In today’s society, there is so much happening almost every week involving the police. Bill Stierle and Tom find it relevant to address these issues, such as the recent incident in Atlanta with Rayshard Brooks being killed by a police officer. The now-fired Atlanta officer has been charged with felony murder, but people can’t help but feel sad, helpless, and disheartened. Could the situation have been better handled without causing the damage? Had Rayshard Brooks accepted the arrest, would he be alive today? These are some of the questions Bill and Tom try to answer as they dive into the politics, the fight-flight-freeze response of the brain, and the transfer of trauma in these cases.
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Fighting The Police: Politics, Truth And The Fight-Flight-Freeze Response Of The Brain
Bill, the last time we talked about truth and the police, there’s so much happening here on a daily and almost weekly basis regarding this subject. There’s more to talk about that’s very relevant now in our society. The clear obvious one that we need to address is what’s happened in Atlanta with Rayshard Brooks who, by all reports, was asleep in his car in a drive-through at a Wendy’s fast food restaurant. Somebody from within the Wendy’s restaurant called the police because it’s disruptive. This car is not moving through the drive-through line. Most people are getting takeout through drive-through now because of COVID-19. The police intervened. For about 45 minutes, they’re assessing this man, woke him up, talking to him, trying to decide if he fell asleep or is he intoxicated or what’s going on. They suspect that he’s intoxicated after talking with them and then proceed to try to arrest him. Things go south in a hurry when he resists arrest.
The first step to approach something like this is to slow down and feel sad. The grief of the loss of life of a young person who has young kids at home and was struggling with drugs. I watched a lot of the footage. The hardest thing to get the brain to do is to make sure that we don’t equally proportionalize the loss and then you lose the action the police took to try to get safety and protection for the environment. You make sure that that action is both not lost, but also not scaled to the level of the loss of life. The loss of life has got to remain 9 and 10 on the list. You don’t want to minimalize all the work that the police were doing right before the handcuffing. That’s when the triggering of the brain took place inside the young man, as well as inside the police. They immediately all shifted to a fight response, which is the surge of adrenaline and cortisol. There are weapons around. It’s going to be dangerous. We’re going to tase the guy.
All of those policing, protective restraining, the years of practice and focus is there and it then escalates to suppress and rise to, “We’re trying to protect and following our safety protocols. We’re going to secure the environment because this person is fighting. We might get hurt or somebody else might get hurt.” Is the person on drugs lethal to another person? That is not the way it’s talked about or thinks, but if he goes running into a street and he runs on doing an if-then. That car swerves and then hits another car and kills somebody in that car. All of a sudden, we’re talking about the police not restraining him properly. That’s why the sadness comes up. The sadness is that the situation, the dynamics happening at this time, it’s what needs to take place to protect. We can watch different police being in a place of rationale describing what the two officers should have done. What should have they done? Let him run, set up a net around that area, call in for reinforcing, catch the guy, you have the guy’s car, all of those things are beyond what the limbic protective brain is doing in that moment.
It’s into, “Here’s my training. Here’s what protection looks like. Here’s what safety looks like. Here’s what the good of the public looks like. This is my job as a police department and this is what I’ve been trained to do.” I know I’ve laid an entire pushback to take place, but I want to get early in our conversation about how sad, helpless and disheartened people feel around this. To make sure that we’re proportionalizing the loss, those children are growing up with their father dying on that day with the drug use and all those things that went with our society that is struggling on multiple levels. It’s tough to get ahold of truth because you and I are like, “We’re white guys.” We’re outside of this. Every day I see the range of, “We’re getting scared every day. We’re feeling more and more scared and helpless by this group of people called police because of the color of our skin.” That’s a large truth of the matter of it.
