Don’t facilitate a bad decision

By From page A8 | September 07, 2014

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The main reason to dispose of the Davis Police Department’s “tank” has not so much to do with Landy Black, the police chief, or the specific members of the Police Department.

It has mostly to do with the fact that members of the department, leadership and “foot soldiers” are human beings. Even in the best of circumstances, humans are as likely to make the wrong decision as they are the right decision. In crisis situations, the likelihood of making the right decision diminishes by geometric proportions. We hold falsely to the belief that good people can be depended upon to make the right decision, period.
While there are lots of reasons to not valorize the founders of the United States, they can be credited with a foundational distrust of each other and of humans in positions of power. It is from this historically based and visceral mistrust that the separation of powers concept derives.

And more importantly, they were averse to the concentration of military power. This deep skepticism as to the power of the “military industrial complex” was articulated by none other than an illustrious former general — President Eisenhower. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren assayed as much in his book, “A Republic if You Can Keep It.”

In his book, “The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil,” professor Philip Zimbardo, based on empirical experiments, demonstrates how under propitiating circumstances, otherwise normal, moral persons commit what even they would have regarded as atrocities.

Thus, My Lai, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were not the products of human beings who were moral outliers. They were fairly ordinary people who submitted to enabling circumstances to commit moral atrocities.
Hence, the best way to protect the police may be to not put them into situations where the normal “fight or flight” human response to perceived physical or psychological danger may precipitate a wrong decision. Moreover, popular culture has, in video games, movies and television programs, normalized violence. Police recruits and the population at large are not immune to their effects.

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Desmond Jolly


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