Saturday, January 31, 2015

Profiling and pigeon holing....

Its something we are all guilty of to an extent, just part of human nature, and  a sub concious part of our predator vs prey defence system. Regardless of if you are trying to make judgements or decision, or its just happening all on its own, your brain is constantly assessing people and things around you. Now, most of those results are very simple. Scanning for danger, threats, or warning signs around us. Its how we cross roads, drive cars, and even just walk down the street. They are quick, sub-concious decisions, made in less than the blink of an eye. Like the decision in a flow diagram, each response triggers an action and so on.

So all perfectly natural up until this point.

However, sometimes we allow our decision making process to become a very concious thing, and that's where it takes a turn, sometimes for the worst. When we profile a situation, say walking past a group outside a shop. The average person listens for raised voices, checking for anger and aggression, looks for body language, very visible arm and hand gestures, lots of jumping around, or calm... We make that decision very quickly and act accordingly. Some people however allow another influence in to their decision making process. Stereotypes and pigeon holing.

For these people, the answers to the first questions were all safe, calm, relaxed, no shouting... But hang on, what's their ethnic origin.. Once we know that then surely the decision rests on that and that alone. Are they from a nation stereotyped for thefts, violence, harassment? Well then clearly the situation is dangerous. Turn back before all hope is lost!

Statistics bare some of the blame for this, as well as negative reporting from all aspects of mainstream and social media. Each group claiming the other is to blame, each group stereotyped for certain behaviours.  Just like all Chelsea and Millwall fans are mindless violent thugs, all Romanians are deemed thieves, or Nigerians are scammers. Its this kind of pigeon holing of groups in society, both official and public that cause most of today's problems. This isn't to say of course that there is NO truth in the statistics, of course there is. But how it is reported, and how it is interpreted by society is what really makes the difference.

If a headline read "20 black men detained in street brawl" certain groups in society would role their eyes and draw conclusions about how violent they are, and it must be a gang. If the sub headline then read. "100 armed white men descended on a Jamaican club this evening, starting a racially motivated attack. Police detained the victims in a police carrier for their safety" then some clarity would appear. However the choice of headline is what gets the ball rolling on how we perceive a story, and from that point on, we have already drawn a preliminary conclusion to the matter. Its all about getting the whole story, and not relying on a single line or statement to make our decisions on.

Sadly this darker side of profiling is present in all walks of society. Hatred and anger towards the armed forces, politicians, and the police. Obviously I am going to focus on the police here.

Now, starting with me experience of the police, something I can describe accurately and openly.
In trouble with the police in 1990 for the first time in my life, having encountered them on many occasions as a kid, just from being a little scallywag. In 1990 I did something wrong, and was dealt with for it. I was dealt with quite firmly, but maintained my respect for the police officers I was in communication with. Needless to say it was a different force back then. Mainly because people respected them. And not because they behaved differently as such, not because they were nicer people and fairer or anything. But because encountering the police in an official capacity meant you were busted, and there were no political correctness groups, hate groups, human rights groups or other 'its not fair' lobbyists telling them what you deserved.

One thing that has become SO very apparent over recent years is grading. And by that I mean of offences. Why is it every time someone is stopped or arrested for something, the line "do some real work, go catch some "insert here whatever crime the arrestee considers worse than theirs".Its a funny old world, where the criminal of whatever degree now has a say in what's right and wrong. Well if their feelings on right and wrong are so strong now... What happened during the offence?

In later years of my life I have experienced the changes in how the force works. From the difference in stance needed when making a simple traffic stop, to the paper mountain that now consumes the police. Most of which is necessary because of the onslaught of do gooders and PC activists who think they know best.
Example. Years ago I was stopped in Epsom, late at night, driving a modified car. Friendly stop, and soon became apparent that the motive for the stop was to ask questions about the car, as one of the officers was about to buy one. After a long chat, the officer in question apologised and said he was going to have to issue me a producer as there was a record of the stop, so all the boxes needed ticking. As he wrote it he continued to apologise, and we joked about how things had changed and they were not even able to stop me for a chat without paperwork.

It fair to say that not all encounters are as smooth, and I recall another stop, in the same car in Victoria. Again late at night, a car on blues wove its way through the one way system, came in behind me, flashed once, I indicated and slowed looking for a safe place to stop. This was followed by frantic headlight flashing, so I stopped immediately, sadly on zig-zags. The officer raced from the car, greeted me as I exited my car, and opened with "well that's a stupid place to stop". I responded by questioning his decision to become over excited with his headlights at this exact point, and offered to move the car a little further to a safer location and was told "don't bother, you are stopped now!"
So, its not all positive I have to say.

