Nationalism and Police Brutality: The Deafening Sound of Ignorance

“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established… It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world.  The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”

– Mirza Husayn Ali (1817 – 1892)

Nationalism and Police Brutality: The Deafening Sound of Ignorance

From false patriotism to allegations of police brutality, nationalism is deeply a part of today’s American political commentary and those with opinions on either side attempt to silence the other.  In my attempts to observe and research, I’ve only come to the conclusion that these attempts to silence are actually just the deafening sound of ignorance, touted by those who are bound and blinded by their own political identity.

As is the case for the past few decades or perhaps longer, the American people divide themselves quite willingly into two sides.  Those who proclaim to be patriotic and acknowledge no legitimate errs in the American way, and those who point out the ills of American policy and procedure.

When I enlisted in the Marine Corps ten years ago, I didn’t do so because I wanted the government to pay for my college education, I didn’t do it because I thought it would be a good time, nor even because I wanted to serve my country.  I didn’t swear that oath because I wanted to be congratulated or because I wanted people to shake my hand and say thanks.  I swore my oath in the belief that it was the best way for me to serve a purpose in life far greater than myself.

The Oath of Enlistment has had a few revisions over the centuries.  On June 14, 1775, the then Continental Congress approved the oath to read:

“I _____ have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier, in the American continental army, for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the said Army.”

On September 20, 1776, it was revised again to:

“I _____ swear (or affirm as the case may be) to be trued to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress, and the orders of the Generals and officers set over me by them.”

On September 29, 1789, the oath was changed again, this time under the Constitution and was split into two separate statements to read:

“I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the constitution of the United States.”

“I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”

In 1960 an amendment changed the oath for the last time, to include a statement on God.  This infiltration of religiosity, was common between 1940 and 1960 as a part of anti-communist propaganda.  Such statements found their way into the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as on all American currency.  Rendered effective as of 1962, the oath now reads:

“I, (______________), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

The reality is our nation’s sense of patriotism has long been poisoned by political statements and propaganda, culminating in vitriol nationalism.  Identity politics now frames our political landscape and is our nation’s newest form patriotic subjugation.

Nationalism, the zealous pride in one’s nation of origins and a belief in its superiority, is now a tool used by political entities to attain agendas.  The American people in this way are puppets, being pulled in one direction or another based on the desires of the players on the political field, and we unfortunately and mistakenly believe this to be representative democracy.

Though touted as the pinnacle of a patriot, nationalism is far from the purity it is often rendered and is not the same as patriotism.  Instead it is often used as a weapon for political or even ethnic statements that divide rather than unite.

We now live in globalized interconnected communities.  The events that take place halfway around the world, now quickly impact every other nation invested in it, whether that be economically or politically.  Natural resources through sales, traded goods through import and export, cooperation in international infrastructure, international travel, political alliances and peace-keeping, all of these things affect every global community involved.

Nationalism has not only impacted American politics and the way in which the United States interacts with the international community, but it has also found its way into the personal lives of American citizens and alters the way in which they see their neighbors and how they approach controversial topics.

One of those topics is police brutality.  With both civilians being shot by police and police being killed by civilians, these incidents find their way onto the front page of any city’s newspaper and the headline news on any network.  While not true for all Americans, many U.S. citizens are divided into two camps; one side arguing that the militarization of police forces since September 11, 2001 and racial discrimination have both led to a rise in the use of extreme force and thus police brutality, and the other side arguing that a rise in civilian hostility, disrespect, and resistance to cooperation with police has led to an increase in violent conflicts between police officers and civilians.

So what’s true here?  Which side is right about what’s happening?  From what I can tell, both are right and both are wrong.  This topic is far more complicated than most American’s are willing to think about.  British philosopher Bertrand Russell put it beautifully, “Most people would rather die than think, in fact, they do so.”

Emotional responses are the key factor in how Americans chose to view a topic, which is the absolute worst way to draw any conclusion on any topic.  Emotions are intended for personal relationships between people, and it is there that those emotions should remain.  Bringing emotions into topics such as politics and social order, is both disingenuous and unintelligent.  How you feel about a topic does not determine truth or rationality, it only causes people to extrapolate false beliefs.

I’m going to give you an example of how an emotional response dilutes a person’s ability to discern between truth and bias opinion.  According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, and the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Washington Post, for every one police officer in the U.S. killed in a violent altercation with a civilian, 19 civilians have been shot by police.  So again that’s a ratio of one police officer killed for every 19 civilians shot.

