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04 December 2014

IGNORING SCIENCE AND PHYSIOLOGY IN FERGUSON

Each day, it seems, I read more and more terribly weak-minded and shoddy analyses of the tragic situation in Ferguson and across the country, and I'm shocked at the lack of critical thinking from so many writers featured in social media and blogging all the way to professional "journalists."

Am I the only one seeing clear and obvious links between biology and physiology and these ever-increasing tragedies that often seem so avoidable?

I certainly don't believe security cameras worn by police officers are the sole answer.

That type of top-down solution reminds me of the way legislators are always writing laws each time a new (and usually grotesque) or otherwise terrible crime has been committed. After the fact lawmakers feel compelled to protect us against future instances of that same crime by writing new laws, when in almost all cases there already are laws on the books addressing the issue one way or another. It's a false sense of security and a very public reminder that our politicians are actually doing something rather than nothing.

While the cameras may well provide more accurate accounts of what actually happens, as we've seen in NYC with the case of Eric Garner in Staten Island, video footage of his tragic death wasn't enough to deter any of the officers involved in the struggle which ended his life with a choke hold.

What people don't understand about Ferguson, Staten Island and so many similarly related cases of police violence against civilians, whether the civilians are in the process of committing a crime or not, is that we don't train police officers properly.

We need to look more at BIOLOGY and PHYSIOLOGY.

What we're experiencing isn't 1963 Birmingham--although some might argue what we have now is equally terrifying--but if one employs even a modicum of critical thinking, there have to be many more factors involved, rather than the simplest and most prevalent and time-tested explanation, drawing all ills back to racism in America.

What police need is YOGA, MEDITATION, or BIOFEEDBACK worked into their training.

References are provided in the links above regarding scientific evidence--and there is an awful lot of scientific evidence--numerous studies now exist to counteract what you were just thinking when I mentioned Yoga and law enforcement in the same sentence--that perhaps I'm a little out there?

I can assure you the benefits of such training are valid, easily accessible and low-cost and would go a long way toward making men and women far better police officers while also improving the quality of their lives and their overall health and well-being to boot.

Look at basic physiology: When your heart rate goes up to a certain number of beats per minute due to stress, whether physical, emotional or both, YOU ARE NOT CAPABLE OF REASONING, and you just RESPOND WITH MUSCLE MEMORY based on your training.

If cops could keep their heart rates lower during these interactions, and slow down the time, even if just in seconds or fractions of seconds, they'd be better able to discern what's really happening and act accordingly. Regular Yoga and meditation practices would accomplish this end--anyone who has ever done serious work in this area knows how much more centered, grounded and calm, even in the midst of a storm, this type of work can yield in terms of your attitudes in everyday life. You can not think clearly if your heart rate is racing; your sympathetic nervous system (activating the fight or flight response, which includes an elevated heart-rate) kicks in and reasoning has temporarily left your array of possible solutions to the stressor, while biofeedback, for example, would allow someone to train themselves to keep their heart rate lower with certain breathing techniques, and I guarantee you, racism be damned, there would far fewer of these shootings and horrible instances of violence. Police officers lives would also be made better with more restorative sleep, better immune systems and a calmer mental outlook, especially regarding such common maladies like depression and anxiety.

President Obama's solution of body cams on cops is like saying, "we know you are not professionals and you must be watched every second of the day, and when you screw up, we'll be watching you and ready to slap the cuffs on you instead!" Perhaps I exaggerate, but isn't the definition of professional conduct one who goes about his or her work without the need for constant surveillance?
 
I'm not completely against cameras, but I reason, why not make police officers better able to do their jobs and make life safer for everyone involved, including the officers themselves? Why not spend the money (some $250+ million dollars) for the cameras on better training, simple low-cost methods like integrating yoga and meditation techniques?

To discount lingering racism in our society is ridiculous, but I seriously doubt any of these police officers woke up on their fateful days and said to themselves, "today, I want to shoot a black kid and ruin my career, my name, my entire family and the rest of my life in the process." These shootings are mostly responses to certain stimuli which take the officer's muscle memory back to training, like fight or flight. They need new training methods and they need more mental clarity and more time in these critical, life-changing moments.

In the following video (which is not visible on a mobile phone) Malcolm Gladwell discusses the physiology of this type of incident in detail, referencing Amadou Diallo and others, starting around 18:40 going through to about 35:00. This analysis is based on the thesis from his book BLINK. Gladwell provides a thorough understanding of how these types of incidents happen and how to prevent them from happening in the future. He is someone to whom we should be listening!





I agree with any and all common sense solutions, like employing more police officers recruited from the communities in which they work, and even initiating a nation-wide discussion on police violence and the over-militarization of police departments, but unless we start with basic physiology we're missing an important component. 

My honest and deepest emotion is if someone isn't also concerned with helping the police officers then any claims to righteousness or spirituality are truly absurd and sadly laughable. We're all in this together.

So often we look at  problems from a social science lens when they may well be biological or physiological in nature, and this is one of them.

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