Thursday, November 15, 2007

Law Enforcement/Prejudice/MRI Stew

Today, Lyn posted a blog about a rather disturbing event at an airport in which the Royal Canadian Mounted Police tasered a man to death. Read it here. (That was a command, by the way.)

I hate to turn to pop-culture to talk about my thoughts on this but I have an intense love for the show Boston Legal. Chances are none of you have ever seen it and that's fine. I'd love to rant on about the show but at least one of you has already been subjected to such rants so I'll keep it to myself.

It teaches me things. Last week, one of the issues it brought up was in the case of a police officer who shot (8 times) and murdered an unarmed black suspect. As he had two other run-ins (this was the first death) with black suspects, it was determined that the incident was racially motivated and the policeman was charged with second degree murder.

The key evidence? An MRI scan.

Departing Boston Legal and entering real life. Apparently, MRI technology can measure brain activity in specific regions to determine the subject's prejudices. This isn't exactly new technology but the concern raised is whether it should be admissible as evidence.

In the episode of BL, noticeable activity was observed when the police officer was shown images of black people that was nonexistent when he was shown images of any other group.

In a comment on Lyn's blog, I expressed my concern that we issue weapons to people who (one never knows) could be total nutbags. It would be nice to have some way of knowing which officer could wind up being a walking time bomb and which wouldn't.

But the MRI thing scares me. Issues of privacy aside, who doesn't have prejudices? In the case on BL, had the police officer been subject to the MRI prior to employment, would we give him a gun? And how much of the population would we be eliminating from potentially entering law enforcement?

In these MRI studies, people who insisted they weren't racist discovered otherwise. Really, the issue isn't whether someone holds prejudice but whether they'll be able to separate from that when a decision needs to be made. I think everyone can agree on that. However, with such MRIs being allowed as evidence, are we taking away the benefit of doubt on someone's ability to make that separation?

Lyn's story doesn't seem to be related to the man's ethnic group. But it does seem to be related to a group of people who did not have the appropriate measures in place (in this case a translator) to diffuse the situation or prevent it from occurring in the first place. These men acted in a way that rational men never should. Wouldn't it be nice if there was some way to know that before they were issued weapons?

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