Seven Ways We Can Combat Racial Bias In Society and Law Enforcement

Seven Ways We Can Combat Racial Bias In Society and Law Enforcement

In my last post we discussed racial bias and it’s influence on deathly police shootings of unarmed Black males. In this post, we’re going to descuss seven ways to possibly correct this racial bias and hopefully create a society that’s less racist and law enforcement that protects and serves it’s Black citizens better.

Address Racial Prejudice At A Young Age

Let’s face it, we live in a racist society. It’s hard to grow up today and not have some form of prejudice implanted in you by society. Even many of us who think we aren’t prejudice have shown our true colors during the Black Lives Matter protests by the things we say in comment sections when we think we’re safe behind our keyboards and smart phones.

The good thing is, children are much more accepting and responsive to racial bias reduction strategies compared to adults. The earlier we introduce them to racial bias and stereotypes, the more likely they are to recognize them and therefore not engage in them when they get older. Introducing programs that address racial bias reduction in elementary schools could lead to a whole new generation of adults that are less prejudice compared to trying to integrate racial bias reduction programs later in life.

Increase Interracial Engagement

If we mainly surround ourselves by others who look and think like us, it’s easy to develop intergroup bias. Cross racial engagement helps alleviate that bias. When people engage with others from different races, it gives them a chance to know them on a deeper level, therefore when they hear broad assumptions such as “All Black people are criminals”, they have a frame of reference that allows them to say “that is not true”. Cross-racial engagement not only leads to better understanding of other groups, but it can lead to better relationships as well. White college students for example, with cross-race roommates tend to have more diverse friendship bases, experience less interracial anxiety, and are more likely to value diversity after only a few months (Gaither & Sommers, 2013). When people from opposite races, personally know people from that race , they are less likely to engage in stereotypes and more likely to support systemic reform that helps make the lives of those who may look different from them better.

Increase Community Policing

Ideally, community policing means that the police are engaged with the civilians who live in that community. They take the time and effort to build relationships. They show that they are there to protect and serve, not just to enforce the law. As a Black male who grew up in a Black neighborhood, as a kid I was always afraid when the police came to my street because I never saw them show up to do anything other than harass and arrest people. They weren’t usually nice. I didn’t see them as allies. I saw them as someone to be afraid of, to run from. That’s how the police are viewed in a lot of inner-city neighborhoods because of the lack of relationships they have within the community. It doesn’t help that in my neighborhood, most of the time the police who patrolled it were White, they didn’t live anywhere near where I lived. They got to come to our lower income neighborhood, harass us for being in our neighborhood and then leave and go to better neighborhoods. We resented them and that’s not how it should have been, but that’s how it was when I was growing up and it hasn’t changed. In community policing, law enforcement and the citizens have mutual respect for each other and work together to keep the community safe. The citizens and police develop trust between each other which is something that is lacking in most inner-city neighborhoods. When police officers are seen only as coming around to harass citizens and over patrol a neighborhood, the citizens not only develop a fear towards the officers, but also a distrust and resentment that makes it hard for both the officers to do their jobs and for the citizens to feel as if they are being protected and served by those officers fairly.

Diversify Police Departments

A diverse police department not only helps officers from different races, genders and backgrounds develop better gender and interracial engagement among each other, but it would greatly help with community policing. As I said before, most of the officers that patrolled the Black neighborhood I grew up in were White. Because there often is a distrust between the Black community and police in general and White police officers particularly, it fosters an “us versus them” mentality in both the community and with the police officers. This “us versus them” mentality in law enforcement I believe is one of the cancers that a diversified police department can cut out by inhibiting prototypicality and less homogeneity while increasing more positive attitudes towards the communities these officers patrol.

