I’ve always liked the prospect of the work I do benefiting people. At the heart of all business value are people whose jobs I love making easier. Really, that is mostly what motivates me. That, and beauty of a created thing. I think a lot of people in IT and Application Development and Administration know what I mean by “beauty” and if not, maybe take a step back and stop thinking about everything that is wrong, because, like Tom Hanks “I have made fire!”
This post will take a rest from strictly business and technology topics to apply the beauty of what I (and we) do to a real problem that I and others care about greatly. I must issue a disclaimer that I do not consider the issue a political one (though its solution no doubt will be partly political, legal and the work of individuals and groups).
There’s really nothing new or recent about the way African Americans are treated by a portion of white society and its representatives in the law enforcement business. The murder of George Floyd has sparked the flame with new intensity. But space doesn’t allow a long discussion here. I have dear black friends who have verified the ongoing, very long-term maltreatment of both them and their families by police officers who target them due to their skin color. It’s real and it’s awful. And to complete my “stance” statement – I do NOT endorse or condone any of the accompanying violence. You do not fix lawlessness with more lawlessness.
The origins of this treatment go all the way back to the slave trade of the 1600s to 1865 in America. That is an historical scourge nobody I know is proud of. There is collective memory of the horror of those years that makes white-on-black violence, parTICularly perpetrated by authorities so painful to African American descendents of slaves. On the flip side, among the aforementioned portion of society (and concentrated but by no means limited to the southern part of the country) the caste system has never been abolished and the oppressing of POC is thought of as righteous and necessary to keep the old order. It’s sick but it’s there. To be certain, and to make sure people aren’t thinking this – America is hardly uniquely evil in this way – even today. Don’t get me going. Again, space does not allow.
The murders, lynching and violent crimes are the most heinous outworking of the remnant hostility, but according to my black friends, by far the most bothersome and every day occurrences are the “death by 1000 cuts” insults, random profiling road stops, threats and demeaning treatment that white people do NOT endure. I’m no police officer. I radically support the vast majority of them and call them heroes every time they put on the uniform. And for sure there’s some statistical wisdom behind the stopping of people (indeed I did have a white friend profiled for (apparently) driving a too-old car in a posh neighborhood some years back). However, what my black friends have encountered is fueled by something far more sinister and venomous than statistics.
So, my fellow techies, I have an idea. Something “beautiful” like I talked about above. And I like Domino’s fit as a base technology. Here goes:
- Build an app that allows people to record incidents, citing the type, location, identification of police officers and departments, the verbal exchange, etc.
- Encrypt EVERYTHING about who they are, except the postal code of their address (optional), their gender, and other helpful identifying characteristics for summary and statistical purposes. This eliminates somewhat the fear of retaliation.
- To avoid fraud, employ a buddy or referral system when people the system knows and trusts can vouch for new folks who want to take part. That, and have algorithmic controls that discount impossible or highly unlikely events (10 reports a day, or whatever).
- Once data is accumulated by region (which I contend is a meaningful data point), give reports to legal entities who focus on this kind of thing. There are several, the ACLU, SPLC, etc. Let them follow through and only then ask for people to identify themselves (optionally of course, but it makes for a better case). Then they can press harassment lawsuits.
I’m not kidding myself, there is no easy undoing of prejudice. So, the approach is to make it increasingly expensive.
Well, there’s a beautiful thing to build, in my opinion. Any takers? Any givers?