How to analyze the viral video of George Floyd…
By: Hayden Cunningham
Twitter. The defacto hub of social media. With over 330 million accounts, Twitter has created a place where information is shared among people from around the world. It is here that any viewpoint will be applauded and condemned. With that much power resting in the hands of one company, it inevitably leads to bias and conflict.
Twitter is a breeding ground for anecdotal evidence. It also encourages people to say things with the intention of being provocative. This is not just Twitter’s fault, this is the modern technological world we live in. When several occurrences of a certain event occur, people may draw the quick conclusion that there is a broader problem than there already is.
Take an example that was studied in Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s book The Coddling of the American mind. In the 1970’s, parents had a more loose style of parenting. Young children could walk home from school, play outside unsupervised, ride bicycles unsupervised, etc. But why is it that in 2020, a time where crime rates are significantly lower than the 1970s and communication technology has drastically improved, parents are more weary to have their kids be unsupervised? After all, between 2010 – 2017, fewer than 350 people under 21 were abducted by strangers in our country. There’s 74,000,000 children in the United States. Being abducted is a statistical anomaly.
In this example, the 0.004% chance your child has of getting abducted by a stranger is the statistical fact. So what’s the anecdotal? It’s television shows like America’s Most Wanted and The First 48. It’s social media postings when a poor parent has to suffer this tragic event and pleads with the public for help. It’s Amber alerts on our cell phones. People ignore the statistical facts and instead listen to their emotional responses like fear.
The polarization between anecdotal and statistical often plays a huge role in current events. People need to set aside their political ideology and understand that context, evidence, and fact are the most important things when assessing a situation. It’s not about being a democratic supporter or a republican supporter or a Trump supporter, it’s about being a truth supporter.
A more prevalent example of this is race relations in the United States. This can be a touchy issue, because people group up and take sides. There may be Republicans who think that their group must believe that police officers are all heroes and shouldn’t be criticized. There may be black Americans who think that every police officer is part of a systematically racist structure. Instead, everyone needs to be willing to sit back and search for truth, and not draw a conclusion until you find one.
Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Two black Americans that were brutally murdered innocently. But here’s the problem: two things can be true at once. Their murders were horrible and the murderers should spend the rest of their lives in prison. But at the same time, quick assumptions were drawn by the public.
Ahmaud Arbery was jumped by a former cop and his son in the middle of the street. The father and son were on the lookout for a suspect that robbed a house in the neighborhood. They saw Arbery, who they believed matched the description of the suspect. When an altercation occurred because Arbery saw them pull a shotgun on him, he fought for his life. They killed him in the middle of the street.
George Floyd was put into custody by an officer who proceeded to push him to the ground and put him into a choke hold with his knee. Floyd yelled out “I can’t breathe!” while the officer’s partner and witnesses watched him die. The choke-hold is even banned under the city’s police policy.
Neither one of these men deserved to die. But here’s the next point… and it’s one that just saying gets you dirty looks and accusations of being a horrible human: with the information we have as of right now, we do not know that either of these crimes were racially motivated. In both cases you seem to have the type of officer who is an aggressive, alpha-male, quick to violent man who should never have been an officer in the first place. But as of right now we have no reason to believe either of these men were murdered because they were black. Bad things happen in life to everybody regardless of race. This is such an important point because at this very moment, thousands of black men and women in this country are protesting, rioting, and looting. And they loot to the applaud of thousands on Twitter.
I’m not saying that these men weren’t being racist. I’m not saying there aren’t any racist officers in the country. I’m not saying that police brutality is not a problem. I’m saying that we do not have the facts yet over something that has occurred in the last 24 hours (George Floyd’s murder). In this event, like many, people draw quick conclusions and take action. The same thing happened with Trayvon Martin, the same thing happened with Michael Brown. People didn’t understand all the facts of what had occurred.
The video of Floyd’s murder went viral on Twitter. When I saw it, I was outraged. After all, what decent human being wouldn’t be? As a limited government person, I believe that we need more of an effort to get police reform. I am a strong advocate for body-cams on officers, a time limit on how long someone can serve on the force, doing away with police unions, and other police reform ideas that have been shared. His murder was unprovoked, unjustified, and given the information we currently know, it looks like that officer should spend the rest of his life in a prison cell. While this is true, there is no reason for black Americans to currently be looting grocery stores and setting businesses on fire. You don’t fight injustice with more injustice. And you don’t fight against police brutality by stealing a brand-new TV from Target. That makes you a bad person, that makes you a criminal. Blake Lives Matter organization needs to be called out for promoting this and bailing rioters out from prison.
