Thursday, July 23, 2015

Position Authority and Sandra Bland

Above is the picture of a small, not particularly distinguished home in my county. Its owner was in the process of an addition that had been approved by the town building department until work was stopped in May.

The problem was that the town's Historic Preservation Commission had not been consulted.  Unfortunately, the non-historic house was located in an Historic Preservation District.

Since May, the preservation viziers have had several meetings with the owner and architect.  They have generously offered their personal aesthetic suggestions for revisions to the owner's plans.  In at least two cases, the committee's ideas overstep its mandate: 

      --  It wants the owner to make changes to the rear of the house even though the 
           preservation purview covers only street views of non-historic houses. 

      --  It wants to order changes to the front porch roof as it was originally built.
          Again, the committee's authority extends only to changes to houses.

I can imagine a day when preservation committee members walk the streets of the historic district and suggest, perhaps strongly, changes that homeowners should consider for their non-historic houses.  Maybe new exterior paint colors or landscaping.  

I sure wouldn't want to own a house in that town's preservation district.

Position Authority

What is at work in the situation above is the assertion of "position authority."   Big businesses and other organizations talk about it a lot because it is seen as frustrating cooperation among individuals.  Here is one description I found on the internet:

      What is interesting is that it is possible to have positional authority without 
      personal authority. Here, someone above us has title and position but does 
       not have credibility or respect in our eyes. . . .

      It is precisely these leaders who often make it clear to those they lead that 
      they have positional authority over them ("I am the boss"). . . . Interestingly, 
      those who must lead from primarily positional authority usually see those 
      they lead as serving them, rather than them serving those they lead. 

Here, from another site, are some critiques:

      Leading from position undermines the development of relationships.
      Leading from position encourages negative political behaviours.
      Leading from position crushes the human spirit.
      Leading from position erodes trust.
      Leading from position produces mediocre results.

Many government bureaucrats LOVE position authority.  If you have ever needed a variance from your city's zoning authority or a change of your child's class schedule from a school principal, you know how go about it.  You suck up to the administrator.

This is also true in dealings with the police.  If you get pulled over on a traffic stop, you act as compliant and solicitous as possible.  The police officer can issue you an expensive citation and make your life uncomfortable.  He knows it; you know it.  You both play your roles.

Sandra Bland

Here is the police dashcam video of the traffic stop that put Sandra Bland in a Texas jail.  

She had been traveling in her car when she noticed a police car following her.  Like many people in such a situation, she decided to move into a different lane.  

Unfortunately, she did not signal before making the lane change.  The police officer in the car behind hers turned on his flashers and ordered her to pull over.

Sandra Bland was not deferential to the police officer.  He asserted his position authority. Presumably anxious, she lit up a cigarette, which was none of his business, and he ordered her to put the cigarette out.  She refused to extinguish her cigarette. He took out his Taser and threatened to "light" her.  He ordered her to get out of her car.  Then he handcuffed her.

Bland did not threaten the officer, but she also did not act as respectfully as he would have liked.  So he arrested her.

If you are a police officer obsessed with your position authority, maybe it makes sense to jail a driver for failing to signal for a lane change or smoking a cigarette in your presence.

If you are a normal person, it makes no sense at all.

Bland was put in jail, where she died (apparently a suicide) three days later.

The traffic stop did not kill her.  But without the overreaction of the police officer, she almost certainly would be alive today.

I hate this crap.

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