In my neck of the woods, there’s been a lot of talk about the recent protests in St. Louis. The protests concern the decision of the St. Louis Circuit Court to acquit police officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 shooting death of black driver Anthony Lamar Smith.
What should the rest of us think about the protests? Should we “take sides?” Should we remain neutral? From the perspective of an epistemologist, there seem to be several ways your thinking might go. Here are four possibilities:
- You might simply form an automatic opinion based on your previous sympathies for either protesters or police. No thinking required.
- You might suspend judgment because you simply don’t have enough reliable information to form a good opinion.
- You might investigate a little and try to gather testimony from eyewitnesses. Maybe you know someone who knows someone who lives in St. Louis and saw the protests.
- You might read the various articles and watch the array of videos and news casts on the events and use that as a basis for judgment.
Of the four options, #1 is clearly the one to avoid. Unfortunately, it is also the easiest, fastest, and often the most cognitively pleasant option. #2 could be justified, but there is a risk – remaining ignorant and thus, neutral, will appear less and less justified as the protests continue to accumulate momentum. The national outcry over police violence may turn out to be a game-changer in our country’s history.
I worry about #4, because the media is not highly reliable. The media’s goal is to gather clicks and eyeballs in order to generate revenue; they are not ultimately concerned with truth or justice. So my recommendation would be #3. If you form and express an opinion about the protests, don’t do it without getting information from the most reliable sources available. Real people on the street. Bystanders who are not officially part of the protests may be the best sources, since they have no agenda.
That being said, getting such information may be hard. So, get as close as you can. This article was helpful to me. If you know anyone in St. Louis, or know someone who does, reach out to them. Form your opinion carefully, thoughtfully. The more people who do this, the more likely we are to promote truth and justice.