Seeking an Explanation for this Week's Shootings? Look to Physics

The last week have certainly been tragic for all parties involved. The senseless slaying of civilians and officers of the peace is among one of the darkest moments in modern American history. They seem inexplicable. However, if you are struggling - like most of us are - to understand how events of the past few days, just look to physics. Sir Isaac Newton's scientific philosophy perfectly explains how the universe - and every object in it - functions.

 

Newton's first law states that if an object is in motion, it will continue to be in motion unless an opposing external force is exerted on it. You can apply this a number of ways. First, the continuous murder of unarmed minorities in police custody set off a chain of events that can only be stopped by an external opposing force. Second, the minority community has progressed over the years, however a systemic institutionally-imposed force constantly works to stop that momentum. These measures have been discussed ad nauseum, however, in case you have been living under a rock for the past few centuries, see slavery, Jim Crown segregation, the civil rights movement, COINTELPRO, so on, and so forth. 

 

Newton's second law states that an object motion can be accelerated by outside forces. The level of force an object exerts is dependent on its mass and acceleration, (F = m x a). Let's look at these individually first, then in conjuction with one another. The first of the two elements that determines an objects force is the mass. Many confuse mass with weight, but as we learned in high school, the two are not the same. Knowing an object's mass is understanding property of matter that measures it's resistance to acceleration. An accelerant by definition is anything that speeds up a process. It is also something that is used to increase the spread of fires. In this instance, both definitions are applicable.

The black community is naturally resilient; that is evident in our ongoing and ceaseless struggle. Resistance is innate for us. We, as a community, have accumulated a great deal of mass over the ages, and that measure increases as time goes on. The accelerant in this instance is the redundancy in observed cases of police brutality disproportionately impacting people of color. The numbers back it up as does history. Since the creation of television, there has been a documented record of a culture of hostility and undue force exerted on communities of color by forces that are far from representative of the communities they are charged to protect (read: police).

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From Bloody Sunday to Rodney King, we know the potential ramifications of police brutality all to well, and for centuries, most of the victims remained nameless. Not everyone was Congressman John Lewis - who had his skull cracked by a police baton in Selma. Now, we have cell phones, social media, and hashtags to help us keep tally. Mike Brown was an accelerant, as was Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and countless others. Acceleration is an additive property. Every name scribed into history sparks a new flame and pushes an already resistant body to the max. This week, more names were added to the list, increasing the force exerted on people of color. Mass multiplied by acceleration equals force. Both are equally dependent on each other, if the black community had not accumulated such mass through our trials, or had there not been so many instances of gas being poured on the flames, the force would not be so great. But we have,  there are, and it is.

Sir Newton's third law is simple: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We have witnessed this in live an in action over the past several years. Protests have become reruns, as have inactivity on the part of the justice system. The problem is, officials expect and hope for reactions to be the same in each case. However, we know that not to be the case at all. Reactions happen in varying degrees on both ends. From burning neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Ferguson to peaceful marches across the country. From being met with militarized police shooting tear gas, water hoses and rubber bullets in Selma and Ferguson,  to joining hands with protesters and facilitating rallies. Actions and reactions. However, actions and reactions are unpredictable by nature. The shooting in Dallas - just like the peaceful March that preceded the tragic event - was a reaction to an action that nobody but the shooter saw coming.

 

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Except we all saw it coming, didn't we? Eventually? You could feel it... literally feel it... physically feel it. Its what happens when force is met with opposition. Pressure builds, and pressure bursts pipes. The repetitive cycle of brutality, coupled with a distrust in the justice system and government officials to remedy the situations, built a mass feeling of despair, helplessness, and hopelessness fueled by outrage, anger, and disbelief. That feeling that engulfs every person of color can only be described as pressure. It's the lump in your throat you felt when watching Alton Sterling's son break down in the press conference. It's the emptiness you felt as Philando Castile's girlfriend prayed over his body as he bled out in front of her and her four year old daughter's eyes. It is the clinch in your teeth and the balled fist that follows every failed indictment and acquittal. It is the ringing in your ears every time an outsider offers up a half asked remedy that usually evolves succumbing to your oppression. It is THAT pressure. And for the past half decade, since the killing of Trayvon Martin, that pressure has constantly been accumulating. And pressure bursts pipes.

Officials know the laws of physics are working as well. They understand the pressure is mounting. It's why the met peaceful protest in Ferguson with riot gear, tanks and swat teams from across the state. It's why the city of Cincinnati solicited aid from every officer within a 100 mile radius hours prior to releasing the body camera footage of a man being shot in the head at a routine traffic stop. And it is why media outlets rush to embed Don Lemon and all of his discomfort in the middle of the black community each time another hashtag is added to the scoreboard. Each dead body sparks fear of Los Angeles,  it just hasn't happened yet. Although, they anticipate it will. 

 

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In physics, that pressure is called potential energy. One law of physics states energy is neither created nor destroyed, it can only be transformed front one form to another. The pressure that people of color feel did not just come out of thin air, and it will not dissipate into nothingness. At some point, that potential energy will be forced to convert itself. It is the bursting of the pipe. The way to avoid another Dallas is not for officials to sit on their hands and hope it goes away. It's not to call for peace and hope for the best. And, it is definitely not to fight fire with fire - remember, actions and reactions . The only way to relieve the pressure is to change the culture, implement substantive policy change, and promote accountability over the blue wall of silence. Without this, another Dallas, or worse, is not just probable. Physics guarantees it.