Distrust

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Some house cleaning: I have removed the old Table of Contents and replaced it with an up-to-date Table Of Contents Page.


I have a relative who is a paramedic (working out of state) who responded to a call involving an unresponsive Black toddler about six months ago. When the medics arrived at the house they were let in by the patient’s family members. All had gathered around a mother who was sitting on the floor, cradling her child.

She just sat there staring into space, refusing to acknowledge the medics, and answer their questions. Most importantly, she was failing to give her consent for treatment. After numerous attempts, one of the medics pleaded, “Ma’am, you have to talk to me.”

She gritted her teeth, refused to look at him, and defiantly growled under her breath, “No, I don’t…”

With the child still in danger and no sign that the situation was going to improve, one of the medics informed her that if she didn’t respond to his questions, they were going to have to call the police. At that point, one of the family members in the background blurted out, “If that’s how it’s gonna be, y’all can just go.”

After a few more tense moments, the mother relented and they were able to treat the child who it turned out was not really unresponsive in the traditional sense (not breathing/no pulse) but in the middle of some type of early onset epileptic issue. Of course, they didn’t know that until the mother finally allowed them to check her child.

The whole incident disturbed my relative who spoke about the events from a perspective of equal parts understanding and confusion. On one hand, he intuitively understood that members of the Black community are suspicious of White people in emergency service roles (not just police), but on the other he couldn’t get his head around the idea that she was willing to risk harm to her child simply in the pursuit of some bigger nebulous brinksmanship point. The attitude of the adjacent family members to the police threat added to his head scratching cementing the notion that the events he was witnessing were not the isolated perspectives of a single misguided individual.

In the St. Louis Area specifically, the Post Dispatch has published a number of articles even extending the distrust concept to firemen and teachers.

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/firefighters-in-st-louis-county-do-not-look-like-those/article_c88dba68-c22a-54e1-9dc4-8b45586e50b0.html

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/ferguson-commission-hears-from-youth/article_42fc9f10-bd74-52ce-9f23-b1c6d93743a2.html

There is a common thread here representative of an overall distrust of white people in general. You can argue whether or not this is a justified fear or, failing that, a fear based upon historical justifications, but it is clearly racially motivated and not based upon content of character conclusions.

What’s more, those advocating this distrust cannot even argue that there exists a typical mindset for those taking positions in the minority community when they find distrust in jobs as different as policing and teaching. The community roles and basic expectations of both positions are not even comparable. No one would ever argue that the people drawn toward policing would share a similar general personality to those drawn to teaching. Therefore, the only concept that remains while excluding personality predilections is race.

Ironically, while there is a tendency toward fearing covert racists infiltrating black communities to do harm, the most racist people tend to move to areas away from the groups they hate in order to minimize their interactions. Similarly, this is a cited trend in the St. Louis region based concept of “White Flight.” As one theory posits, White People didn’t like the diversification of their neighborhoods in the late 70’s through the early 90’s, so they began moving westward further and further out into the West County area and now St. Charles.

It’s interesting then that the Black community assumes that racist White people, who supposedly fled these communities because of hatred, would then in turn want to spend the majority of their time not only going back into the Black community but doing so in service roles where interaction is not only regular but essential to basic job performance. That’s setting aside consideration for the lack of pay in many of these same areas.

Some would counter that racist people take service related jobs in a covert effort to use positions of authority and power against groups that they despise (particularly with police). I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen, but it seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of typical racist behavior.

Some would counter that the proof of this phenomenon is the lack of officers who live in the communities they serve, but, speaking from personal experience, I would point out that this is more of a safety and comfort concern than race related. Running into people you’ve arrested or have cases pending against in the grocery store is not fun and has nothing to do with the race of the arrestee. Now imagine running into these same individuals while with your family. It follows that in areas of high crime, most of the police regardless of race and with the financial ability to do so, will move to another venue.

White police, medics, firemen, and teachers should not be presumed to intend harm to the Black community. For most, it’s a way of giving back and helping those less fortunate. Risking assault or worse as a police officer in a neighborhood where the community doesn’t look like you and consequently distrusts you simply because of your race is a noble pursuit. Teaching young children to read in school districts who are being slow-bled by corrupt administrators is honorable. Trying to save an unresponsive toddler’s life in spite of her mother’s short sighted defiance is also supremely admirable.

Furthermore, when you treat your service oriented employees poorly as a community, you lose the moral high-ground to argue about their quality. When these people are abused, why is the response always some variation of “You can always quit”? Why is the response not a condemnation about maltreatment regardless of race, regardless of occupation? Why must honorable pursuits be discouraged simply because some groups would rather make assumptions simply based upon supposed intangible omnipresent racial qualities?

