Friday, December 5, 2014

A modicum of compassion

Salon.con: The 4 most bizarre right-wing reactions to the Eric Garner decision
4. Bill O’Reilly
Oddly enough, Bill O’Reilly, in a surprise move, showed a modicum of compassion about the Garner case. “I will say, that upon seeing the video that you just saw, and hearing Mr. Garner say he could not breathe, I was extremely troubled,” he told his viewers Wednesday night. “I would have loosened my grip. I desperately wish the officer would have done that.”
To me, Bill O'Reilly is a symbol of a certain type of person. He is supremely confident in his own understanding of the world, so much so that he is immune to education. Facts that call his worldview into question are utterly ignored, if he manages to notice them at all. He is especially bad on the issue of race. In a recent appearance on "The Daily Show", Jon Stewart tried to walk him through the very simple concept of "privilege" by drawing on O'Reilly's own background growing up in Levittown, a safe and stable community where black people were not permitted to live. O'Reilly understands that growing up in Levittown benefited him, and that black people were denied that opportunity, but he refuses to call it "privilege". Having access to a benefit denied to others on the basis of race is a textbook example of racial privilege, but he just can't see it.

Predictably, he's been especially awful when discussing the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Like most of Wilson's supporters, O'Reilly is not at all familiar with the facts of the case, and he believes that Wilson's implausible and self-serving testimony to the grand jury has been confirmed by the evidence. He really thinks that, and a lot of other people do too, despite the fact that it is completely wrong. Wilson's testimony was contradicted by most of the other witnesses in key aspects, and the physical evidence is inconclusive (in part because the initial police investigation was so half-assed). But O'Reilly doesn't know any of that. He doesn't know how ignorant he is, so he assumes that anyone who disagrees with him (like those five St. Louis Rams players who made the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture before a football game last Sunday) must be stupid. He actually said that he thinks those players were too stupid to understand what they were doing.

So I really wasn't expecting to get even "a modicum of compassion" from him on the Garner case. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to give him a pat on the back for managing to fall a bit shy of total evil. I just want to know: why this case? What is it about the Garner case that even someone as blinkered and delusional as Bill O'Reilly can see the injustice of it?

It's the camera. Many have pointed out, correctly, that the non-indictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo proves that putting body cameras on cops is not the answer. But if that video didn't exist, O'Reilly would not have had even "a modicum of compassion" for Eric Garner. If that video didn't exist, the police would have told a story about Garner being enraged and dangerous, and O'Reilly would have believed it without question. They couldn't tell that story because of the video. It wasn't enough to get justice for the family of Eric Garner, and it wasn't enough to put a murderer on trial, but it was enough to get through the nearly impenetrable skull of Bill O'Reilly. That's not nothing.

Body cameras for cops will not solve this problem, but they will help people like O'Reilly (and there are millions of them) understand that there really is a problem. 


  1. In California, officers wearing a body-cam used force 60% less often and show a 90% decrease in complaints filed against them.

    1. You're the first commenter ever on "Not Another Atheist Blog". Thanks so much!!

      I definitely think cameras should play a part in creating new systems of oversight and accountability for police, but cameras can't do that alone.