Thursday, July 30, 2009

Officially Speaking

Why do we as Americans place so much faith in the "official account" of events?

Without a doubt, every American citizen believes government officials in all capacities lie. If you're a conservative, the liberals lie. If you're a liberal, the conservatives lie. If you're a regular citizen who has liberal and conservative leanings, everybody and they momma lies.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, believes public officials tell the truth all the time.

Yet, when controversies emerge, particularly those involving matters of race, I see folks rush to embrace the "official account." Of course, the most recent example of this was the Skip Gates incident, but there are so many more examples: Oscar Grant's murder, the case of the Atlanta grandmother, the abuses of that Tulia, Texas police officer. It doesn't even have to be about race. What about the Bush account of Sadaam Hussein's war chest, or the military account of Pat Tillman's death?

It's a paradox. Many, many Americans would claim not to trust the government, or to have mixed views about law enforcement, but when controversy erupts, those are the people they wholeheartedly trust. Americans cling to the "official account" like Titanic passengers clung to the hulls of their lifeboats.

All while the big ship continues to sink.

Why do so many of us have so much faith in the official account? I was struck by how readily people assumed that the facts in the Cambridge police department's report were what actually happened that day, even as several other accounts of the events were released. In fact, even as portions of the report have been debunked, people are still giving the officer the benefit of the doubt.

This is despite the fact that his own police department refused to pursue the arrest he so "lawfully" made. That means that either the arrest was a bad bust, or the police department threw out a good arrest to appease a Harvard professor and his supporters.

Troubling thought, ain't it?

I've decided that people trust the official report for many of the same reasons Christians trust the Bible. Everyone wants to feel like there is something in the world that is true and pure and infallible. For some folks it's the word of God, for others it's the reports filed by Officer Friendly or the Secretary of Defense.

While I understand the impulse, it seems idiotic when it comes to fallible, flawed human beings. Why trust people who place themselves on a pedestal when it is convenient, only to be asked to be treated like everyone else when the going gets tough? At least with God you have consistency, with authority figures you have track record of deception. How can you truly trust the word and oaths of people who would stoop to something like this?

Officially speaking, that is.



Deacon Blue said...

Big Man, don't go shaking my faith in the system thing you know, you'll be telling me FOX News is neither fair nor balanced...

LisaMJ said...

Haaa- Deacon is funny.
Lisa J

The Witty Mulatto said...

CNN -- the most trusted name in the news!

Whenever I see an "official account", I start from the assumption that everything's a lie and try to find little bits of truth, instead of trying to find lies in something that's overall true.

But I have a hard time doing that. I have to consciously stop and say, "Okay. Before you read this, know that it's probably a lie."

I don't know why we believe official accounts. I think a lot of people who should know better think that deep down, the cops (and the government) really do have the greater good at heart; they're just misled.

I was a military child. I was definitely told that cops were my friends. It didn't take me long to disillusion myself once I got older, but I think there's still some of that lingering in my subconscious.

The Witty Mulatto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Big Man said...


I had a conversation with my pops that really drove home this point after I'd written this blog. He was talking about that Gates thing, and his argument was that both folks were wrong. He said "That professor probably got all full of himself and he knew he shouldn't have said nothing about that cop's mother."


This was a teaching moment, even though my pops rejected my instruction. I explained to him that his view that Gates behaved inappropriately was based solely on what the police report said Gates did. Nothing else. I pointed out that the police report had been changed by the police, and I noted that it had been challenged be several folks, including the neighbor who called the cops.

So, why was he assuming that Gates behaved the way he had behaved, even thought he knew that the police are notorious liars?

Because it was in the police report. It's amazing that folks who don't have much confidence in cops, still believe what they write on paper.

Imhotep said...

Big man, I find it fascinating that your father being a Black man from the south would put stock in a police report. Especially when the arresting officer is white, who established that there was no criminal activity taking place on the premisis, but decided to take the brother in (out of his home) for disorderly conduct.

It is alleged that the professor said "yo Mamma" to the policeman. I was not there, but I just don't see a professor using that quotation. I would like to believe that the professor would have used language and words consistent with his position to establish his intellectual superiority. The term "yo mamma" is not such a term and is stereotypically attached to black men, regardless of depth of their vocabulary.

I believe most people will align themselves with whichever "official" report serve their purpose. In the case of white folks (many) they will readily accept the report of misbehaving Black folks. They will point to FBI or DOJ crime statistic to support their position. But show them stats about discriminatory lending, or arrest and sentencing discrepancy between whites and Blacks, and they will call YOU racist, and deny the accuracy of said statistic.

For sure, I will never rely on the police report, especially when Black men are involved.

MODI said...

I suppose the official report is only useful in what we can determine that both parties agree with. And if some parts can be disproven, it puts the credibility of the entire report at stake.

temple3 said...

It had occurred to me that folks tend to seek corroboration for what they already believe.

In other words, liberals reach for official reports when they're written by liberals. Conservatives do the same thing when the reports are written by conservatives -- and people who are inclined or predisposed to accept the "word" of the police will look for a police report.

Gates' comments through his lawyers was just as official in that if Gates sues, that report could be used as evidence in the case. The report by the lawyer was said to reflect his clients immediate response to the issues at hand.

So, beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- as it always is.

Raving Black Lunatic