How many self-fulfilling prophecies could be avoided on all sides simply from ditching preconceived expectations not just in reference to race but in all matters?
WS

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4 thoughts on “Distrust

  1. So if more blacks became fire fighters, paramedics, and teachers, would it make that much difference? The recent Freddie Gray situation resulted in a lot of looting, rioting, and arson, despite the fact that the mayor, police chief, and 50% of the police force (no word on fire fighters and paramedics) in Baltimore are black.

    Then there was the black police sergeant in Ferguson who stood on the line with all the other officers (many of whom were white) and took insults and racial slurs (he told about this in a Post Dispatch article some months ago).

    The racial stereotyping and resultant prejudice and fear, judging by this post, are very strong on both sides of the racial divide, although, I noticed that the paramedics in this case (white men) were devoted to helping this child, even in the face of such resistance. It takes a lot of character to stay with it when one is obviously not welcome.

    As for “you can always quit”, the people in these largely minority areas would be in a world of hurt if that actually happened, since it seems that it’s difficult to recruit blacks to fill these positions in large numbers.

    I personally know two firefighter/paramedics, one from a small town nearby, another who immigrated from a foreign country. The latter showed me the text he was studying to qualify for paramedic–it was a thick book loaded with information he needed to know to qualify.

    A few years ago, I worked at a company who brought in a paramedic to teach first aid. In the course of the discussion, it became clear that this gentleman knew a lot about medical issues–a lot more than just first aid.

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  2. I guess if I put it into the perspective that black people fear police officers as much as the white people fear young black men, I can understand how they feel. So do they fear other black males as much as the police?

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  3. “Risking assault or worse as a police officer in a neighborhood where the community doesn’t look like you and consequently distrusts you simply because of your race is a noble pursuit.”

    Agreed.

    I am less sold on your teacher argument – teaching in an inner city school is a noble pursuit in the sense that the teacher is trying to help, but to my mind that time would be better spent lobbying for a voucher system. I have a lot more faith that the Baltimore cops are actively improving people’s lives than I do in the Baltimore school system doing much good. Policies that keep violent kids in school, no matter what, disrupt education for everybody.

    “Running into people you’ve arrested or have cases pending against in the grocery store is not fun and has nothing to do with the race of the arrestee.”

    Heh. Now that is a perspective I have never considered, and a salient point, IMHO.

    I am opposed to the whole, “our cops should live in our neighborhood” argument because it seems to result in a lower-quality police force. Studies indicate that, but so does simple logic. Anytime you limit the pool of potential applicants, you’re going to have a smaller number of quality applicants. Plus a good cop is going to have a deep respect for the law, meaning he’s going to favor law-abiding neighborhoods even at some cost to himself; being required to plonk their family down in a dangerous neighborhood means that most of the best cops will never apply.

    “she was willing to risk harm to her child simply in the pursuit of some bigger nebulous brinksmanship point”

    That’s your relative’s perspective, but from her perspective, she may have been struggling to trust someone she’d been told her whole life was part of a plot to torment or exterminate her race. Lots of black people (including plenty who ought to know better) sincerely believe that white people commit crimes at the same rate as black people, but only black people go to jail for it. Lots of black people sincerely believe that AIDS is a plot by the white man (i.e., government) to eliminate black people; gays and other white people are considered collateral damage. And so on.

    While I think such conspiracy theories are stupid, studies indicate it is black people who have dealt with serious prejudice in their own life who believe them. Hate is grounded in fear, and that fear may be justified even when aimed in the total wrong direction. If she truly believed that whites are determined to wipe her people out, but just won’t admit it, and especially if she’d had bad experiences with white racists, then handing her baby over to a white EMT, even if she felt she have no other option, would not be an easy thing to do.

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  4. On the subject of community distrust — a cop posted to Reddit complaining about having to go calls pretty clearly based on racism. One of the responses:

    ptanaka 3 points 2 days ago
    Dear LEO’s…
    I just want to say, I’m REALLY SORRY.
    There are so many good cops and apparently quite a few BAD people.
    As a person of color, it wasn’t until I read this thread (it has been picked up by a minor wire and it’s going low-grade viral) that I realized you good ones have your lives – and your careers – put at risk by ordinary, bad racist CITIZENS.
    I’m truly sorry!

    In the so-called “cultural conversation on race,” most of what I see is people yelling at cops for being racist. It’s nice to see cops getting to have a say and, more importantly, being listened to sometimes. In David Kennedy’s “Don’t Shoot” (written long before Michael Brown), he talks about how difficult it is to get the police and the people in black communities to talk — he tends to focus on how shocked people are by their own and the other side’s misperceptions, but I think the important part is people realizing that their “opponents” were often acting reasonably, or at least, that they have reasons for acting as they do that the other side hadn’t considered.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/ProtectAndServe/comments/34zwuw/people_please_stop_making_my_job_so_difficult/?limit=500

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