Thursday, June 10, 2021

Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, And Reality

Four months after the murder of George Floyd, Jasmine Vaughn-Hall, whose parents and stepparents all were police officers, in an opinion piece in the York (Pa.) Daily Record wrote

Ironically, even though I am proud of what my parents did for a living, I cannot get on board with the Blue Lives Matter signs I see protruding from grassy lawns. That phrase has evolved into a defensive jab at Black Lives Matters. And some people who refuse to acknowledge their racial biases use the slogan to falsely affiliate themselves with patriotism.

That was, and dangerously, remains the narrative- black lives matter or blue lives matter.  Opponents of the black lives matter movement (or of Black Lives Matter, logically a larger group) were steadfastly pro-police in the face of criticism of common tactics employed against blacks.

While black lives matter activists and their supporters would not deny that police misconduct sometimes extends to non-black individuals, their emphasis, enthusiasm, and energy (it's alliteration day!) have been constantly and consistently focused on racial bias in policing.

Obviously, we muct condemn racist police or racist law enforcement policies or instead support local police wholeheartedly because there never could be any abuse by police which is not racially- motivated.

Guess again. We now learn 

An Arkansas woman is suing an Arkansas State Police officer who she says "negligently performed" a Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT) maneuver that resulted in her car flipping over on the highway at 60 miles per hour in July 2020.

Nicole Harper, who was pregnant at the time, was clocked going 84 mph in a 70 mph zone last summer, according to the lawsuit. Within seconds of Arkansas State Police Officer Rodney Dunn turning on his patrol cruiser's overhead lights, Harper pulled over to the right lane, turned on her emergency blinkers, and slowed to 60 mph.

She was "unable to safely stop her vehicle on the right or left shoulder due to concrete barriers and a reduced shoulder being on both sides of the road… leaving [her] with no room to safely pull over her car," the lawsuit states....

Dashcam video of the incident shows that about two minutes after turning on his lights, Dunn hit the pregnant mother's back left bumper, sending her car crashing into a concrete barrier and flipping over.

"I thought it would be safer to wait until the exit," Harper can be heard telling Dunn while upside down in her car.

"No ma'am, you should pull over when law enforcement stops you," Dunn replied as he tried to help Harper out of the car. "We call that a PIT maneuver. When people flee from us… that's what happens."

"I wasn't fleeing," Harper responded.

Dunn charged Harper with failure to yield to an emergency vehicle.

The police officer wanted Ms. Harper to yield by pulling over a little closer to the shoulder, which would have left a healthy (unhealthy) portion of her car still in the roadway, in the right lane.  If she had done so, a motorist traveling- legally- in the right lane could have slammed into the police car, which then would have slammed into Harper's car.  Apparently, that would not be unprecedented because

A FOX16 investigation last month revealed that PIT maneuvers are increasingly being used by the Arkansas State Police. Between January 2017 and December 2020, PIT maneuvers were used 306 times, with half of those happening in 2020, according to the local news outlet.

At least 30 people have died and hundreds more have been injured since 2016 from PIT maneuvers, according to The Washington Post. Eighteen of those deaths occurred after police attempted to stop a person for speeding or another minor traffic violation.

Evidently, Harper also was complying with guidance from Arkansas State Police when she responded, she maintains, as

she learned to do in driver's education when being stopped by a police officer.

"Pull over to the right side of the road – activate your turn signal or emergency flashers to indicate to the officer that you are seeking a safe place to stop," the Arkansas Driver License Study Guide reads.

Thus, Arkansas state police  have been routinely conducting a dangerous maneuver against motorists of all ethnic groups.  If the driver acts according to the advice the state police itself gives in its study guide, he or she receives a motor vehicle summons. Endanger your life or be charged.

Ms. Harper is white, a fact omitted from all the reports I've read of the incident.

A year ago, reporting the race of an individual in an altercation with a police officer would have been superflous at best. But the world- or at least the perception of law enforcement in this country- has changed since then. The premise of Vaughn-Hall's article, as with so much of punditry, straight news reporting, and resulting popular opinion is either that police are actively involved in reinforcing institutions of white supremacy- or can do no wrong.

And then you have PIT maneuvers in Arkansas. There likely are very few police organizations in the nation which follow a similar procedure. But we don't know, or at least haven't known until now. And in other states there undoubtedly are unwise practices which, like PIT maneuvers, do not discriminate.

However, these don't fit our narrative. They don't fit the narrative that police perform a very difficult job punctuated by random- or worse yet, regular and pervasive- acts of brutality motivated by racial bias. If news outlets cared to look beyond the "black lives matter" or "blue lives matter" slogans, they probably would find a reality that would shatter their preconceived notions.

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