Our Broken Understanding of Each Other

orange shackles

Source: the Advocate

We don’t understand each other. In case you missed our current national turmoil.

Recent anlysis on what Democrats guess about Republican demographics and what Republicans think about Democratic demographics says we get a lot of things wrong about each other. Democrats think Republicans are older, more Evangelical, more Southern, and richer than they actually are. Republicans think Democrats are less Godly, blacker, gayer, and more unionized. And by wide margins.


Source: FiveThirtyEight.com

And that’s from polling originally done in 2015! Does anyone think those misperceptions haven’t gotten better in our current national climate?

If we don’t  understand who people from different parts of the country or holding different view points actually are, how can we understand their experience?

I had the chance to observe someone else’s experience recently: a bail hearing at the Orleans Parish Courthouse in New Orleans.

Imagine seeing someone who has been arrested for a misdemeanor drug charge being held in an orange jumpsuit, with shackles around their wrists and ankles, just for the opportunity to have bail set. Does that feel “innocent until proven guilty”?

I don’t think so.

Imagine being held in jail because bail is set higher than you can afford, again for a misdemeanor drug arrest, thus allowing you to sit in jail for 45 days until the prosecuting attorney might decide whether or not to charge you? Does that feel “innocent until proven guilty”?

I don’t think so either.

And what if at the end of that 45 days, at which point you’ve probably lost your job, and perhpas your home, the prosecutor offers you a plea deal. Maybe you didn’t even do it. Maybe you did, but the evidence against you is flawed and successful prosecution is unlikely. But, you have a choice: sit in jail for months (maybe even years) awaiting trial or take the plea, including accepting the crime on your record, to get out of jail and back to your life.

Maybe you’re even charged with a felony. Take the same scenario, even for non-violent felons. But now the prosecuting attorney has 60 days to decide whether to charge you. On day 61 they offer a plea deal: accept guilt, time served, and go on probation…or stay in jail for months to prove your innocence while your life leaves you behind. That’s a deeply unpleasant choice, with little in the way of justice involved.

What happens with a felony conviction on your record? You’ll have trouble voting. You’ll have trouble getting a job. You’ll be denied public housing, food stamps, and other programs we as a society has agreed would be helpful to give people a helping hand up. Dare I say, to be rehabilitated and productive members of society again.

All because you may have been arrested (perhaps on flawed charges) and couldn’t afford bail for a non-violent offense.

I saw such things unfold during that recent observation of a bail hearing. Add in the brief opportunity for arrested individuals to speak for a few minutes with a public defender prior appearing before a judge to have bail set. Add in the confusion on their faces as the fast-paced hearing moves forward, full of court lingo, and boom…in a matter of minutes, you’re stuck in jail because you and your family can’t afford bail.

So, you might be saying, Eric, that can’t happen. People can’t sit in jail for months or years for non-violent offenses.

I used to believe that too.

Then there are statistics like this:

Overall, [Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association executive director] Ranatza said there are 2,181 people who are being held in Louisiana jails that have been there for a year or more without going to trial. That’s about 15 percent of the combined jail populations of 14,041 people who had not been convicted of any crime yet, according to information provided by Ranatza.

Of those 2,181 people:

  • 1,507 had been held between one and two years without a trial;

  • 448 had been held between two and three years without a trial;

  • 141 had been held between three and four years without a trial; and

  • 85 people had been held more than four years without a trial.

In one horrific case, a man was recently ordered release on appeal for lack of a speedy trial. He had been awaiting trial on a drug charge for eight years!

Yes, New Orleans and Louisiana as a whole is a gnarly place as far as injustice in the criminal justice system goes.

You might also say: “Eric, that wouldn’t happen where I live.”

Really? Police never target minority neighborhoods for drug crime, including petty crimes like marijuana? Black Americans are not arrested for drug possession at disproportionate rates to their drug use even though they use drugs at the same rate as white Americans? You think those same subtle – or not so subtle – levels of discrimination don’t exist where you live?

I used to believe that such discrimination didn’t exist. I grew up white, upper-middle class, in the Seattle burbs, going to a college prep K-12 school. Then I came to New Orleans, saw the abject poverty in historically African American neighborhoods, cursed with the legacy of decades of Jim Crow, a largely abominable public school system, and an economy limping along amidst the lingering malaise, apathy, and corruption of Louisiana. Most importantly, I read the stories of a criminal justice system that is really efficient at over-arresting, over-charging, and over-sentencing…lots of black people. And it’s not right.

And as much as things in Louisiana might be on the extreme end of this problem in America, we’re all on the same spectrum of the problem. It’s just a question of degree, even if our ideals should remain the same.

Let’s remind ourselves of some basics rights in the Constitution and the amendments to protect the rights of the individual and the accused. The 4th – 8th Amendments in the Bill of Rights specifically secure:

  • protection against unreasonable search and seizure
  • protection of due process
  • protection from self-incrimination
  • protection from double jeopardy
  • the right to a speedy trial
  • the right to a jury trial
  • the right to counsel in one’s defense
  • protection from excessive bail
  • protection from excessive fines
  • protection from cruel and unusual punishment

The 14th later added “equal protection under the laws.”

All these things were viewed as rather important, and necessary, for justice in our country.

Now, consider this: until the era of cell phones and body camera, police misbehavior was a largely foreign concept for most of us living in the suburbs or rural America, and sometimes even urban neighborhoods that aren’t poor or dominated by poorer minorities.

Well, there aren’t any cell phones and body cameras in the court room.

So, the next time you hear or read about some horror story in the criminal justice system and think, “that’s terrible…but that would never happen where I live.”