I appreciate you helping to cast some perspective on this. To me, the word that comes up with this whole situation repeatedly is tragic. It is tragic that this man’s life has been lost. It should not have been lost and it did not deserve to be taken away. There’s an investigation and all sorts of things that were not there at the time. Everybody is from the outside looking in with all the cell phone videos that were taken and everything. It certainly seems very clear from the observational evidence. Did he do something wrong? Yes. Did the police called inappropriately? It sure appears that way that they were called inappropriately. They were doing a good job there for about 43 minutes assessing the situation, not rushing to judgment.There are a lot of triggering responses that put a person into a fight response. Click To Tweet
Here’s the thing. You’re right, Bill. Had they given him a warning and said, “Go home and sleep it off.” They gave him a breathalyzer and he was over the legal limit in some way for some substance. Had they let him drive home and he crashed into somebody’s car and killed somebody, they would have been negligent. They took appropriate action and doing their jobs in the beginning of this situation. When they start to say, “We’re going to arrest you,” they turn around and starts to put the cuffs on, he gets into this fight, flight or freeze type of mindset in his brain. He fears the police. He fears getting arrested, the consequences of all of this. Maybe he isn’t even thinking clearly because he is impaired. He struggles and fights them and runs. The other tragic part of this. He did not deserve to die and the police officer pulling his gun and shooting him, even if he had been fired up by his own taser, by Rayshard Brooks, he still did not deserve to die for this. Had Rayshard Brooks accepted that he was going to be arrested and not resisted arrest, he would be alive now.
That’s the expectation people have. People believe that the front part of the brain can override the back part of the brain. It doesn’t have the bandwidth to do it. It’s like when you’re in a fight, flight and freeze response. Your body is locked up and clicking into the one and to that moment. Under a drug influence, the drugs are messing with the front part of the brain anyways. It’s not like that our society isn’t having trouble with drugs right now to an extreme place because of the amount of loss or helplessness that’s in the environment. The trauma is being transferred from person to person. To get ahold of this, Tom, is that Wendy’s got burned down. That’s a transfer of trauma. Let me show you how that one works because the truth is that if our society does not face trauma, the trauma gets transferred into, “We’re not going to feel helpless and hopeless anymore. Anything that reminds us of trauma, it’s going.” The statues are coming down. People are pulling those things down. The people are going like, “We’re not sure if we want this thing down.” City mayors are going, “We better pull these things down.”
They’re getting pulled down and trashed. Tom, have you ever driven by a place where there was a solid memory in your head and it brings the memory back like, “I remember that place and I had a happy thing there,” or there was a corner where in high school, I drove by that and that brings back that memory? Does that community want to drive by that Wendy’s ever again? No. That’s called a transfer of trauma. I don’t want to be traumatized by thinking about a police officer shooting somebody in the neighborhood because of that situation. That place has got to go. We’ve got to do a better job of caring for our communities, not traumatizing our communities. You’ve got to do a better job of providing moments of hope, of progress, of the ability to get out of things. Not to say, “You’re making this job and there’s no way out. There’s no future showing up.” It’s a life or death thing that people are facing in these traumatized environments.
What you’re getting at there is a little bit of this call to defund the police. That phrase, as we’ve mentioned a little bit in the previous episode, is an unfortunate choice of words. That phrase, Defund the police,” is sticking. It was intended to be one way and it’s interpreted so many different ways to be like, “We’re not going to have police anymore.” Originally, that was not the intent. It was that let’s redistribute some of the funds we are putting to policing and distribute it to places where it could be more effective in trying to help society with these issues that end up resulting in the need for police to do something that maybe they’re not well suited to do.
I’m so glad you brought up the term. You put that right here in the environment and the escalation of defund police, that brand message because we are as a society pounded with branding and advertising over the internet in microseconds now. Can I get an impression in and distract somebody’s attention so they buy my thing? It gets to be escalated in a way that’s not in proportion. Therefore, truth is getting hijacked about defund means let go of the whole thing. There are plenty of ways to reallocate money. I can’t imagine a sign that says, “Reallocate the money for the police,” versus “Defund the police,” and which one’s going to stick. It’s like the famous “drain the swamp” is to get rid of swampy people in Washington, DC. Instead of saying, “Drain the swamp,” it changes to, “Get rid of the lobbyist.” That’s where the swamp is. That’s where the alligators are. It’s over there with the lobbyist. It’s not with the politician that is taking the money. Those are the swamp creatures.
The need for truth is tough because this is a communication show. It’s like, “How do we human beings use communication language? How does it interact with the brain and society? How do different needs get activated?” We’re expecting way too much from the police. We’re expecting them to be social service. We’re expecting them to know the right thing to say and do to somebody that’s intoxicated. When he’s getting handcuffed, I have a thought in my head language-wise that there was one word that was at a place that activated his mind to fight the police combined. “Come on, you’re coming with us.” “No, I don’t want to come with you at all.” In his mind, it might be, “I need to get home to take care of my kids.” I don’t know if he’s married or not, “My wife, girlfriend is waiting home for me. I’m going to get in big trouble if I go to jail. I don’t have the money if I go to jail.” There are a lot of triggering responses that puts that young man into a fight response. He is a young person. He’s 27 years old.
