Brian Steel is a police sergeant and Executive Vice President of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge 9
Have you noticed some people make arguments by citing feelings while claiming they’re facts?
A review of a dictionary will disabuse this notion quickly. Facts, like evidence, exist outside anyone’s beliefs. Gravity is real even if you feel it isn’t.
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Over the last few years, some journalists have become fond of a new phrase on this topic. The trend first burbled forth during the Trump presidency, when many were quick to claim that he made claims “without evidence.”
It’s been used in many other — typically political — settings as well. It became such a catchphrase that NPR’s public editor made note of the phenomenon. “Without evidence” is even used to debunk the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.
As a police officer, I’ve spent a lot of time testifying in court and I’m a big fan of evidence. I’ve been trained to gather and preserve evidence. Evidence is good.
So if journalists want to point to a lack of evidence, I support their right to do so.
Here’s some evidence for you. Despite what a few loud voices regularly bleat, in our nation of more than 330 million people, police rarely use deadly force. The FBI reports that there are more than 50 million police-citizen interactions every year, yet the Washington Post, which tracks this statistic, found that there are about a thousand officer involved shootings resulting in death each year. That’s a rate of .002 percent of those interactions. That’s evidence of rarity.
See? I made a claim, and I used facts to support my claim.
In central Ohio, the latest of those rare police occurred in Blendon Township, where a young woman tragically died after she began to run over a police officer who was doing the job he’s paid to do — investigate allegations of criminal activity. This woman, Ta’Kiya Young, made a serious error in judgment and, following an alleged liquor theft, put the officer into the very difficult decision of having to determine — in less than the amount of time it takes you to snap your fingers — whether Young was about to drive slowly at him or floor it and run him over.
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The death was tragic, and her family is understandably deep in grief. Those are feelings we all ought to respect.
Yet even those feelings don’t replace facts.
Across the angry internet, countless people, without evidence, are claiming that race was somehow a factor in this shooting. Let’s be clear — in this case, there’s absolutely zero evidence of that. I’m not saying there’s just a little. Or hardly any at all. I’m saying none. No evidence of racial bias whatsoever. Anyone claiming otherwise is flat out wrong.
Ah, but I know what some will say when they read this. “The officer was white, and the young woman was Black. That’s evidence enough!” Really? That’s logic?
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Think for a minute — the officer was a man, and the theft suspect was a woman. Is that enough evidence to prove sexism? Only the truly deluded would say so.
Others will fulminate, “don’t you know that racism exists in America?!” Of course, it does. There’s plenty of hate for all groups — including police — to go around. But the existence of a problem in general is not evidence of that problem being present in any given situation.
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Note that I’m not asserting that race wasn’t a factor in the incident. I’m simply saying there’s no evidence of it. A person making a claim has the obligation to advance that claim with evidence. Otherwise, they are stating their fact-free feelings or simply throwing around conspiracy theories “without evidence.”
It’s not enough to say, “it’s obvious — when a white office shoots a Black suspect, there’s no other explanation other than racism.”
If that’s true, then every Black person who commits a crime against a white person must also automatically be a racist incident. I don’t believe that but it’s where the illogic leads.
Until other facts emerge from the Blendon Township tragedy, claiming a racial motivation is irresponsible and dangerous. It adds accelerant to a society already blazing with racial hatred.
Here’s what obvious: a highly trained police officer faced a split-second decision.
He made that decision based on years of preparation and instinct. He acted in the moment, with no slow motion replay available to him — unlike you and me.
And if he made the wrong choice, he might be dead.
There are occasions when police break the law and, when that happens, the officer should face the same consequences as other lawbreakers. There are also small cadres of racists in every profession and of every color. But here’s one thing we all have in common – before we can credibly make an allegation, we must have evidence.
Because feelings aren’t facts, the claim that the Blendon Township police shooting was somehow racial in nature is, unquestionably, “without evidence.”
Brian Steel is a police sergeant and Executive Vice President of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge 9.
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