I ask you, think again. Do you really know what the criminal justice system is like? Do you know what the life of someone who grew up and lives in entirely different circumstances from you is really like?

Maybe you could consider how you can find a way to learn more about some part of our society you might not know very well. It might be as simple as seeking out conversation with someone you encounter regularly in your life, who you know hails from dramatically different circumstances.

Now do something about that.

We could all use some better understanding of each other.

A Salute to the Dark Knight


A drawing of Kam Chancellor by Keegan Hall. This piece caught Kam’s eye and launched Keegan’s career as an artist. 

The retirement of Kam Chancellor, one of the greatest Seahawks of all time, and one of professional footballs greatest strong safeties, was both expected and jarring. Expected in that the severe neck injuries cited in his semi-cryptic Twitter announcement were known to be a likely career-ender. Jarring, in that it truly is the end of an era.

Part of Bam Bam Kam’s most visible greatness and source of his professional reputation were the fearsome hits he delivered on opponents. National and local retrospectives of Kam’s career are dominated by recitation of his reputation as a jarring hitter (Vernon Davis anyone?).

Yet, those reminisces miss the point of Kam’s true greatness. He was more than the fiercest hitter on a defense that was the best in the NFL for five years.

Kam Chancellor was the soul of the Seahawks, and the best player on the defense that crushed opponents on the path to a Super Bowl XVVIII victory.

Soul? Yes, soul. Amidst all the big, vocal names out there on that Seahawk roster including Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, et. al…it was Kam Chancellor who as a unifying force:

“It is Chancellor whom teammates credit for uniting the locker room on the way to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.”

And how did he exert the leadership to unite them? As that ESPN Magazine profile explores, Kam used to be soft-spoken. Yet, he evolved:

“One player speaks before each Seahawks game, a rotating core of four or five superstars, but teammates say that Chancellor’s speeches feel most akin to a religious chant. He closes his eyes. His muscles tense up. He opens his eyes and looks possessed, demanding eye contact with every player on the team.”

Ok, then.

There’s a reason he was declared “the Dark Knight”:

“He’s a freaking monster,” [Richard] Sherman said. “Kam Chancellor damages people’s souls. He plays in a dark place. We feed off him, all game long. He’s an intimidator, an aggressive ballplayer who plays by the rules.”

Those things were said about Kam after his dominating performance in the 2014 Divisional Playoff Round, where Seattle buried the Carolina Panthers with the aid of a dominant, 11 tackle, 90 yard-interception-return-for-a-TD performance from that Dark Knight.

Sadly, the 2014 season ended on an auspicious, dreadfully sad note on the one yard line. A play that will live in infamy in Seahawks history.

What about the previous years Super Bowl victory?

Kam was the unsung hero.

After the Seahawks dispatched the 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game, on the backs of a famous play — and even more famous post-game interview — from Richard Sherman, famous NFL writer Peter King declared Kam “the player of the game” and predicted:  “In the Super Bowl, the collisions between him and Julius Thomas could be legendary.”

Close, it was this hit on Denver Bronco receiver Demaryious Thomas early in the first quarter that set the tone for the game on defense:

You want to come across the middle on the Legion of Boom, friend? Ok, it’s gonna be a long day for y’all.

And it was.

Chancellor’s box score from that game: 14 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and one interception. Were it not for the visual fanfare of Malcom Smith returning a wayward Peyton Manning pass (thanks to a hit on Manning from Cliff Avril) for a touchdown Kam would have been the MVP of the game. Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated agreed:

After the game, Peter King called him “the baddest strong safety in football,” declaring the Seahawks defense Kam personified to be responsible for: “[a]s dominating and intimidating a performance as I remember in a Super Bowl.” Saying moreover:  “The analysis of this Super Bowl will center, rightfully, on a voracious defense. This was without a doubt one of the best defensive performances in Super Bowl history.”

And Kam’s dominance extended to the playoff games leading up to the that Super Bowl. When King called him the player of the game against the 49ers, Chancellor racked up 11 tackles (including one for loss), 2 passes defensed, and an interception.

Against the Saints in the Divisional Playoff Round Kam had 14 tackles (including one for loss) and 2 passes defensed.

That’s three playoff games ending in a Super Bowl ring: 35 tackles (2 for loss), 6 passes defensed, and and two interceptions. That’s as good a playoff run as you’ll find for a defensive player in the NFL. Ever.

But, it all came at a cost, even before the final neck injury that finished his career, there was this (from that same ESPN Magazine profile):

“Chancellor was the defensive enforcer, roaming the backfield with a dark visor and the word “Bam” tattooed on both shoulders. His presence intimidated receivers into changing their routes, and his fearsome hits became legendary around the league. But in so many of those collisions, he suffered as much damage as he inflicted: He had hip surgery, bone spurs, nagging injuries to his ankles and knees. He was hospitalized for three days because of trauma and internal bleeding after the Super Bowl in February 2014. A year later, he played his second Super Bowl with a torn MCL in a knee that had swollen to nearly twice its normal size.”

That greatness came at a fearful cost.

Thus, rides into the sunset the Dark Knight of the Seattle Seahawks. I’ll always wear that #31 jersey with pride, and remember fondly the Legion of Boom in its truest form. The best defense of its era in the NFL, with Kam Chancellor at its heart.


Another piece by Keegan Hall, requested by Kam and featuring the conclusion of his 90-yard, interception return for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in the 2014 Playoffs. Keegan’s work is all drawn in pencil. (Pencil!) You should buy some. Seriously. I have two signed copies, one of the first one of Kam in this post and another of the Legion of Boom.