Whiteness has its benefits

Black backround with the words 'Black Lives Matter' in large, bold, white letters.
Its time the justice system realized this.

50-year-old  Patrick Harmon  (an African-American male) was executed by Salt Lake City police officers on August 13. Harmon, who was riding his bicycle when at the time, was pulled over by a police officer who claimed Harmon crossed six lanes and was missing his required red tail light. He wasn’t killed for the infraction, which surprises me, given the trigger happy, racist cops we have in this country.  Initially calm, Harmon became increasingly agitated, especially when backup arrived and his record was pulled. It was pretty much all over at that point, bc the officers discovered Harmon had felony warrants out in his name (for aggravated assault), and proceeded to arrest him.  Upset, Harmon turned away from the three police officers and bolted. Unfortunately for Harmon, one of our country’s finest (Clinton Fox, who decided to wear his Judge-Jury-Executioner hat) can be heard saying “I’ll fucking shoot you!”  Three shots later, he does just that. If you’re a reasonable person looking for a justification for this extrajudicial murder by cop, you aren’t likely to find it. There is nothing in the video that offers a justification for him opening fire. Take a look:

Best I can figure, the thought of shooting a fleeing Black man in the back was too intoxicating for Officer Clinton Fox to pass up. In his defense, he (and the other officers) did say ::yawn:: he felt his life was in danger, bc a Black man who runs fast is deadly (someone ought to warn Usain Bolt).   I mean, I guess its possible.  You just need to get hit by a bolt of lightning and a bunch of unknown chemicals and develop super speed (instead of dying). That should enable you to run several hundred mph and leave a cloud of dust in the faces of people that look at Black people and think “target practice”. Their eyes might get cloudy and itchy. Maybe even start to water (which would be more tears than they show when they kill Black people). Heck, they might even begin coughing heavily.  Under those somewhat…unlikely circumstances…I can see how that might be a potential threat to their lives.
That’s not how it went down though. Officer Happy-Go-Murder claimed that Harmon threatened one of them with a knife, which–HEY, maybe he did have superpowers, bc the video shows that he was running away from them and didn’t have a knife. It will surprise no one to know that the D.A.’s office sided with the murderous cop and released a photo of a knife supposedly found at the scene (which, even if he had a knife, the video shows him doing…what again? Oh–running, not stabbing). In a revelation that is sure to shock people, the D.A. dropped the charges against Officer Shooty McKill-A-Negro.  Then, mysteriously, the above video of the incident was released. Said video does not corroborate their version of events. But why let something pesky like the truth get in the way of letting yet another cop get away with killing a Black person? Not when “I feared for my life” can be used once again to excuse the lynching of another Black body.
Sometimes, however, police cam footage comes in handy, and the victims of police brutality are exonerated, rather than executed. Of course to survive such an encounter, they have to have certain ::ahem:: privileges. Privileges like whiteness.

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Whiteness has its benefits
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We are still not being heard

Civil unrest has once more broken out in a USAmerican city; this time in Milwaukee, following the execution by police of a 23-year-old armed suspect (who apparently committed the heinous, only-recourse-is-lethal-force crime of fleeing from cops after a traffic stop).

A gas station and an auto-parts store were set on fire.

Bricks were hurled at law enforcement officers (resulting in the injury of one officer).

Police have apparently said that shots were fired (it should be point out that currently, the only firearm-related casualty has been the execution of the suspect at the hands of the police).

As I’ve seen several times when civil unrest engulfs a city in the wake of state sanctioned brutality or extrajudicial execution by cop, it is inevitable that some people will criticize the actions of those involved in the unrest (curiously, these people never aim their criticism at the actions of police that precipitate such events; it’s almost like they don’t take issue with the behavior of law enforcement officials).

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We are still not being heard

White privilege example #20349

We can’t talk on our phones at an Ohio Wal-Mart while holding an air pellet rifle without being seen as suspicious, even if that rifle is classed as a toy, it’s aimed at the ground, and open/carry is legal in the state (John Crawford, III).

We can’t walk down a Utah street with a fake sword even though Utah is an open/carry state–and that applies to *real* swords too (Darrien Hunt),

Our kids can play in public with toy guns, but they’d better expect concerned citizens to freak the fuck out and call the cops. Once law enforcement officials arrive, we can expect them to open fire before assessing the situation (Tamir Rice).

If a loved one is shot by police and lays dying, we can’t be allowed to rush to their side. But we can be confident we’ll be treated horribly by police during our attempts to do so (Samaria Rice, sister of Tamir).

Our babies can’t be asleep in their cribs without flash grenades going off in front of them (Bounkham Phonesavanh).

Running from the police even if we are unarmed is out of the question bc apparently that’s grounds for being shot to death. In the back (Walter Scott).

We can’t walk outside in near-freezing temperatures with our hands in our pockets bc some “concerned citizens” are worried that a black person with their hands in their pocket must be guarding a nuclear weapon rather than warming their hands (Brandon McKean).