He’s a youngster. He’s got his whole life ahead of him. That’s why it’s terribly tragic. We can Monday morning quarterback this whole scene in the Wendy’s parking lot and say, “An officer with compassion and empathy might’ve said, ‘Let’s park your car on the Wendy’s lot. Let’s take you home. Go home and sleep it off. Come back and get your car tomorrow.’” That’s something they could have done. The police have a hard time overlooking that here’s a man intoxicated behind the wheel of a car and that is technically a crime.
The interpersonal training of de-escalation, the officer that shot a person had a training about this and they were coming off of it. The fight response, the policemen’s need for respect or safety. This guy got away from two police officers and took their taser. Is it a life-threatening weapon? No, it’s not. How did this person get this away from it? The fight response. All three of those men were fighting each other and it clicked two. The young man’s need for freedom, survival, protection that was in the action is, “I’ve got to get away from these guys because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” and/or whatever baggage is in his brain about interactions with the police or judgments inside his mind about how much trouble he was going to be in.
How much trouble and how much it’s going to cost.
It’s better to run that.Even if you take another head and sew it on top of the organization, it's still the same organization. Click To Tweet
Think about the two police officers that all of a sudden have this calm and civil situation turn on them and they’re struggling to contain this person who’s fighting against them. They were overpowered by this guy who is in this fight-flight mode and they were unable to contain him. He gets away from them. That ratchet it up their mindset, their tension. I agree with their need for respect was not met, Bill. That’s an important one that plays in here. At some point, their need for safety was threatened by him taking the taser and pointing it at them. All of us who look at the video and see what was happening here can think with a clear mind, not in the heat of the moment and say, “They would either have to do it the hard way, run after him, tackle him and overpower him or call for backup and eventually let the guy run.”
Neither of us are in both positions. Neither of us have experience as police officers and the number of conflicts that they run into on a daily basis. It’s not like the police have a great track record about their own personal life and home life. It’s hard to hold and maintain the line of mental health on their side. On the other side, you and I are not in the place of being a 27-year-old with 3 or 4 kids at home that I might go to jail. I’m in this another level of trouble with no money or whatever. All of a sudden, I’m in that quagmire of not being able to get out and not having enough money to get out or the experience of being another person in jail from my community. The reflection on whatever is going on in this experience is very hard for us. This is the scary honesty that you and I often deal with is that the amount of experiences, both of those three people are going through is escalated to the place. Can communication make a difference? The answer is it can.
Can we communicate with ourselves going like, “What’s the level of safety and danger that this guy that’s running away from us is going to have in the environment and what is my Plan B? Call in for backup? Yes. It didn’t go well. He shot a taser at me. Yes, he’s going to have to also pay for that.” All of a sudden, “Your drugged brain did some things here and you’ve got to get some help on that. You’ve got to work on that and let the judge, the courts deal with it.” As soon as I say that, there’s a group of people that are going to listen and say, “The court systems aren’t fair, Bill.” A black person goes to jail much more often and much more severely than a white person. It’s like the whole reforming of the whole system becomes this big thing. The need for protection, safety, and security for the environment and fairness for the life of a victim and the consideration for the police that is going through this event. The community that’s traumatized enough to burn down the Wendy’s going like, “I don’t want to look at that Wendy’s again. They have to build something completely new here. Don’t put a Wendy’s here.” You can see there are a lot of layers here.
There are a lot of complex subjects here. You are right, Bill, to give some of them acknowledgment here because we can’t take a deep dive down all of those paths now. There are a lot of considerations. It’s a difficult, no-win situation perhaps in many ways. It’s terribly tragic and unfortunate that it escalated to the point where the officer, for whatever reason, felt he had to draw his gun and shoot this person. Bill, we’ve shined enough light on that tragic situation now.
The accountability is the next piece to go after because you have the event and all of the different things that need to be worked out with that. The post-trauma is now transferred to all of the people and all of the different situations in the environment. That accountability, if it’s not being met within the letter of the law, then who do we talk to? As a civil society, where do we lean our elbow on and go like, “At least I can rest here?” The greater social problems that are happening economically inside the environment, it becomes like, “Shall we hold the police accountable? Partly. Who else are we going to hold accountable?”
