Sunday, February 07, 2016

Police videos and Gospel harmonization

The issue of Gospel harmonization is sometimes cast in terms of photographic realism. In that regard, videos of police shootings are a useful way to illustrate the strengths and limitations of that paradigm.

Sometimes a police video shows you all you need to know about the shooting. It shows you enough to judge whether the policeman was in the right or in the wrong. Whether the suspect was offending party or the offended party.

But police videos can be misleading. They may not show enough. Take an off-duty cop shooting an armed civilian. All the camera depicts is two armed men in plain clothes. You can't tell from that who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. The civilian might be a schoolyard sniper. 

Sometimes this is a spatial limitation. They may show the action of the policeman rather than the suspect, or the action of the suspect rather than the policeman, rather than showing their interaction. They may show the incident from the policeman's angle, or from the suspect's angle, but not both.

Was the suspect charging the policeman when he was shot, or did the policeman shoot him in the back? And what was the alleged crime? 

Sometimes this is a temporal limitation. The video begins too late to give context. It fails to show what led up to the shooting. What did the suspect do or what did the policeman do before the cameras started rolling? A traffic violation? A mugging? 

Take a car chase. The police are in hot pursuit. Is this a joy ride? A child abduction? A fleeing bank robber? 

Moreover, even if you have complete footage, there are things a camera can't show that may be crucial to the interpretation of the actions.

Did the suspect have a rap sheet? If so, what were his priors? Was he a violent career criminal? What did the dispatcher tell the police? Did they know what they were walking into? Sometimes police walk into an ambush. 

Conversely, does the policeman have history of complaints? Formal reprimands in his file? Out of court settlements? Did the police dept. cover up for past wrongdoing? Was a policeman a juvenile offender whose court records were sealed? Some police are crooks with badges (a la Serpico). 

Suppose the suspect brandishes a gun. What's his mental state? Is he psychotic? Is he high on drugs? Even if he's in a state of diminished responsibility, he's just as dangerous to the general public or the police. 

Suppose the suspect brandishes a toy gun. But the police can't tell the difference from that distance. So they must make a snap judgment.

Did the suspect reach into his pocket? You can't tell if he has a gun in his pocket. And he can shoot straight through the pocket. 

Situations like that are like pulling the ring of a grenade. Once you do that, the remaining options are limited.

The point of this extended illustration is that a verbal eyewitness be ambiguous or misleading without sufficient context. An account that simply describes what an observer could see or hear may be unintentionally deceptive, for the correct interpretation of the event requires additional information. 

An interpretive account can be more accurate than a barebones description, because the reader may need supplementary information to understand what happened. 

1 comment:

  1. Because of all these extenuating circumstances and opposing situations I find the TV Program "Bluebloods" fascinating, because they quite often treat these subjects in some depth and realism. With Tom Selleck being a rather conservative 2nd amendment supporter its heartening to see the writers apparently taking cues from his worldview. Many of the situations seem to be framed correctly (in my view), rather than the knee jerk liberal PC think that is so commonly regurgitated by traditional hollywood screen writers. I wish there were more programs like Bluebloods because the next generation of voters gets most of their opinions from media. This program is taking advantage of a prime method of educating citizens. We need more conservative (preferably Christian) screenwriters filling the airwaves with truth.