Now, let's do this imaginative scenario once more. Pretend you are a police officer. Six years experience, no previous disciplinary actions. You respect the badge you wear every day, fighting in the name of justice and the community. You see a black teenager walking in the middle of the road. His shorts are hanging low, he is walking slowly, and its broad daylight. You pull up a few feet away, roll down your window, and exclaim, "Get on the sidewalk. The road is for cars only." The teenager cusses in response, you hear the words "honkey" and "pig." You put your siren lights on and, over the PA, demand he get on the sidewalk. He fails to comply, once again. You get pissed off. You've had enough of this community, enough of these people who don't seem to want your help. As the teenager steps 35 feet away, you fire one time, killing the teenager instantly (I guess that training paid off). The emotion dissipates, and you feel empty. Scared of punishment, you remain silent until a union lawyer appears.
What's interesting about these two stories is that they are entirely fictional. They are both based heavily on numerous stereotypes. The kind of stereotypes that seem - and could be - true, but may not. Stereotypes, based often on our experiences and the environment that surrounds us, are a powerful mind altering drug. Generally based on one or two lifetime experiences or the hundreds of movies we watch that indoctrinate us, stereotypes have a pull on us so powerful that our ability to think critically seems to disappear (assuming we even had it in the first place). We read one headline and immediately conclude the black teenager is innocent; we see a picture of the same person holding a peace sign in a white T five minutes later and we are labeling him a "thug" who deserved what was coming to him. We do this same routine with the police officer. At first he is guilty - he shot and killed a black teenager because, well, he just could; after all, the badge gives him the indiscriminate powers of judge, jury, and executioner. Or, more likely, maybe he was a racist, a silent member of the KKK. Minutes later, the officer is worthy of a commendation medal for putting down a robber. After all, it's just one less criminal on the street; thus making the community safer for all of society.
Unfortunately, the truth will never be found (though, to be fair, a camera may have helped). Yet two lives will forever be changed. One remains dead, a human life no more. His family and friends will grieve, a block party held in his name, and a shirt glorifying him distributed throughout the community. And the other will be treated as dead by the community, requiring a transfer to a different police department. Even worse, nothing will change beyond these two lives. People may hold signs on street corners protesting police brutality, but they will still support the system. Maybe during the next election cycle they will vote Democrat, maybe even more voters than before will show up; maybe this time they will even vote for a black representative this time! Of course, the election may not go in their favor; the other "side" may win. But, regardless, things will stay the same. Police will be militarized through the help of Federal grants and public opinion supportive of anti-crime legislation; laws prohibiting the "breach of the peace" will remain as will ticketing for minor noncriminal offenses; riot police and protestors will both use aggression as the sole answer to any disputes.
This is a story told time and time again. Critical thinking has never been part of the solution - not by either side. Of course, it really can't be. After all, the system is created to make people believe in this wonderful tale of democracy: where voters who demand change can simply enter the ballot box and vote accordingly. Of course, change may not occur right away; the voter may have to wait a few election cycles. But don't worry. You will get your turn. You just have to wait. You just have to accept your condition, your environment, your frustration. You simply have to accept that two lives were changed and that more - in the future - will also be changed. All around you, the stereotypes will remain as well - they aren't going anywhere; after all, the politicians, media, and community "leaders" can use this emotional pull to continue their control - for the better of society - of the community.
But let's be honest, you don't care about any of this. Most importantly, you are still alive. Your life hasn't changed. You weren't shot. You weren't called names. You didn't rob a store. You didn't walk in the middle of the road. You didn't choose to not comply with the orders of a police officer. So, why does it even matter? A year later, you will read a similar story, maybe about a young black male (or white, it doesn't really matter; though statistically it will likely be a black teenager) who was beaten to death by two police officers. You won't remember the death of the black teenager from a year prior. But, interestingly enough, your response will be the same. Critical thinking will evaporate; stereotypes will set in. Conflicting stories from the media and friends will change your opinions on a daily basis. This time, however, three lives will be forever changed. But, more importantly, yours won't. You will still be alive. And so the story continues...