A lot can be in a single word, including fear, distrust and misunderstanding. Sometimes identity – the question of “are you with me or against me” is embedded in that single word.
The emotions and unspoken questions that underlie our words can easily flare into conflict when we don’t stop to check our definitions.
Let’s consider the word “profiling.” Recently members of our community stated their belief that profiling happens, the police chief questioned that belief, and emotions flared. Yet it’s not clear, reading the published reports and comments, that all those involved are using the same definition of the word.
Some would define profiling as disparate impact. With this definition, the statistical disparities in the reported data on traffic stops are conclusive evidence of disparate impact, and thus of “profiling.” The police chief admits that implicit bias is present in some officers, yet said that his department does not profile. His comments in context suggest he might be using a different definition than disparate impact. When he says there is no profiling, he might mean that there is no departmental policy or formal intent to encourage the targeting of minorities.
Is there evidence of disparate impact in traffic stops? Yes there is. Are there reports of personal experiences that show bias and fear? Yes there are. Is there a systematic policy and intentional targeting across the department of minority citizens? That is not so clear. Can we separate out the issues of statistics, experience, and policy, then examine those and see how they inform each other? Yes we can. Can we try to listen to each other as different perspectives are shared, and better translate the underlying fears and concerns? Yes we can.
What if we looked past the word “profiling” and talked instead about the specifics of what we know, what other information we might begin to gather, how we would like it be, what progress would look like, how it might be monitored, and how we might work together to make that progress? Could we make progress? Maybe we could.
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