Unconscious Bias and the “Oh Shit” Moment

Valued commenter CMM, a former police officer, published an article at Raw Story on the role unconscious bias plays in the split-second decisions cops make to use deadly force — the “oh shit” moment where life and death can hang in the balance. With her permission, here’s an excerpt:

[T]he incidents of the last week have been incredibly traumatic and painful for all “sides,” and I have been in plenty of deep conversations with people trying to think through and understand everything that has happened.

One person asked a seemingly simple question: Is it possible that these shootings are not caused by racism, but by a moment of fear and panic? My answer is that I believe that most of the shootings have happened in a moment of fear and panic — but that panic is driven by underlying racism.

One of my nerdy friends recently described humans as “pattern-matching machines.” The ability to rapidly take in a series of cues — appearance, body language, tone of voice, and more — is a survival trait that goes back to caveman times. We see a set of cues that read “friendly” and we react one way. We see a set of cues that read “danger” and we react another. Some of those cues are hard wired and some are learned.

Here’s where I think all of us who came of age in the United States in the last 50 years can be unconsciously racially biased, without being “racist” in the traditional sense. We have all been steeped since birth in a culture full of racially-driven signifiers…

So yes, it is possible to react out of fear and panic. Most of the shootings of black suspects are not done by officers with KKK-style racism in their hearts. But the fact that black people end up dead in encounters more often than white people IS a product of racism.

As responsible citizens, we can’t just shrug and say, my bad, can’t help it, it’s my subconscious programming. We have to fight it, we have to double check our gut reactions, and we have to understand the conditioning that we have all received. It’s still racism and it is still killing people.

The whole thing is well worth a read, IMO. CMM is absolutely correct that the onus is on us to be aware of and fight our subconscious biases. That’s especially important for people who are walking around with guns strapped to their hips. I’m not sure how that filters into police training, though. Is it just left up to individuals to work this out for themselves? God, I hope not.

Anyway, Vox published a statistic the other day that points a big red blinking neon arrow to at least part of the problem, IMO: Police academies spend 110 hours on firearms and self-defense and 8 hours on conflict management. Seems that cops with better training in de-escalation techniques would be less subject to operating in the “oh shit” moment, when minority citizens might be at risk of dying due to implicit bias.

Maybe that’s a start, anyway. What say you?

Authors In Our Midst: The Final Chapter

…at least for now.

We have quite the potpourri this time. First up is something completely different. A podcast I really thought some of you would enjoy.

Uncanny Country:


Kind of like 21st century Twilight Zone episodes. This quirky, darkly comic, Southwestern-flavored anthology brings you a new paranormal audio play every month. Sit back, relax, and hold on tight. Because you’re about to take a quick detour…through  Uncanny County

There’s more… Read more

Authors In Our Midst: Playwrights and Pop Culture

I’m featuring two playwright/screenwriters this week and one pop culture critic. I thought it sounded like a fun mix.

I love reading screenplays and plays. While a novel can take me to a different place for a while, screenplays and plays engage my imagination on multiple levels. I’m engaged with the characters, I’m designing the set, I’m framing my shot, I’m blocking scenes. It’s a total experience for a certified theatre geek and film/tv addict. So I was happy to feature our resident playwrights.

First up is Joshua James:



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Authors In Our Midst: Horror, YA and A Work In Progress

I picked three works today. They are diverse, so a little something for everyone. If you want to be featured, send me your information and I’ll include you. Also, you can add your work in the comment section.

I have two playwrights that I’m going to feature next, so if you are a playwright and want to be included, now is the time to shoot me an email.

The previous Authors In Our Midst can be found here. I had a request from Tissue Thin Pseudonym, he’d love it if anyone would review his book Becoming Phoebe (featured in the first author’s post) and post it on Amazon.

Now on to our featured works:


Read about all of them below the fold…

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Authors in Our Midst: Bullets

I see if I want an afternoon distraction I’m going to have to post it myself.

BULLETS e-cover

This is a quick Authors in Our Midst. I received an email this week reminding me that one of our authors is offering a free download this week.

BULLETS – mystery thriller by Elijah Drive

Professional poker player Jon “Big Slick” Elder was minding his own business in a diner when an Arizona sheriff walked in and killed the man sitting next to him, a Mexican day laborer accused of murder. The law officer then arrested Slick simply because the sheriff didn’t like the color of Slick’s skin.

Slick knew that the stranger who had been sitting next to him at the diner was no murderer because, in addition to cards, Slick also kills people for money. The poor man didn’t have the look, but Slick does, and with the help of a beautiful assistant district attorney, a Navajo state trooper and a homegrown federal agent, Slick sets out to prove the dead man’s innocence. What he discovers, as he digs deeper, is a deadly mystery that threatens not only him, but his newfound friends as well. But Slick hates to have anyone… ANYONE… toss him his shoes and tell him to get out of town.

If you need something to read this week, there you have it! Again if you missed it, here are the first three posts: ONE, TWO and THREE

Consider this a book and open thread. See if we can avoid any hint of politics. Unless it’s a political thriller.

Authors In Our Midst: The Dog Thief and Unreasonable Doubt

I am very excited about the response to my request for submissions from authors in our midst. If you missed it, here are the first and second installments. There was enough of a response that I think I’ll do two authors in each post, for variety – if one genre doesn’t appeal to you, another might. I’ll probably post twice a month, more if I have time.

I’ve asked the authors to chime in, in the comments, to give a bit of their journey, how they came to write their works, what inspires them. I hope you’ll play along and ask them questions. Think of it as your very own writer’s workshop/author meet and greet.

First up: Jill Kearney, The Dog Thief (available here)*


This book seriously sounds like it could be a Balloon-Juicer’s favorite:  Read more

Authors In Our Midst: The Cabin


I thought the first post of Balloon-Juice writers was successful enough to do another. I think after taking suggestions, a weekly or twice monthly post will be manageable and fun. I’ll only post one or two authors in each post. If you’d like to be featured, please email me and I’ll post on a first come basis.

Just to avoid any complications, I’ll only post at the author’s request.

So hit comments, ask questions, share favorite reads and if you’re an author share your work, talk about your publishing adventures, share any tips or advice, answer questions.

The week’s submission is from Munira – The Cabin, by Judith Munira

Building the cabin Photo by Hédi Mizouni

Building the cabin
Photo by Hédi Mizouni

When Judith Avinger drove out of Bellingham, Washington, in her white Honda, on her way to a new life in Quebec, Canada, she knew, of course, that she was going to a different country, and to a province with a different language, but she also felt she was looking for something else, something elusive, something she couldn’t define. What she found was a new family, a spiritual path, a new name (Munira) and the vision of a cabin in the forest, a cabin she eventually built in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

The Cabin is the story of how she dreamed that cabin into existence. But it’s also the story of her deep connection to the people and places she left behind and her trips back and forth between the east and the west coasts. She began writing this memoir the day she left Bellingham, recording each day’s adventures in her journal. Nearly 20 years later, it is finally finished.

To see the original authors in the first authors in our midst post, click here. Also check out the comments are there were quite a few author links there, too.