Leaving Plato’s Cave: The Truth about Police Brutality and Race

Reality vs. Illusion.

For thousands of years, in the East no less than in the West, lovers of wisdom devised whole worldviews (usually called “philosophies”) rooted, fundamentally, in the distinction between reality and mere appearance

For all of their differences, these traditions concurred with one another in the belief that most people choose to be deluded rather than reckon with the world as it is.

Stories of this human condition abound.  Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is probably the most prominent to come from the ancient world.  In more recent times, films like The Matrix and Vanilla Sky have communicated the same idea.

Of course, from the perspective of the world’s two billion or so Christians, the mockery, ostracism, abandonment, betrayal, and violence to which Truth was subjected when it “assumed flesh and dwelt among us” two millennia ago will forever serve as the penultimate expression of the average person’s preference for delusion over reality.  

Christianity crystallizes for us another insight, one shared by all of the ancients: The willingness to embrace truth, reality, is, ultimately, the willingness to embrace virtue.

Socrates famously remarks: “To know the good is to do the good.” 

Jesus proclaims Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” the Savior of the human race.

Hinduism maintains that when people realize that what they’ve always assumed is real is only just “maya” (illusion), then they’ll recognize their true selves, namely, that they are God.  

For the Buddha (“Awakened One”), emancipation from illusion requires recognition of the Four Noble Truths, the last of which prescribes the Eight-Fold Path, a set of moral prescriptions that promises to result in Enlightenment.

This overall theme is universal.

If any was ever needed, contemporary America is the proof that the more things have changed over the span of thousands of years, the more they have remained the same. 

The COVID-19 Scare, of course, takes the prize for this year’s Matrix Award.  The “novel” virus, as some of us have always known, has never been anything at all like the Plague that the prisoners in the bottom of the Cave were led to believe it was.   

But as for the Lifetime Matrix Award, the rightful recipient of it belongs to the Racism-Industrial-Complex (RIC).  No virus is going to upstage it!

The morality tale of perpetually oppressive whites (symbolized by perpetually brutal police forces) and perpetually oppressed, always innocent blacks (symbolized by criminal suspects in police custody) has just been invigorated by the response to the killing of George Floyd in ways that it hasn’t enjoyed in some time.

If this was some fiction that never left the parameters of the inside of a person’s skull, then we could safely put it to one side.  The problem, however, is that masses of people (black, white, and other, and for reasons that I’ll delve into at another time) confuse this illusion with reality.  Yet the latter is something else entirely.

The authors of the most comprehensive study to date on the subject of police brutality and race have concluded that white police officers are no more likely than black and Hispanic officers to shoot minority civilians.

Up to this juncture (2015), “databases of fatal officer-involved shootings (FOIS) [have] lack[ed] details about officers” (emphasis added).  Yet this information is critical, for without it, the conventional wisdom that “racism” is to blame for fatal police shootings involving non-white suspects is unsustainable.

In determining whether there truly exists racial disparities vis-à-vis police shootings, this study also has the virtue of circumventing “the benchmark debate” (the debate over whether, say, the standard should be the numbers of whites and non-whites shot by police relative to their respective numbers in the overall population; the absolute numbers of whites and non-whites shot by police; or the numbers of white and non-whites shot by police relative to the numbers of white and non-white criminal suspects).

Rather, the authors, by using detailed information concerning officers, predict the race of civilians fatally shot. Their verdict:

“As the proportion of Black or Hispanic officers…increases, a person shot is more likely to be Black or Hispanic than White, a disparity explained by county demographics [.]”

To repeat: The authors found “no overall evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities in fatal shootings, when focused on different subtypes of shootings [.]”

The authors of this study note the scientific worthlessness of the dominant approach that focuses only on the proportional representation of whites and blacks relative to their respective numbers in the population.  It “makes the strong assumption that White and Black civilians have equal exposure to these situations that result in FOIS [Fatal-Officer-Involve-Shootings].”

They don’t. 

And when, since “the majority of FOIS involve armed civilians,” researchers have used “race-specific violent crime as a benchmark,” “anti-Black disparities in FOIS disappear or even reverse” (emphasis added).  (A select sample of literature substantiating this point can be found here, here, here, and here.)

So, when measured according to race-specific violent crime, there are not only no “anti-Black disparities;” whites of the same description are fatally shot by police at a disproportionately higher rate.

White police officers are most emphatically not roaming the countryside in search of unassuming black people to kill.

Even among the four officers involved in the death of George Floyd, half were “people of color.” J. Alexander Keung looks like he may even be a light-complexioned black person.

The point, though, is that even the story of the hour, that which has been rendered into a worldwide symbol of the anti-black “racism” of America’s police forces, has cracks in it as half of the officers charged with this alleged act of “racism” are not white.

Yet regardless of the truth, most people will continue to inhabit Plato’s Cave of darkness. As always, and admittedly for different reasons, they prefer the comfort of the Matrix to the hardiness of reality.

* * *

Photo credit: 4edges at Wikimedia Commons

Share