Looking solely at that ratio, one quickly thinks that the statistics show that police kill more civilians than civilians kill officers.  So if you’re inclined to believe that police brutality is an endemic problem in America, then your bias opinion is supported by this data.

However, like all important issues, nothing can be explained so easily.  The first question you should have asked yourself when reading the data I provided above is “What about population?”  Yes, population matters, because there are far more civilians in the United States than there are police officers.  Let’s look at those numbers.

According to the U.S. government, there are some 325 million Americans and according to the Uniform Crime Reporting Program and the Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll, there were about 983,671 employees at police stations across the country in 2012.  It’s important to note that these reports looked at employees, and not strictly at those in uniform.  According to the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Report, there were 724,690 uniformed police officers serving across the country in 2013, the last time any source had access to this data.

The number of police officers in the United States has been steadily increasing.  In 1975 there were 411,000, in 1985 there were 470,678, in 1995 there were 586,756, and in 2005 there were 683,965.  That’s an average increase of 78,423 every ten years from 1975 to 2013.

Let’s look at the incidents involving civilian and police violence.  According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, an average of 50 police officers each year for the last four years (2013 – 2016) have been killed in violent altercations with civilians.  These deaths include shootings, knife attacks, beatings, and strangulations.

The Washington Post and The Guardian are currently the only known complete sources of data on how many people have been killed by the police.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation has stated that they do not keep track of this data other than what is voluntarily reported by police stations, which I find to be absurd and astounding.  Never the less, the politically left-leaning Washington Post keeps track of civilians shot by police based on police reports, public sources, and news reports.  On average in 2015 and 2016, there were 979 civilians shot by police each year.

As of September 6th, there have been 684 so far this year (2017), which is on track with the previous two year records.  The Washington Post also breaks down their data to include factors such as age, race, and gender of the civilian, if the civilian was known to have a mental illness, if the civilian had a weapon, if there was police body cam footage, etc.  You can access this data for 2017 and find links for the data from 2015 and 2016 at this link.

Now that we have our numbers lets take population into account.  If there were an average of 50 police officers killed by civilians each year from 2013 – 2016 and the average number of police officers serving from 2010 – 2013 is 719,853 then that equates to a percentage of 0.007% of police officers had been killed by civilians.

If the federal data is correct and there are roughly some 325 million Americans, and the Washington Post’s data of 979 civilians dying each year from being shot by police is accurate, then that equates to a percentage of 0.0003% of American civilians being shot by police.

According to these calculations you are more likely to die at the hands of a civilian if you are a police officer, than you are to die at the hands of a police officer if you are a civilian.

Unfortunately this isn’t everything you need to know.  The issue is yet even more complicated.  While half of all civilians who die at the hands of police are racially white and the other half a collective of racial minorities, when you take the demographics of population into account, you learn that African Americans are being shot and killed 2.5 times more frequently than white Americans.  Even though African Americans make up only 13% of the total U.S. population, they make up 26% of the people killed by police.

Things get even more complicated when you take into consideration that nearly 50% of all convicted murderers in the U.S. are African Americans, but are also much more likely to be the victims of violent crime than any other race, and also the victims of assailants of the same race (black on black violence).  African Americans, along with Hispanics, are more likely to be harassed and experience the use of force by police than white Americans.  This type of force includes firearms pointed at them, being handcuffed without arrest, being pepper-sprayed, hit with a baton, and tasered.

You can read a report on racial differences in the use of police force in this publication by Roland Fryer Jr., a professor of Economics at Harvard University.

As you can see from the data provided that coming to any conclusion is difficult to do and that you cannot look at this issue or any other issue from just one side.  Nationalism is a distortion of the truth, a bias filter through which those with a political agenda see the nation and our social issues, as well as encourage others to see them.  There must come a day when the majority of Americans stop seeking confirmation bias and stop living in silos of political identity.  We all must become harbingers of evidential truth, see the nation and world as they truly are, set aside false beliefs, shake off delusions and biased opinions.

“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.” – Margaret Wheatley


This writing is available as an audio track on SoundCloud:

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About Kephen

I am a writer who happens to be a pantheist living in the heartland of America. I write about everything that interests me, from Zen Buddhism to depression and mental illness, society and civil rights to the LGBT community and the personal meanderings of my life. To learn more about me just check out my blog.
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