At some point, this gets from community policing and all those complexities, and that gets into politics. That’s another big rabbit hole. We don’t want it to go too far down, but I was struck by how quickly the chief of police in Atlanta stepped down. The mayor immediately called for the chief of police to step down. I suspect there may be a lot of problems in the Atlanta Police Department systemically or some difficulties there if this chief of police stepped down so quickly.
What I was going to say is I suspect the chief of police had no idea that that officer would pull a gun and shoot somebody in a situation they shouldn’t have. She didn’t know he would do that. The truth was she had no control over that officer in that moment and being able to prevent him from doing that. Is the police chief on the hook for this? As the leader of the police, you have to accept responsibility on the one hand. On the other hand, she didn’t even try to be a part of restoration, healing and figuring out what happened.
What she did too is meet the need for protection, security, and safety for the department because there’s nobody specifically to talk. The media can’t talk to anybody and it can’t get worse. They can’t talk about like, “Ms. Police Chief, here are all the violent things that happened to African-Americans under your watch.” That discussion never gets to take place because she’s not available now.
It’s a bit of falling on the sword for the department and trying to make it easier to change and heal because the leader is gone now.
The head of the giant gets cut off and another head gets sewed on top of the giant’s head. It’s a weird metaphor to use, but it’s the way it happens because then the giant lays down and takes a nap a little bit. It’s still a giant that needs to carry a society versus suppressed and being funded in that way that it is. The public is saying, “Yeah,” but that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is whatever the body of the organization is still the body of the organization. Even if you take another head and sew it on top of the organization, it’s still the organization.Adult thinking is not black and white thinking; it's shades of gray. Click To Tweet
It’s a weird metaphor to talk about it, but if you and I are going to honestly talk about what truth looks like, it’s the systemic part of the giant, the arms, the legs, the body, the rest of the body and you sew a new talking head on top of it is not the most powerful way to go. The way to go through it is through the process of restoration and to make meaningful changes to restore how the delicate balance about the police and I’m talking that it’s delicate.
How do you meet the need for safety, protection, security for an individual at the same time meet the need for protection, safety, security and fairness for society? You don’t want a person that’s traumatized going and traumatizing the rest or another event. There are all kinds of things when police don’t give somebody a pass and they’re so drunk. They run into somebody and kill a family or something in a car. There are many examples of too lenient versus too much force. That’s tough. How do you meet the needs of the individual at the same time meet the need for society? We look at the situation. We go like, “This is hard. This is what adults do.”
Adult thinking is not black and white thinking, Tom. It’s shades of gray. That’s adult thinking. That’s a logical analytical thinking is you’ve got to say, “The police officer was at the need for protection. It didn’t meet the need for life for a person.” That’s where the line needs to change inside the mindset of a person that is both as a police officer as well as society as a whole. It’s a tough job to flip the coin on protection, safety and security and say, “You have to meet the need for protection, safety, security of this person because you shot him. You may have met the need for safety and protection of somebody in the future,” but still, the cost is way too high for everybody involved. Burning down buildings because of it.
People will think that’s not wrong either. It’s terrible that now some people aren’t able to go to work and maybe they’ve lost their jobs because the Wendy’s where they worked at is burned down. Maybe they can work at another location, maybe not. You wonder if Wendy’s, the organization, would that business have died because even if they didn’t burn down the building, would anybody go and eat there again? Maybe a lot of the community wouldn’t have and they had to shut down that location anyway. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that the building was burned down, but the community needs to move on in some way from what happened there.
How can I heal? The amount of furious about justice not being met inside the community is showing up in a flaming building. That’s what that symbolizes is some form of burning justice. We’re traumatized and I’m not saying it’s right.
You’re saying you can see why it happened because of how the community, the people are thinking and the emotions that are going on. There’s a reaction taking place.
The exhaustion of trauma inside the black community is larger than what you and I could ever know or experience. I fundamentally feel sad and distraught about that. That’s why the movement has gotten so many people involved because we have heard now for so many years of the disproportionate number of people going into jail. That’s why the marches are so big. Most of us at this point in time are going like, “This is fundamentally wrong and for us as a nation to jail these many people. We are the land of the free and we’re the highest jailed per capita country. That’s not our identity as the land for the free.” When something’s broken, people would go like, “This is broken. I’m mad as hell about that now.”
