Why Police Shoot Young Black Men

Chris Mooney posted an article on Mother Jones website titled, “The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men and How to Reform Our Bigoted Brains” on Dec. 1, 2014. Mooney writes:

“I’m sitting in the soft-spoken cognitive neuroscientist’s spotless office nestled within New York University’s psychology department, but it feels like I’m at the doctor’s, getting a dreaded diagnosis. On his giant monitor, Amodio shows me a big blob of data, a cluster of points depicting where people score on the Implicit Association Test. The test measures racial prejudices that we cannot consciously control. I’ve taken it three times now. This time around my uncontrolled prejudice, while clearly present, has come in significantly below the average for white people like me.

“You think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprejudiced, but you can’t control these split-second reactions.

“That certainly beats the first time I took the IAT online, on the website Understanding Prejudice. That time, my results showed a ‘strong automatic preference’ for European Americans over African Americans. That was not a good thing to hear, but it’s extremely common—51 percent of online test takers show moderate to strong bias.

“Taking the IAT, one of the most popular tools among researchers trying to understand racism and prejudice, is both extremely simple and pretty traumatic. The test asks you to rapidly categorize images of faces as either ‘African American’ or ‘European American’ while you also categorize words (like ‘evil,’ ‘happy,’ ‘awful,’ and ‘peace’) as either ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Faces and words flash on the screen, and you tap a key, as fast as you can, to indicate which category is appropriate.

“Sometimes you’re asked to sort African American faces and ‘good’ words to one side of the screen. Other times, black faces are to be sorted with ‘bad’ words. As words and faces keep flashing by, you struggle not to make too many sorting mistakes.

“And then suddenly, you have a horrible realization. When black faces and ‘bad’ words are paired together, you feel yourself becoming faster in your categorizing—an indication that the two are more easily linked in your mind. ‘It’s like you’re on a bike going downhill,’ Amodio says, ‘and you feel yourself going faster. So you can say, ‘I know this is not how I want to come off,’ but there’s no other response option.’

You think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprejudiced, but you can’t control these split-second reactions. As the milliseconds are being tallied up, you know the tale they’ll tell: When negative words and black faces are paired together, you’re a better, faster categorizer. Which suggests that racially biased messages from the culture around you have shaped the very wiring of your brain.

I went to NYU to learn what psychologists could tell me about racial prejudice in the wake of the shooting of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police, Darren Wilson, officer in Ferguson, Missouri. We may never really know the exact sequence of events and assumptions that led to the moment when Brown, unarmed and, according to witnesses, with his hands in the air, was shot multiple times. But the incident is the latest embodiment of America’s racial paradox: On the one hand, overt expressions of prejudice have grown markedly less common than they were in the Archie Bunker era.

“We elected, and reelected, a black president. In many parts of the country, hardly anyone bats an eye at interracial relationships. Most people do not consider racial hostility acceptable. That’s why it was so shocking when Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught telling his girlfriend not to bring black people to games—and why those comments led the NBA to ban Sterling for life. And yet, the killings of Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, and so many others remind us that we are far from a prejudice-free society.

“An impressive body of psychological research suggests that the men who killed Brown and Martin need not have been conscious, overt racists to do what they did.

“Science offers an explanation for this paradox—albeit a very uncomfortable one. An impressive body of psychological research suggests that the men who killed Brown and Martin need not have been conscious, overt racists to do what they did (though they may have been). The same goes for the crowds that flock to support the shooter each time these tragedies become public, or the birthers whose racially tinged conspiracy theories paint President Obama as a usurper. These people who voice mind-boggling opinions while swearing they’re not racist at all—they make sense to science, because the paradigm for understanding prejudice has evolved. There ‘doesn’t need to be intent, doesn’t need to be desire; there could even be desire in the opposite direction,’ explains University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek, a prominent IAT researcher…”

Read the full article HERE.

You can take the baseline survey on the Understanding Prejudice website HERE. You may find it very interesting. I did.