So lets go back to the beginning, profiling, snap decisions, and our reactions.
Many believe that officers of all nationalities and races have issues with the black community, and have no tolerance towards them. Fairness goes out of the window, and all are met with aggression and harsh treatment.
Having worked on housing estates for many years in an official capacity, I have seen many such encounters start, around the Notting Hill area, it was not uncommon for the police to sweep into an estate in the evening and do stop and searches. ANY group not making a fuss was dealt with quickly, as informally as possible, and with a happy ending (unless of course anything was found). However other groups who displayed frustration or anger, were indeed met with hostility and a very different approach. From the EXACT same group of officers who had just stopped the last group.

It goes back to pigeon holes and profiling. Groups of society learn from others, from past generations, we are taught what each group is, and somehow allow ourselves to be drawn into the mind of the hive. Reacting towards our first encounter with a group, with the lessons we were taught about them. If you grow up in a group or area with bad experiences, or just bad feeling towards another, it is going to be hard to shake those teachings. When the real encounter is made, we revert to instinct and behave accordingly.

When groups of people with historic bad experiences meet, a chain reaction begins. And as it continues, it snowballs, creating more memories and generating more bad blood. Somewhere along the line someone , somehow needs to stop the perpetuation of this. But the end is nowhere in sight.

So, to add to our pigeon holing exercise, all police are mindless thugs! A statement some would happily endorse. The media happily gloats at the continuation of bad feeling between social groups and the police, but like the headline, only tells you the information which will insight bad feeling, perpetuate the story, and give them a great story.

For the record I do NOT believe, nor endorse the above statements of pigeon holes. I feel that each member of society is an individual and starts out deserving respect and consideration of others. I do however believe also that our actions have consequences. Sometimes severe ones, and ones some find unfair and harsh. In this day and age I consider myself law abiding, and a decent member of society. I don't walk by on the other side, nor turn a blind eye. I expect all encounters with the police to be civil, unless I have behaved otherwise.
My final example, Sydenham High Street a few months back. Following a large brawl which I was not aware of at the time, the high street was shut. This had followed a big road traffic accident. Being nosey I made my way up the road to see, on crossing the road I was beeped by a bus who had decided to move off. Angered by his sudden action, and shocked due to being unable to move fast at the time due to ill health, I shouted at the driver. He stopped a few yards later and I made my way to the door to express my anger and frustration. I was greeted very quickly by two pumped up officers, telling me to back up, leave it, and giving me a good talking to. Now further angered and frustrated, I bowed my way from the situation and took to Twitter with some strong words.
Later than night I became aware of the mass brawl earlier, and realised that my actions followed those of the others, and in behaving in the same unruly manner, I had provoked, what I considered at the time, an over board reaction. Realising I was thoroughly in the wrong to have given the officers a hard time, I wrote a formal apology to Lewisham Police. Had I NOT toned down my anger at the time of the incident, I would have expected to have been strong armed to the ground, cuffed and led away. Thankfully having some respect for the officers, and indeed having been greeted in such a high energy manner, the situation calmed very quickly.

Sometimes the strong armed approach is the right approach, other times the gentle approach works better. What you have to consider here is, its training, drilled into the officers, self preservation kicks in and they will react to what they are confronted with. Batoning an 11 year old shoplifter would be excessive. But then believing you have a right to punch, kick, and bite an officer while they try and cuff you, is also very wrong.

Not all officers get it right, a tiny minority allow society to form negative opinions about them. The same way as the minorities in all walks of society create bad statistics and bad feelings about the majority of their groups. Two wrongs don't make a right, but put two groups together which are immediately defensive, and its a recipe for disaster, over and over again.
Then hype these encounters enough, make it seem like its the right thing, and society will believe you and the hatred and anger perpetuates.

This blog was written based on a sweeping statement made by someone, in this case towards and about the police. Using language which would be deemed offensive and inappropriate towards ANY minority group in society. Written media is a powerful and dangerous force. Just as this blog can be too. The written word is only as good as the choices the word-smith makes, and indeed the perception and interpretation of the reader. With no form of immediate discussion, its as simple as the black and white its written in.

There is no one group in society, official or public responsible for the world we live in, we have all played a part somewhere. Anyone who thinks otherwise, I simply disagree.

I could go on forever with this entry, but will end with the following.

Never judge a book by its cover. Colour , nationality, and background tell you nothing about what is inside. Take a second look, take a moment to think rationally, and give EVERYONE an equal chance. Everyone deserves one.

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