You can see how complicated this all gets for us as a nation. Communities are struggling and police departments and cities are working through how can they be more effective and meet all these competing needs of society, of individuals, of the police? You make some good points, Bill, that trying to have some better understanding of the needs and some compassion and empathy is the path toward restoration. Whereas, more force and dominating the protestors are dominating the demonstrations as we hear coming out of Washington is not in alignment with that.
We have an opportunity to get the media giant and the government giant to carry us. We’re in a position to do that in regards to the law enforcement and the legal system giant over here. You and I in previous shows have talked about these big systems as being giant. They will step on you or they’ll step on a group in a heartbeat. The education system, they will flat out step on you. If you’re yelling at them and you’re screaming at them, they step up on you. When there are 1,000 or 2,000 or 5,000, the giant gets scared quickly. It’s not about the one hero that slays the giant that makes the difference. If I want to tell a story about slaying a giant, it’s the community that’s needed in order to get the giant to carry us. It’s that collective need for protection, for safety, for security, fairness and mutuality.
A person doesn’t have to lose their life, even in this state that he was in because his fight, as he was running away, was real to him. His trauma was real to him about the bad thing that was going to happen next as a 27-year-old. The burden that he didn’t know what was going to happen next and that was his best strategy is to run. The rational brain has no power especially when it’s drunk to go like, “Maybe it’s better not to take this taser and sit in the car.” It doesn’t do that. It’s very sad and disheartening. We’re convulsing. The trauma is radiating through society and radiating through the US. We’ve got to do a better job of not even getting ourselves into that position. If somebody has hope, meaning and a vision for their life, they don’t use drugs as much. What a surprise? They’ve got something that I can live within the letter of the law and not having the giant step on me.
The metaphor keeps coming up, the giant keeps kneeling on people’s necks as if we want to go back to that trauma moment. Does it need to be this in our face? The answer is maybe so. Maybe we need to have this wakeup call. It’s so sad and disheartening. The loss is radiating. The trauma goes another generation. We’ve got to stop it. The trauma keeps moving forward to the kids of that person. The truth and trauma are a place for us to stick the landing here because one of the things is the truth about trauma is it doesn’t take six therapy sessions to get rid of sometimes. That’s the reason why I’m putting that joke in there because many health insurance says, “You want healthcare? We’re only paying for six sessions. The rest of it’s on your own.” It’s six hours to fix a societal traumatic problem? No, I don’t think so. We still have to do with this systemic problem. We have to deal with all these different moving parts as human beings in a complex society. It’s a little daunting, but there are ways to do it. There are ways to get restoration to take place. Trauma doesn’t have to move forward as much as it does.
It’s clear that the wakeup call of all these protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, and now this latest incident in Atlanta are causing every state and every city across the country to re-examine a lot of these issues. Not only about policing, but about support for the community and other things where money is being spent. There’s a certain amount of restoration that is going to take place here. Restoration maybe is the wrong word but change certainly. A lot of change is starting to take place. In the process of taking place, which is long overdue, it would seem. It’s very clear at this point.
The reallocation of funds towards ways to deal with trauma are a great place for us to pick up. It’s like we’ve got to start facing our inequities even from the small places. Inequities about how some communities get the internet and some communities don’t get the internet. That affects online education, that affects upward mobility. It’s like trauma. If we don’t face the trauma, the trauma continues. Collectively we’ve got to do a better job of facing trauma and making sure we’re engaged in the process of the movement of things. Keep the hundred drummers and keep the pressure on until there are the meaningful changes that’s needed.
Otherwise, the next fall in is to the place of depression. The depression of people and then the depression of economy because if the needs of the many are not met, then the needs of few, they’re going to like, “That’s great.” They’re in the wreckage of the apocalyptic hellscape. The gated community isn’t going to get you there. You’re living there, but you can’t go to a restaurant without looking over your shoulder. Do you want that to translate? I don’t want that. I don’t like that society either. There’s a lot to talk about here. The truth in trauma is a place for us to stick. What do you think, Tom?
That’s a good place to evolve to next. That sounds great, Bill. Thanks so much for this very complex, tricky discussion, but it was important to have. I appreciate it, Bill.
Thanks, Tom. I appreciate it. Thanks, everybody.