I was listening to a podcast by The Economist where they interviewed American author Malcolm Gladwell discussing his book "Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know".
He plays a tape recorded when an American police officer pulls over Sandra Bland a 28-year-old African-American woman for a minor traffic violation in this case failure failure to signal a lane change.
The exchange escalated when he asks her to put out her cigarette. She responds, "Why do I have to put out a cigarette when I'm in my own car?" He ordered her to get out of the car and when she refused, he tells her she is under arrest. Bland repeatedly asked why she is under arrest, and the officer responded, "I am giving you a lawful order." After struggling to get her out, he drew his Taser shouting "I will light you up! Get out! Now!".
The incident resulted in Bland's arrest and charge for assaulting a police officer. She was jailed and committed suicide in the cell a few days later.
Gladwell's point was how neither Bland nor the police officer understood each other with an apparently trivial situation quickly spiralling out of control.
I was reminded of the incident when I read the inquest report into the death of Neil Richard Banjo who died after an altercation with police in Normanton in 2016.
Police were called to Mr Banjo's house to deal with his daughter who was drinking heavily.
When the daughter smashed a bottle, police believed they were threatened and moved to arrest her.
Mr Banjo intervened and was pushed to the ground, causing severe head trauma, from which he never recovered.
Just as in the American example, the matter spiralled out of control very quickly
The whole incident, the Inquest said, barely lasted a minute.
The coroner recommended police seek alternative action to arrest for low-level crime.
Gladwell's conclusion from the Bland case was we must "accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers".
We should always be thoughtful, humble and mindful of context when trying to understand people's actions, especially people we don't know.