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Is the policing industry to blame?

According to a recent study done by Roland G. Fryer Jr., blacks were found to be 27.4 percent less probable of being shot by police than whites (Fryer, pg1). In our day in age police brutality and racism is alive and well. The media is pointing fingers at the policing industry and with new psychological evidence, arises the question of who and what is blame for racial biases. Racist acts committed by police are driven by cultural, social and implicit/unconscious biases opposed to systematic racism.

A child’s brain is like a sponge, it will soak in all that surrounds it. The adults surrounding influence a child’s lifelong opinions and biases. Psychologists Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagan wrote their conclusive thoughts of an incident in which a three year old girl called another child a racial slur in their book “The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism”. According to Ausdale and Feagan “… she has learned from other sources. But she is not just imitating what she heard in a social setting. She applies this bit of racial knowledge to a distinctive and personal interactive encounter” (Ausdale, pg.2). When a person or child recites or acts on these racial biases, it isn’t just a “harmless” imitation of what they have heard, it becomes a learned behavior. In instances that police officers use excessive force or unjust methods, they understand what they are doing and do it to elicit a reaction from the victim with what the officer has been taught ensures superiority.

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“The Social Identity Theory” is a the theory that one’s desire to “fit-in” with a certain group/culture can be so strong that it eventually leads to the person acquiring the beliefs of the social group. Jn Michael R. Smith and Geoffrey P. Alpert’s “Criminal Justice and Behavior”, they go on to describe how social identities affect people/cultures”,

“As a result of these identities, people tend to view their own social groups more positive than other groups. When social identities center around race and ethnicity, the result can be negative racial stereotypes that are reinforced by group beliefs and interactions” (Smith, and Alpert, pg. 11).

People who don’t associate themselves with people of different races feel superiority over the other race because being separated is never really equal. Routine is often a form of comfort, and when routine is broken, the person is then exposed to diversity. Depending on a person’s experience with diversity, interactions like these can determine a person’s bias. The Civil Rights movement abolished this segregation law that ostracized minorities, but the hesitancy to accept people of color is still evident in prejudiced individuals.

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Social bias is often confused with “Social Identity Theory” as they can oftentimes intertwine. A social bias is influenced with interactions with people. However, the “Social Identity Theory” as it is the influence of subtle indications of racial disparities shown on the beliefs. Moreover, the question lies in whether in who’s in control of what is shown to the people and why is it displayed to often. Dana E. Mastro did a study on media influence on racial biases called “Media Representations of Race, Prototypicality, and Policy Reasoning: An Application of Self-Categorization Theory”. She conclusively wrote “white norm plays an important role in predicting stereotypic responses to media content” (Maestro, pg.14). It is not surprising that the predominantly white demographic has such influence on media. According to the census of 2018, 76.6 percent of the United States’ population is white. Yes, there is a disparity between the minority’s effect on media from a majority’s effect, however does that mean that there is a privilege? And if there is a privilege, is it a systematic privilege that continues to oppress the minority races?

Like a cultural bias, an unconscious prejudice can form in childhood as well and most times is influenced solely by unconscious social cognition. These implicit thoughts do not associate with one’s beliefs and are malleable. In Justin Nix’ “A Bird’s Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015”, his findings from a conducted research were

“The results of experimental studies, however, have suggested that officers might be implicitly biased against minorities and more likely to use force against them as a result (i.e., the “implicit bias” effect; see Correll, Park”,Judd, and Wittenbrink, 2002; Cox, Devine, Plant, and Schwartz, 2014; Payne, 2001). At the same time, the results of more recent research have pointed to evidence of a “counterbias” effect, whereby officers seem more hesitant to use force against minorities “ (Nix, pg. 2).

The implicit thoughts/biases lie in the sub consciousness and are in very hidden parts of the consciousness. However, they have enough significance in the psyche to influence forceful behaviors or resistant behavior. Many times another type of implicit bias can be created solely from a denial of one’s own rationale.

