Facts enjoy mythical stature in our society. In a diverse community with many competing and often conflicting views, facts ring out with a promise of objective clarity. You are entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts. I'm sure you've said that/had that said to you.

Facts are bullshit. A skilled lawyer can turn a competent eyewitness into a blathering idiot. A skilled rhetorician can make facts dance on strings for the amusement of the masses. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. Fact.


Truly objective facts are few and far between. Evolution is what happened. Annie is not okay. Light travels at 299 ,792,458 meters per second. Much beyond that, who can say? People like to say, "Let's wait for all the facts to come out." What they are really saying is, "Let's wait for additional information that I can fit into my preconceived world view." There have been studies about this. If a "fact" doesn't fit into a person's standing world view, that fact is likely to be ignored and have no impact on the person's judgment.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the video of Kajieme Powell getting shot to death in St. Louis. You'll remember Powell as the alleged "knife wielding" crazy man who seemed to be trying to commit suicide by cop when St. Louis PD eagerly obliged. Tell me what you see:

What I see is another, unjustified homicide committed by local cops. I see a mentally ill black man, something in his pocket. The cops say it was a knife — though they've been conspicuously silent on whether it was butter or steak. I see a person in need of help, and I see cops shooting him dead within 20 seconds of arriving on the scene. Fact.


I see BOTH officers shooting, including the second one who was behind the car and in no conceivable danger at all. AND I hear the shots continuing past the point where the man was on the ground.

I see unaccountable members of a paramilitary organization gunning down a sick man in the streets because they can. And if we look at this video spliced with the police chief's official explanation, I also see a lying warlord defending his goons. You might see something different. The point is that we are looking at the same thing. We are witnessing the same facts. If you think that there is an objective truth here, if you think there are facts here that can prove or disprove what my eyes are telling me, well you need to help yourself to an episode of Through the Wormhole and tell me where an electron is at any particular time.

This is not a new problem. We have criminal courts specifically because when one man dies at the hand of another, "facts" become impossible to know. We trust a justice system — be that system a King, a God, or a jury — to tell us what happened and who is to blame because we know that reasonable people will disagree about the facts of almost any homicide.

Trust is the key to the whole system. Without trust, there are no facts, just your own opinion about what it was you just saw. Criminal lawyers spend most of the time establishing or destroying the credibility of witnesses. Do you remember Rachel Jeantel? Trayvon Martin's killer is free mainly because a jury trusted the story of an armed vigilante over a poorly educated black woman. Fact.

Homicide trials are simply the assignment of blame for the loss of life. And those trials do not turn on facts or evidence, they turn on trust. They turn on who the jury (or sometimes a judge) believes.

If you are inclined to believe police officers, I really can't help you. No facts will be produced that will change that particular worldview. If you are disinclined to trust black people, again, I've got nothing for you. If hiding your prejudices for cops, against blacks, under the hood of "waiting for more facts" helps you sleep at night, there's nothing that I'm going to be able to say to change your mind.


But know that the reverse is true. Know that I and a bunch of my friends (and, uhh, I have white friends) DON'T reflexively trust cops, and in fact, view police action with a high degree of skepticism. And know that we are citizens too. IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STATE to engender trust in its law enforcement and judicial officials. Anything less amounts to injustice.

Cops are not a race. They are not a creed. They are the armed forces of the state. They cannot be selectively trustworthy... unless I am allowed to selectively listen to their commands. The onus is not on me to figure out which ones to trust and which ones to avoid. THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME TO ME. They are agents of the system that the government has decided to arm.

The onus is on the state to ensure that ALL of their representatives are trustworthy, and to remove and punish those who are not. Fact.