Rotational Assignments For Officers

Many officers are assigned to high crime areas where their only interactions with minorities may be dealing with the worst of the worst. They may be in gang units or “street crime units” where they are more likely to encounter minorities who fit the cultural stereotype of being criminals. If this is what the officers see on a regular basis, it’s easy for them to start assuming that most minorities, especially Black males, are suspicious or involved in some type of criminal activity. It would be helpful to have officers rotate assignments in minority communities so that they can see that race isn’t a diagnostic cue for determining a threat. For example, an officer who was in the gang unit can also be assigned to work where he or she will have a wider range of interactions with minorities such as school aged children, the elderly, business owners and just regular citizens who care about their community. This exposure will likely help the officer be less stereotypical and not relate race so much to crime or a threat. This goes for officers of all races.

Diveristy Training

It should be required that all law enforcement officers go through continual diversity training. Studies have shown that diversity training can have immediate, positive impacts on the way officers view other races, especially when that training is combined with both awareness (self awareness of stereotyping) and skill development (practice resolving conflict). Most people do not intend to be racist, bias or even stereotype, but it is subsconcious and that’s why diversity training is so important. It helps bring those subconscious biases and stereotypes to the conscious where they can be addressed.

Increase Accountability

Lastly, to equalize status differences between law enforcement officers and civilians as well as to address racial bias, body cams and dash cams should be mandatory during each officers-civilian encounter. This will help hold officers accountable for their on-duty conduct. It is a good idea for both the protection of the officer and the civilian as well as can be used as a training and appraisal tool. It also equalizes status differences between the officer and civilian so that the officers account of an incident doesn’t automatically outweigh the account of the civilians. Law enforcement officers should not be afraid to do their jobs, but like all professionals, they should be held accountable, trained properly and disciplined when they do their jobs poorly.

 

Changes don’t happen over night, but none of these suggestions are hard to put into place. We have to tackle racial bias if we hope to reduce the number of shootings of unarmed Black men, the over patrolling and arresting of minorities as well as creating a police force that is welcomed and not feared in minority communities.

Sources:

Hall, A. V.< Hall, E. V., & Perry, J. L. (2016) Black and blue: Exploring racial bias and law enforcement in the killings of unarmed black male civilians {Electronic version].

Racial Bias And It’s Influence On Law Enforcement Killings Of Black Males

Racial Bias And It’s Influence On Law Enforcement Killings Of Black Males

I wrote a long time ago about cognitive bias and confirmation bias and its effects on the Trayvon Martin Situation

After painfully watching the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police department in the shadow of other killings of unarmed Black men, it’s time to revisit why this keeps happening. 

In the case of George Floyd, we need to explore why a police officer (Derek Chauvin) kneeling on a restrained persons neck who is complaining of not being able to breath and literally begging for his life, showed no restraint, empathy or mercy as he continued to block off the man’s air and blood flow until he died. Or why his fellow officers ( Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng)  would stand by and allow it to happen without question. 

I don’t believe that all of these officers and people involved in other shootings of unarmed Black people are racist, but I do believe that they were indeed highly influenced by racial bias

Racial Bias

Black male citizens are 21 more times likely to be killed by law enforcement compared to White male citizens according to a ProPublica analysis of federal data on police shootings. This suggest that in these deadly encounters, some sort of racial bias is present and this racial bias extends beyond law enforcement and into the community in general. Meaning, that even civilians seem to believe that Black lives matter less than White lives and it’s not due to outright racism in most cases, but subconscious prejudices. 

Implicit bias occurs when a discriminator is not consciously aware of his or her own bias, whereas explicit bias occurs when a discriminator is able to introspectively self-report these biased behaviors or attitudes (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). 

In Black and blue: Exploring racial bias and law enforcement in the killings of unarmed black male civilians, Hall, Hall & Perry discuss three stereotypes that make Black males especially more at risk of becoming victims of police shootings.

