John Dickerson is a correspondent for 60 Minutes. He is also a Contributing Editor to The Atlantic and the host of the Whistlestop podcast and co-host of the Slate Political Gabfest.

What Do You Hear? A Test of Empathy

In reporting out The Hardest Job in the World, I became fascinated with James Q. Wilson’s theory of character. One of its key aspects was empathy, which Wilson defined as a “willingness to take importantly into account the rights, needs, and feelings of others.” In the 11 weeks since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, over 21 million Americans nationwide have rallied in the streets against police brutality and racial injustice. This is a test of policy and of empathy in just the way Wilson describes. So what have leaders heard from those protesters in the streets? Three answers: 

Vince Champion, Southeast Regional Director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers in Atlanta, NYT’s “The Daily, June 29th

Michael Barbaro: Vince, I want to talk about the protests that have been happening all over the country. And I’m curious what you think, as a union leader, when you have seen these vast crowds in 2,000 U.S. cities and towns, protesting the death of Rashard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, among many others. What did you see when you watched those?

Vince Champion: I see people that have a message that they believe that it’s systemic racism in the police departments. And they believe that because of the color of their skin, they’re treated a certain way. They’re afraid, because of the color of their skin, their children may go out and not come home. I mean, that is what I heard. And one of the biggest things that I took out of all the videos that I watched and everything was the word “de-escalation” — that officers need to learn how to de-escalate. Valid points. But I guess to answer your question, I think I heard what the protesters were saying. I don’t disagree with the protesters. I want everybody to be able to say and be able to tell their kid, when we’re not there to protect you, that man in uniform is. Go to him. And at the end of the day, that’s what we need to get to. That’s why I became a cop.

Tim Scott, Face the Nation, June 28th

John Dickerson: Protests in the street like we haven’t seen since the 1960s.. ..What do you hear in the voices of those protesters?

Sen. Scott: Well, I hear from the- from the non-violent protesters what we hear consistently is this frustration that was ignited by eight minutes and forty six seconds of George Floyd pleading for his life, saying he could not breathe and then at the end asking for his mother. What I hear is a concern and a frustration that I have felt as a person who’s been stopped by law enforcement 18 times in the last couple decades, including this year. What- what I hear in the protesters is, enough already. Let’s get to the table and get something done. And what I hear from the protesters is, this is our country. We want our voices to be heard in this country. And what I did, because I heard and have felt the frustration of the protesters myself, is I drafted legislation that said, we see you, we hear you, and let’s move together forward. This is a very interesting and important moment. Interesting in that the country’s response, JOHN, has been amazing. White folks and black folks, brown ones and yellow ones have come together in the streets of our cities to say we want to be a unified country. I say thank you and God bless them.

Mike Pence, Face the Nation, June 28th

John Dickerson: What do you hear the protesters saying when they protest?

Vice President Pence: Well, it’s- it’s been a focus of ours since the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. There’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd. But there’s also no excuse for the rioting and looting and violence that ensued. Look, the president engaged law enforcement leaders. We’ve sat down with leaders in the African American community. I’ve- I’ve met with leaders in the African American community and- and law enforcement in cities around this country. And what I hear is while- while the radical left says we need to defund the police, what the American people want is for us to fund the police with additional training and support and also improve the lives of the people in our African American community, which I’m proud to say, under President Trump’s leadership, we were doing over the last three years. We don’t- we don’t need to choose between supporting law enforcement and supporting our African American neighbors. 

Campaigns don’t test for presidential qualities very well, but empathy– the ability to speak to and understand the needs of those not like you– will be a test for both candidates. 

1 thought on “What Do You Hear? A Test of Empathy”

  1. I hear chaos. Pain, pride, fear, youth, change, understanding, belonging, anger, hate, cruelty, hope, dreams, future, poverty. It is a mob, they are all there for different reasons. The struggle the rest of have is trying to express that they matter, each and every one of them. Where the white community made have created the country, the black community has created change. It has been a long history for such a short period of time. We can’t forget our roots no matter where we have come from but we can look to the future to make a change.

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