Counter bias, otherwise known as “ Reverse Racism”, is a form of racial bias. But rather than being a negative bias, it is one of good intentions but dangerous decisions. It is a neutral approach the psyche takes to not incriminate oneself. When ones objective sense of defense is clouded with the fear of committing an unreasonable act, they build a hesitancy to use force. In a research by Lois James et al., people were tested to see if they displayed a Counter bias and if it could play a role in decision making in officers. Their conclusive findings were

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“Police participants did not display explicit racial bias against Black suspects in the simulator (in fact, they were more hesitant simulator (in fact, they were more hesitant to shoot Black suspects than White suspects)” (James, pg. 13).

The correlation between Counter bias and unconscious bias are that they can both intertwine and create the same impact and same issues. Counter biases form over time as a result of a suppression of rationale. The fear or hesitation to perform in the line of duty is then apparent. Unfortunately, it is most apparent in dangerous or life risking situations.

The hesitancy to shoot was also found in another psychological experiment. For example, in recent study done by Roland G. Fryer Jr., blacks are 27.4 percent less probable of being shot by police than whites (Fryer, pg1). The reluctance to use force against minorities or people of color is pushing a dangerous risk. When force is necessary to save ones life, it can be the deciding line of life and death of an officer or those around them. An officer should not risk their life in the line of duty if it is preventable. Before anything else, an officer is a citizen that has a right to defend themselves and preserve life of the defenseless.

Researchers have begun to understand why implicit biases come to exist. The subconscious part of the psyche has someone’s true beliefs and thoughts hidden within it. Despite the general consensus, these subconscious preconceived notions are mainly influenced by rational conscious thoughts. Although the thought is subconscious, it can still cause a person to make a biased decision without the person having to be conscious or aware of it. In Daniel Kelly and Erica Roedder’s “Racial Cognition and the Ethics of Implicit Bias”, the researchers elaborate on the theory of why people suppress rational thoughts to take away from feeling immoral or racist. Kelly and Roedder explain

“A rational attitude may still be an immoral one. Rationality and morality are different virtues, so it should be expected that a person can have the one without the other. For instance, let us suppose certain evidence (such as test results) suggest that Elisa, a 3rd grader, is not very smart, and let us assume this evidence is strong enough to justify a teacher’s belief that Elisa is dumb. If this evidence is enough to justify a teacher’s belief, it will be (in some cases) enough to justify her parents’ belief that our daughter is dumb…” (Kelly, and Roedder pg 8).

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No one truly wants to admit to oneself that they are having racist thoughts, because it distorts the idea of being in control of what one thinks and believes. Morale is a delicate and crucial part of one’s personal and social identity. When a person feels their morals are immoral or insensitive, they often times dismiss logic and reasoning. Rather than accept the logic behind statistic or logistic, one will develop a subconscious bias while also having a conscious denial of a bias.

The Black Lives Matter movement has used the term “White Privilege” to say that it is systematically calculated to give a white individual more opportunities than a person of color. In an article written by Louis Hoffman et al., the movement is described as having goals for socioeconomic equality and demolishing the fear of inferiority to a different race (Loiuis Hoffman etal., pg.13). However, with this term coming into light, there is questioning of whether this thinking is a solution to social inequality or another form of “reverse racism”. Granted many that there should be a change in what certain individuals believe they are superior to, labeling a person as systematically privileged only makes racial inferiority all the more “industrialized”. Believing in racial superiority gives the power to a race when one says and proclaims that they are inevitably always going to be inferior to another person. Rather than speaking of programs to help certain demographics not because they are the race to which they belong to, the conversation is instead directed on blaming an entire group of people over things that are “systematic” and inevitable. If they are inevitable, and industrialized biases then why complain to somebody who merely stands in the middle of a prejudiced war?

As has been noted, the law enforcement industry has certain racially biased officers but is not a systematically oppressive for the reason that racial biases are molded through culture, social identities, and implicit biases. These biases can become very imbedded in a person’s beliefs through environmental norms, lack of social diversity, and denial of one’s on reasoning and logic. Racial prejudice can be found in industries but it is not industrialized as a whole.

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