannot be justified by reference to the Second Amendment or to anything that the Supreme Court has said about that amendment. What the members of the five-justice majority said in those opinions is nevertheless profoundly important, because it curtails the government’s power to regulate the use of handguns that contribute to the roughly 88 firearm-related deaths that occur every day.

  • I am not and never have been a gun owner, so I will not attempt to respond to the gun lobby’s impassioned defense of an unrestricted and unregulated right to own any and all kinds of firearms. I will leave that defense to Trae Crowder, who is both more eloquent and more informed about “gun culture” than I am.


Liberal Redneck – On Guns

I sympathize with pro-gun people and always have. But at some point god damn enough is enough. Side note: Ignore the shirt, I just didn't have a plain black one and am dumb. That's all. Love y'all.

Publicado por Trae Crowder em Terça-feira, 3 de outubro de 2017

  • What I do know is that a mother should be able to take her daughter to a concert without worrying that one of them won’t live to make it home. I do know that a husband has a right to take his wife to a concert without having her die in his arms. I do know that constant, widespread anxiety about safety feeds social tensions and paranoia, and exacerbates the tribalism that is tearing this country apart.

Gun owners, please listen: Obama wasn’t going to “take” your guns. Hillary wasn’t, either. No one is suggesting the confiscation of 300 million firearms, or a law forbidding further gun sales. Funding research on gun violence, keeping guns out of the hands of people with a history of violence or mental illness, or people on the no-fly list, is not an infringement of anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

Requiring drivers’ licenses wasn’t a “slippery slope” toward the confiscation of cars, and restrictions on AK-47 ownership won’t lead to Armageddon.



The Language of Crazy

For the past several months, in these and other columns, I have tried to explain (to myself as much as to my readers) the rising tide of anger and vitriol that seems to have engulfed our country.

I’m not naïve, and I’ve read enough history to know that we haven’t suddenly been uprooted from some past Garden of Eden. There have been plenty of other angry times in our nation’s history; the Civil War was the worst, but hardly the only example. In my own adult lifetime, Martin Luther King, JFK and his brother Bobby were all assassinated. The Sixties gave us the Weathermen and the Yippies, the Chicago police’s display of brutality at the Democratic National Convention, the Kent State massacre and the Watts riots. (It wasn’t all Woodstock and “Flowers in your hair.”) A complete list would fill this newspaper and then some.

But there was something really chilling about the news that an Arizona Congresswoman was shot through the head in an attack that killed several others—including a nine-year old child and a federal judge. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was holding a “Congress on the Corner” event at a local supermarket—one of those predictable, “keep in touch” “meet and greet” events that politicians routinely sponsor—when she and the others were gunned down in broad daylight. As I write this, the Congresswoman is in critical condition following brain surgery; her survival—and if she does survive, her condition—remains in doubt.

In the aftermath of this horrific episode, the national conversation has focused on whether the debased nature of our political rhetoric encouraged a mentally unstable person to take violent action.

Congresswoman Giffords was one of twenty Democrats who had been “targeted” during the off-year elections by Sarah Palin. Palin’s webpage had featured photos showing each of the twenty as seen through crosshairs on gun-sights. (Not surprisingly, Palin quickly removed the page, and scrubbed the inflammatory photos.)  The language employed during the campaign by Representative Gifford’s Tea Party opponent was filled with gun imagery and dark allusions to “Second Amendment remedies.” And who among us did not see the earlier coverage of unhinged people brandishing guns and screaming obscenities at Town Hall meetings about health care reform?

For those who refuse to believe that language has consequences, think about the gay youngsters whose suicides have followed repeated taunts of “faggot,” and other homophobic slurs. Think about the generations of GLBT folks who stayed far back in the closet as a result of the constant, offhand dismissal of gays and lesbians as somehow less than human, less than “normal.”

I am not suggesting that intemperate language “created” this tragedy. There are plenty of other cultural culprits, beginning with the zealots who believe that any restriction of the right to carry a gun, no matter how reasonable, is part of a communist plot. Indeed, last year Jan Brewer, the intellectually-challenged Governor of Arizona, signed into law a bill that lifted all restrictions on the right of Arizona residents to carry concealed weapons. One of the restrictions eliminated by that measure was a requirement of a background check that might have kept a mentally troubled individual from carrying a handgun.

But while violent imagery and intemperate language don’t cause such acts, they absolutely do contribute to the creation of an environment within which the unthinkable becomes just another possibility, where violence becomes a viable option to be explored, and where grievance—real or imaginary—justifies barbarism.

When this sort of rhetoric is employed in the service of bigotry, and a seething, resentful anti-intellectualism, as it currently is, we should not be surprised when violence erupts.

It creates, as they say, a perfect storm.