Perhaps it is impossible to know when, but a transition occurred during a trivial traffic stop. A police officer went from being a polite and non-confrontational public servant to being a bullying instigator. The end result was the arrest and eventual death of a young Black woman who started the day looking forward to starting a new job in the near future.
Perhaps the change in the arresting officer's approach to Bland was signaled by the fact that when he returned to the car for Bland's signature on the citation, he approached the driver from the driver's side rather than the passenger's side which is the side he used the first time. Or perhaps perceiving her state of agitation when he returned, he felt threatened. Or perhaps he sensed a lack of respect when she failed to comply by putting out a cigarette. In any event, by the time he asked her to step out of the car, he was no longer in control of his anger.
One of the first causes many assign to this tragedy is race. While the police officer is a White Hispanic, Bland is Black. And Bland had already developed a history of encounters with the police (click here). But another possible reason for why things went awry was because of Bland's gender. That some police officers stop women to "check them out" is not news to me. Former students of mine would tell me that this happens. In addition, some officers feel free to be heavy-handed with women they've stopped (click here).
And still another reason for why the police officer became so confrontational with Bland was the cultural influence from his place of employment. Police officers must dabble with being authoritarian at times. That can, depending on situations, be a necessity for doing the job. We must realize that there are times when police officers must demand a complete compliance from the public for both the sake of doing the job and for their safety. Of course, there are also times when being authoritarian is not necessary. And knowing when to turn off the authoritarian switch can be difficult especially when there are coworkers who have the same problem. And it seems, from watching what went on during the traffic stop, that authoritarianism played a part in the interaction between the officer and Bland.
Here, we should note some of the characteristics of an authoritarian personality. This blog reported these characteristics in a previous post (click here). Some of these characteristics that seemed to be involved here were a belief in power, a tendency to be hostile to others, has a black-and-white worldview, believes in conformity, projects ones own faults on to others, and a belief in one's own superiority. And it seems with the bipolar way by which this officer was interacting during the recorded traffic stops, that problems with being authoritarian was at least one of the reasons why things escalated the way they did.
And how this officer's interaction with Bland escalated into a serious confrontation is not too far different to how the Conservative Christian Church has reacted to the same-sex marriage controversy here in America. When there was a chance to keep same-sex marriage from becoming legal, the Conservative Christian Church acted very authoritarian to the rest of society. It demanded that such marriages prohibited by law. By our expertise, we acted as if we knew marriage better than all others. And then there was the sensitivity to criticism by those who could legitimately complain that they have been oppressed by the Church in this matter. That sensitivity yielded anger and demands that Christians be not subject to the same laws regarding discrimination that all others were. The arguments used to justify Christian businesses refusing to provide goods and services to same-sex weddings were the same that justified how businesses treated Blacks during Jim Crow.
In addition, we should note that the Conservative Christian Church both embraces and promotes authoritarianism. Most of our relationships are hierarchical. In fact, almost all of our relationships within the Church are hierarchical. Thus, we have a difficult time when we deal with an outside world much of which wants democracy and equality. Our authoritarian tendencies are perhaps why many of us, not this blog though, could not make a case before the public without being offensive. This blog, while holding to conservative Christian theology, has supported same-sex marriage in society. It opposes it in the Church however.
Groups that foster an authoritarian culture must learn how to temper their reliance on authority if they wish to effectively communicate with the outside world. Why? It is because only in hierarchical societies where authoritarianism is accepted. We can't say that all of society embraces a hierarchical structure, though we could say that there are subcultures that do. The inability to turn off the authority switch when dealing with those outside the group will only serve to alienate one's in society.
But there is another reason why groups like many groups of police officers and the Conservative Christian Church should want to put limits on how they use authority to relate to outsiders. That reason is that of the traits of authoritarianism linked with the police officer who stopped Sandra Bland, four ofthem are indicators of narcissism as well. This means lowering our dependence on authoritarianism will not only help us in relating to the outside world, it will be good for us as well.