Of Common Sense and Half Truths

I often wonder what has happened to common sense.  I’d like to think my father emphasized common sense as a key foundational element in my upbringing.  Let’s go with that shall we?  I believe I have some because in a previous position, my good friend Dr. Starr used to say, “common sense isn’t.”  And then he followed that up by making me the VP of Common Sense.  I am far from perfect, as several of you can easily attest, but I think I’m pretty solidly filled with common sense.

As I take BART (aka the train) to and from work each day I’ve learned to both read and give visual clues about  needing to disembark.  People often signal their intentions.  Me, I tend to put my tablet away, put my reading glasses in my pocket and shift my murse (my nieces believe my messenger bad is really a murse, not a European carry-all) and glance toward the seatmate that will need to move.

Today, I went through my routine and the person next to me didn’t ask, they just immediately stood up.  I rarely like to stand up prior to the train stopping but I did a few seconds prior to that shake that pushes people uncomfortably together.  I moved into the aisle and she sat back down.  It was crowded, like a mosh pit at an oversold Foo Fighters show.  There was nowhere to go and the doors did not open.  2 seconds into this slight delay, a big guy pushed past me with a terse, “ ’scuse me!”  As I recovered from his shove, another woman pushed by, pushing me backward (like the mosh pit).  I politely said, “I want to get off too.”  And she cast a fearsome scowl my way.  I think whatever common sense there was lay bleeding at my feet.  30 crowded seconds later the doors opened.

Common sense has been heavy on my mind.  Yesterday as I waited for the train I stopped and wondered, “What are they thinking?”  Lines and queues are governed by common sense.  Much like stopping at a traffic light.  There is a 12 inch strip at the platform you need to stand behind while waiting for the train.  The spot the door opens is clearly marked.  But, there is no written rule of how far to stand behind that strip.  I tend to stand 6 to 12 inches behind the strip.  Keep in mind by the time the train comes there will be 20 or more people in line, curving toward the line for the next door.  Oh, and I go to the last door on the last train.

Sometimes people stay 2 or 3 feet back from other people. 12 inches is really the least you can stand back, respecting personal space and helping to make the line efficient.  Sometimes you see people much further apart as if the person in front of them is an Ebola carrier.  Yesterday, the person at the front the line was a solid 12 feet back from the stip.  And the person behind them another 5. This is a lot like the person at the stoplight who stays more than 2 car lengths behind the care in front of them.  5 or 6 feet is good at a stoplight.  35 is not.  If you need that much personal space, you should probably stay home.  It should be a law.

And then there is a new phenomenon I’ve noticed – people who believe that lines serve no purpose.  The hover around the line then push into it as it moves.  This applies to waiting for a train at commute hour, at the escalators and the turnstiles.  For the record, Chaos may be the state everything devolves to, but it is not helpful.  Common sense people:  pretend you have some.

I was debating things with my father the other night.  This was noteworthy because while it was heated and the volume went from 3 to 6, there was no yelling or name calling.  That never happens with us.  I first recall him yelling at me during the Clinton-Lewinski scandal as I had pimped her out.  I consider myself a semi-enlightened liberal, near the center and he is just to the right of Attila the Hun, parroting everything Rush, O’Reilly and Hannity tells him is true.    As you know, I believe as the good professor Jon Stewart has taught us, Fox News is Bullshit Mountain.  Of course most things those three pundits put forth (or more appropriately, spew) have their basis in fact, but they are rarely completely true.

My father and started debating social change in the US.  He pounded me for wanting to see the rate of change increase.  In his mind there is a natural speed of change and I think everything should change now.  No, I just believe that the rate is increasing and it should continue to increase.  He gets so lost in the hype that common sense gets lost.  This is sad, because I’ve always looked to him as fountain of common sense.

The rate of change in technology keeps increasing.  Why should our understanding of societal issues and civil rights not move as well?  Are we a static society content to keep things as they have been?  Using that logic, we might have prevented the auto industry from taking form to protect the buggy whip business.  We might just now be learning to build factories and decreasing our dependence on the manual loom.  As information grows and we our capacity for learning increases with each new baseline, the rate of change speeds up.  I’m not looking to change the world today.  But I am looking to support the good changes that are taking place and help move the needle forward, not back.

As the topic shifted to racism and police killing blacks unnecessarily in this country, he pulled out what I’m sure came from Bill O’Reilly, “More whites are killed by the police, than blacks.”  Of course I researched it.

Well hell, that’s true.  Or should I say half true; it is totally misleading.  Let’s look at the facts:

  • From 1980 to 2012 44% of people killed by police where white.
  • From 1999 -2011 2,151 whites were killed compared to 1,130 blacks.

Washington Times 4/21/2015

So yes, in gross numbers more whites were killed.  Lies, damn lies and statistics, right? But since the black population of the US is less than one fifth that of the white population, Blacks are almost 4 times more likely to be shot and killed  by police than whites.  Think about that.  That is not a nominal statistical fluctuation; that is a trend!  That, gentle reader,  is racism.   An indicator of the institutional racism that Fox News wants us to believe doesn’t exist.  I disagree.

Now, do I believe all police are racists?  Absolutely not.  Do I believe some are?  Without question.  The issue is how many and what do we do?  We’ve seen too many occasions where the police abuse or use unreasonable force with blacks.  Choking a man for selling cigarettes.  Shooting a man in the back for running from a broken tail light citation.  Everything in Fergusson!   Where are the examples of police abusing white people?  I don’t recall seeing those.  I’m sure it happens, but much more rarely than with minorities.  You may not believe there is a larger problem, but I believe there is.

Part of me is beginning to think that perhaps local law enforcement is beacon to the power hungry, to the racists in our society.  We even see horrid examples of racism in the liberal city of San Francisco.  So when my father asks if I think more than 5% of the police nationally are racists, I immediately answer yes. I hope I’m wrong, but I sincerely doubt it.

As a counterpoint, he immediately points to Baltimore and the riots and looting, while the police were told to stay back and let things happen.  We all saw it on TV, but did we see the same thing?  I saw an oppressed group reacting as the only way they felt they could.  I didn’t like it; I didn’t excuse it.  I understood it.  Common sense sometimes means seeing things from someone else’s point of view.  Seeing that racial oppression has not benefitted this country, is this really where we want to make our stand?  I believe most of us see there is problem in this country.  It is uncomfortable to acknowledge, let alone talk about.  We as society, as a loud single voice need to make sure the needle keeps moving, that change keeps taking place.

I say we have a problem in the country.  We are finally ready as a nation to see it for what it is and, as a country, are ready to acknowledge it.  We need to fix it and it will take a strong majority.  You may disagree, but my common sense says this is needed and is coming.  Why don’t you help be part of the solution, rather than perpetuating the problem? It’s only common sense.

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