The Most Ordinary Risks
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-23 23:30

We had one day yesterday with nice enough air to go outside for awhile, and one day yesterday with normal enough news to be able to focus our thoughts on baseball alone for a change.

But that didn’t last long, for this afternoon news came out of Louisville that nobody would be indicted for killing Breonna Taylor, only for “wanton endangerment” by shooting into the walls of the neighbors.

I don’t know that I expected anything else. It is nearly impossible to prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt with police officers, particularly when there’s no video of the incident. So there are rarely any consequences for these acts of, at worst, malice, and at a minimum, pure incompetence. So the show keeps going on. It’s infuriating.

In my opinion, there needs to be something between a murder charge and innocence, something more easily provable like “deadly incompetence” or something, where if police officers screw up and people die or get seriously hurt, they at least lose their jobs and never get it back. Otherwise, trust in the police will keep eroding to the point it becomes impossible for them to be effective.

And what does it even mean for police to be “effective” anyway? What is their mission? That’s where I think my political philosophy as I wrote in The Quick Start Guide to Human Society™, of “give people freedom in an environment of trust” can come in handy. If you view the job of the police to preserve order, then you give them a lot of power to rein in “bad guys” enforce the status quo, at the risk of allowing that power to be abused. If you view the police as an instrument of unjust hierarchies, then you want to remove their power to remove the status quo, at the risk of the chaos of lawlessness.

But if you look at the mission of the police as being there to create, defend and preserve trust, so that freedom can work its magic, then you can measure their effectiveness on a different scale. You wouldn’t measure them on crime rates, or on their abuses. You’d measure and incentivize the police on how much the society they serve trusts them and their fellow citizens in that society. If they fail to stop and prevent crime, they’ll also lose trust among the citizens they serve. But if in doing so, the police unjustly target and persecute a group of people, they will lose trust among that group of people. Right now, many police departments across the country don’t seem to care that they aren’t trusted by minority groups. They don’t care about trust because they don’t view trust as their mission, they see catching bad guys as their mission.

That’s another example of the Data/Human Goal Gap I once wrote about. If you measure yourself on catching bad guys, but your real goal is to create trust, you will start out increasing trust as you catch more bad guys, but eventually the trajectory your mismatched measurement takes you on will make you shoot past your optimal point, and you’ll suddenly find yourself decreasing trust even as you improve your crime measurements.

Anyway, that’s my two cents, which I kept to myself all afternoon as these events were unfolding. There are far more important voices than mine on these matters who deserve the airspace. People who are more directly affected than I am. People who are angry, upset, outraged, and rightly so. But this is a diary of sorts of these strange times, so I don’t want to leave it unaddressed, either. It’s what’s been going on in my head as these events unfold.

As I watched the A’s-Dodgers game last night, which the A’s won 6-4 thanks to some late inning heroics by Ramón Laureano, and these thoughts floated through my mind, I had one eye on my Twitter feed trying to figure out what was going on with the Breonna Taylor protests in Downtown Oakland. My two oldest kids happened to be visiting someone in Oakland, and I was supposed to be picking them up at some point that evening. But that can be difficult if the protests are happening near the police station, which just happens to be quite near where the tunnel between Alameda and Oakland empties out. I didn’t want to get stuck in that tunnel if protesters decided to shut down all the streets in that area. I didn’t want to be in the middle of all that if people were really angry.

In the end, it turned out that the protest kind of fizzled after 10pm, and someone else was able to give my kids a ride home, and nobody ran into any inconvenient traffic holdups.

But whether or not we actually got stuck in traffic is not the point. One of the purposes of those protests is to inconvenience people like me, a person can usually ordinarily go about his life without even thinking that an ordinary act of being in one place or going to another place contains any sort of risk at all, while more oppressed people, on a daily basis, have to consider the risks of even the most ordinary acts of human behavior. For me, I had to think about those risks on one particular evening. For others, those risks have to be considered all the time. Even when you’re lying in bed in your own home, like Breonna Taylor was.

Nobody should have to think that way. Everyone deserves an environment of trust, where they can live without calculating that even the simplest of decisions may be too risky, where they can do what they truly want to do with their freedom, even if it’s something as simple as sitting in their homes and watching baseball, and to do so without worry and fear, in peace.

This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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