Sunday, July 10, 2016

"Targeted" in America

Some groups in America think they’re targets. They have reason to think that.

Young black males think they’re targets.

There are statistics to back up their thinking. The rate of young black men (age 16-34) killed by police officers in 2015 was more than five times that of white men in that age range. About 25% of blacks killed by police were unarmed, compared with 17% of whites. Economist Sendhil Mullainathan has made a good case that the higher rate at which blacks die at the hands of police is as much, or even more, about unjust economic policies and structures as about racism.

Police officers think they’re targets. As in the case of young black men, some statistics support their thinking. Twenty-six officers have been shot and killed so far in 2016, which is up from eighteen at the same time last year, a 44% increase. Someone has ambushed police officers eleven times this year, up from eight at this point in 2015. The recent sniper attack on Dallas police officers reminds us of the dangers law enforcement officials face.

I’m not a young black man. I’m not a police officer. I’m a white, middle class, Christian, heterosexual writer, editor, and preacher.

You’d think I’d be nobody’s target. That’s what I think.

I’ve noticed, though, that some people who would describe themselves with the same terms I use to describe myself do think they’re targets.

Lots of people who fall into my general demographic think they’re the targets of society and culture. They think that the nation and the world are developing in ways that will lessen their heretofore privileged status.

They’re more or less correct about that, and they (we) might as well embrace the new situation and learn to thrive within it. In the long run, the country and the world will be better with its new situation. We can make that so by enthusiastically seeking and responsibly filling our place in the developing new order rather than kicking and screaming against the changes that are in the process of happening.

Some people who fall into my general categories also think they’re the targets of their government. I’ve heard several of them say that’s one of the main reasons they are adamant about the broadest possible interpretation of the second amendment: they need to be as fully armed as possible in case they need to defend themselves against their own government.

I’ll offer the passing observation that, if the government ever sends its planes, missiles, and drones against you, all the semi-automatic rifles in the world aren’t going to help you much.

It bothers me that folks worry that their own government really poses that kind of threat.

I’ve noticed that such thinking seems to have increased with the Obama presidency.

Maybe it was always there, and the various social media platforms have just brought it more out into the open. Still, I didn’t hear Americans talk about feeling threatened by their government before 2008.

Some people’s attitudes toward President Obama are fueled by racism, but I don’t think that’s the case with the people I’m talking about. Their fears are driven more by what they perceive to be his perspectives and policies, especially what they regard as his emphasis on “big government.” And they figure that, since one of the banners under which Secretary Clinton is running is “Secure President Obama’s Legacy,” they’re probably about to face four or eight years more of the same.

I think such fears are way out of line with reality. But okay. If that’s how you feel, then fine.

I will offer another passing observation: I didn’t worry that the government was likely to come after me when more right-wing, potentially despotic, ready and willing to limit civil liberties administrations were in place.

I guess I just have that kind of naïve trust in the American people and in the United States Constitution. As one who came of age in the 1970s, I figure that if we can survive Watergate, we can survive anything.

Here’s my point: thinking you’re a target makes you think and act like a target. And thinking and acting like a target makes you think and act defensively. And thinking and acting defensively makes it even more likely that something bad is going to happen.

So if you’re not really a target, it’s to your advantage—and to everyone else’s—for you not to think and act like you are.

Now, there are people among us who need to be on their guard. Others of us—well, maybe not so much.

Lots of things will help us find our way out of the situation we’re in.

One thing that will surely help is for those of us who are not at any great risk not to be unreasonably afraid.

Of course, having said all of this, I guess I’ll be looking over my shoulder now …

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