Black Youth as Adult-Like

Racial bias starts at a very young for Black children. In studies conducted by Goff, Jackson, Di Leone, Culotta and DiTomaso (2014) where undergraduate students and law enforcement officers were instructed to evaluate and estimate the age and culpability for their actions of Black, White and Latino children, participates consistently judged Black boys to be older by an average of 4.53 and 4.59 years compared to their same aged White counterparts. Therefore, those Black children were seen to be more adult-like and thus the severity of their punishment should be harsher. This translates to the participants even agreeing that those Black children deserved more use of force by the police than same aged White children.

Think about this. If these participants saw a 14 year old as 18 or 19, they agreed that they deserved punishment legally and physically usually reserved for adults. 

This comes into play when we think back to the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy playing with a toy gun in the park. When the police responded and killed him nearly immediately, the officer who killed him reported that he thought Tamir was around 20 years of age. Again, if an officer was responding correctly to a 12 year old with a potential real gun he might have responded differently, but the fact that he imagined Tamir to be 8 years older, an adult with a gun, probably caused him to respond more aggressively. The color of Tamir’s skin, subconsciously to the officer, made him older, therefore more of a threat and more deserving of swift lethal force. 

Blacks as Sub- and Superhuman

There is a lot of research that shows that Blacks have been dehumanized in American culture for centuries. Black people are often implicitly associated with apes. They are seen as subhuman, as anamalistic and therefore deserving of stricter legal and physical punishment and less empathy. 

Blacks are also often implicitly seen as superhuman, having extraordinarily strength and able to endure more pain more compared to Whites. If law enforcement officers see Blacks, specifically young Black males as superhuman, it’s easy for them to justify uses of force and even to start developing a narrative where the Black male suspect is the villain and the officer is the superhero. Darren Wilson in his 2014 grand jury testimony about the killing of Michael Brown described Brown as if he had supernatural strength, stating that he “felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan”  (Calamur, 2014). 

When approaching a Black male subject, even if he is unarmed, many officers may already be anticipating a fight for their life.

Blacks as Violent and Criminal Threats

Pervasive at an implicit level is the stereotype that Blacks are criminals. People who are not racist by nature, often are brainwashed by society to believe that Blacks are dangerous and cannot be trusted. 

In a classic study, Duncan (1976) showed participants a scene in which one student shoved another student. The participants reported that the student shoving the other student was more violent when the shoving student was Black, compared to when he was White. Blacks as criminals also comes into play whenever a Black male is the victim of a police shooting or other unarmed attack and the media and others quickly attempt to brand the victim as a “thug” as seen in the Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Ahmaud Arbery cases just to name a few.

When the police already see Black males as violent and criminals, it’s easy to make the leap to excessive use of force and deadly force. This is before (and if they ever make it to) the legal system which dishes out punishment harsher to Black males for the same reasons we’re discussing here.

Stereotypes in the Context of Shooter Bias

Stereotypes about Black males influence “shooter bias” (Cornell et al., 2007). What this means is that in shooter bias experiments where participants are asked to make quick decisions on whether to shoot or not shoot a Black or White target in a computer simulation holding a gun, a wallet, a cell phone or another non-gun object, participants were more likely to shoot a Black target holding a non-gun object than a White target holding a non-gun object. They were even more likely to hesitant (which could mean life or death) when it came to shooting White targets holding guns compared to Black targets. This is not entirely about race, but knowledge of cultural stereotypes as other studies have shown that Black participants and Black officers are just as likely to have the same shooter bias’ as White participants and White officers. 

This shows that stereotypes associated with Black culture (i.e., Black men being violent, criminals, sub- or superhuman) are independent of explicit racial or prejudicial beliefs. Someone who may not be considered a racist may subconsciously respond differently to Black people in stressful situations without intentionally having ill will or bad intentions. This is one reason they will be quick to tell you that they are not racist and how many Black friends they have.

This extends beyond Law Enforcement and to society which means that if we want to change Law Enforcement’s attitudes when encountering Black civilians, Black males specifically, we also need to change the way society sees and the media portrays Black people. Simply, Black people need to be seen in a more positive light if we hope to change anything.

In the next post, we’ll discuss some possible solutions.