While this is all true, there are some inconvenient facts about the crime rates in the black community. I have stated this before, and how it has became a large cultural issue in many communities. Statistical studies have continually showed that there is not a disproportional amount of black men being killed by white officers. This is not to say there are no instances of unjust treatment, but it shows that stating black communities are under attack everywhere they go in modern America is completely false. And again, that does not mean that black Americans are always to blame, or that officers are justified to commit unprovoked violence.
This brings us back to anecdotal versus statistical fact. As much as you may think it is, racism is not prevalent in America anymore. It’s not common to find someone who is explicitly racist anymore. And when someone is found being racist, a video or Tweet is uploaded to Twitter. When you see several occurrences of racism here and there, you may be more prone to believe that it’s a large-scale issue when it’s not. Then you have those who light the fire. Lebron James recently Tweeted out “We’re literally hunted everyday/everytime we go outside the comfort of our homes.” This is just absurd. There’s no statistical evidence to prove his words, or even the point he is trying to make, is true.
If a video on Twitter shows something horrible happening, let’s all agree that it’s horrible. But let’s not use a few separated, uncorrelated events and then hastily conclude that there’s a broad issue. This is important in any type of claim being made, not just race relations in America. When there’s enough evidence to prove someone is in the wrong, we condemn them and we move on.
Prioritizing statistical evidence does not mean you discredit feelings or emotion. We should never discredit someone who faces a hardship if statistics show it’s rare. We just need to seek truth. It’s not that you can’t talk about a subject unless you know every statistic, it’s that it would be wrong to make a broad assumption or state something as truth because of a personal experience, or because you’ve “heard that all the time.” And don’t automatically believe everything a person you have given authority to says. A blue check-mark on Twitter does not mean the individual is a well-intentioned person who seeks truth over confirmation of their own agenda.
“This is America!” No, it’s not. There’s no doubt that racism in American has drastically reduced since 1964. Finding someone who is explicitly racist is not very common. And to then counter-argue that “implicit racism,” or as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez puts it “subconscious racism” is common is just absurd. Those are subjective. A racial minority in America may have a bad experience with a white person and assume it was racism, when it wasn’t. That’s just how they chose to interpret the encounter. And if you think there is “systematic racism” in our country, why riot and protest BEFORE the system has a chance to seek justice? If our judicial system finds these police officers guilty and puts them in jail, then justice has been served. And yes, one innocent life lost is too many, and yes people should be angry. But to state that there is a broad system set up to push down racial minorities is unsubstantiated. To riot, loot, and destroy your own neighborhood as a response is just stupid.
Every person should seek for truth above all. Context matters, evidence and proof matters. In some cases, motive matters. And labeling your political opponents nasty names is not helpful. In all honestly, how many people in America do you think can watch that footage of George Floyd, and not think the cop is in the wrong?
Just because a black man is murdered by the cop, doesn’t mean it was racially motivated. Just because you think cops should be considered modern-day heroes doesn’t mean all of them are virtuous. Just because there are some racist incidents that still occur doesn’t mean that there is systematic racism in our country. Just because the Civil Rights act was almost 60 years ago doesn’t mean there are still some racial tensions in today’s society. Just because Donald Trump is president doesn’t mean that racism has increased (racially-motivated crime rates were the same today as they were a few years ago when there was a black president, a black attorney general, and a black justice on the supreme court).
Seek a greater understanding of how the world works and how people interact with each other. Don’t believe every tweet you see. Take the time to spend just a few minutes researching something a person (blue checkmark or not) tweeted before you decide to like or retweet it.
Most importantly, take a break from being angry, feeling like a victim, or forming your own oppressed tribe that “fights the power”. And when an act of evil occurs, it should be put online for people to see. But don’t retweet a story you see and form an opinion on it without any research and verifiable evidence and context. The sad truth is some people lie to push their agenda. Social media should be used to magnify the voices of victims. When a truly evil event occurs, let’s all stand today and condemn it. Then let’s find a proportional and reasonable response that makes the world a better place and unites people rather than divide them.