We can’t circumvent state tax laws on cigarettes bc OMG the world will end. And if we do, we can expect to be choked to death. Because violating state tax laws on cigarettes is totes grounds for being killed (Eric Garner).

As adults, we cannot have an attitude or be disrespectful to law enforcement officials during a traffic stop bc authoritarian thugs don’t like their authority questioned (Sandra Bland).

As children we must remember to always be respectful and deferential to law enforcement officials-even ones nicknamed ‘Officer Slam’-bc if we don’t, we deserve to be body-slammed or so I’m told by a lot of white people invested in upholding white supremacy (Spring Valley High School teen).

Our kids cannot be loud and unruly at a swimming pool. Not unless they want to be treated like an armed and dangerous felon, grabbed by the hair, thrown to the ground, and sat on by a really swell douchebag in uniform (Dajerria Becton).

If we are in the midst of a mental health crisis and the police are called, we have no guarantee they will assist us, but we can be confident they’ll make the situation worse (Tanisha Anderson).

We can expect our constitutional rights to be violated if we commit even low-level crimes, bc apparently the punishment for robbery is execution by cop (Shelly Frey).

We can’t expect our children to be able to sleep in the comforting presence of a grandparent without worrying about SWAT teams raiding the wrong house (Aiyana Stanley-Jones).

We don’t get to do any of these things, whether legal or not, without being harassed, detained, abused, brutalized, or murdered by police officers bc our existence is constantly under supervision by agents of the state. At every turn, black people across the United States are overpoliced. From everyday actions like getting an attitude with teachers, to not being thrilled at being pulled over for a bullshit reason, to yes, even committing a crime-black people are not allowed the luxury of any benefit of the doubt. At every turn we are treated to civil rights violations and a denial of basic human rights. For another group of USAmericans, this is not the case. Members of this group are accorded undeserved privilege, even in situations where one of them is a direct threat to the lives of police officers (Roger Hale), or situations where one of them point firearms at cops and children (Lance Tamayo), or even in cases where two of them show up at a Wal-Mart, remove BB-guns from their boxes and shoot up the store (two drunk guys). Even in these examples, when these people were a direct threat to others, no excessive force was used against them. In addition, none of them were killed, despite the danger they posed (which is why I find the “my life was in danger” line used by many cops to justify the murder of suspects to be, how shall we say, hollow-as-fuck). That’s all part of having DUM DUM DUUUUUUUM: White Privilege!

And for the latest example of ‘shit only white people can get away with’ (also known as DUM DUM DUUUUUUM: White Privilege) we have a story out of Akron, Ohio:

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White privilege example #20349

Attempting to flee from police, man climbs wall, is shot with taser, dies

Another day, another police killing. Sometime late Thursday evening, police officers in Dekalb County, Georgia conducted a routine traffic stop of two men as part of a robbery suppression detail they were assigned. Upon learning the driver had a weapon, the police asked him to exit the car. Shortly after doing so, his passenger attempted to flee the police by climbing an 8-foot wall. Which was apparently all the justification needed to tase him:

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Attempting to flee from police, man climbs wall, is shot with taser, dies

To the defenders of police

In the last year I’ve been thinking a lot about the criminal justice system in the United States. I’ve been thinking how unfair it is to People of Color-especially black people. In the wake of Michael Brown, Jr’s death at the hands of ex-police officer Darren Wilson, I found my reality turned upside down. The world that I knew-a world where law enforcement officials were good, honest, and treated all citizens with fairness and equality-that world quickly began crumbling. As I read more about Michael Brown, Jr. and the circumstances surrounding his death, I found myself despairing. The whole situation seemed unjust. It looked like the deck was stacked against him. And then I saw the support pour in for Darren Wilson. I saw the money people were raising in his name. I saw the supportive comments from cops. I saw the racist commentary from civilians in the comments sections of news articles. And I felt my anger rise. I thought “How is this right? This cop killed Michael Brown, Jr. He judged this young man to be guilty and he gave him the death penalty.” Brown was never given access to due process (but Wilson was). If I thought my frustration at Brown’s death was bad, I would soon discover that was only the tip of the iceberg.

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To the defenders of police

Unconscionable behavior from a police officer (trigger warning)

The daughter of a former Berthoud, Colorado police officer recently spoke out for the first time about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. In an interview with Fox affiliate KDVR, the victim-Savannah Yachik-says she was abused by her father. Not once. Not twice. According to Savannah Yachik, her father abused her for 12 years. 12. Fucking. Years. To make matters worse, she tried reporting her father to authorities several times.  Not only did nothing happen to him, but when he found out that “someone called again” (because his police buddies told him when someone called to report him), he punished Savannah Yachik by, you guessed it-beating her. My blood is boiling right now. This is unconscionable behavior for anyone, but he’s her father! Of all the places children should feel safe and secure, it should be at home. Of all the people a child should feel safe and secure around, it should be their parents. Children should be protected by their parents, not abused.

Parents are not the only ones that should be protecting children. From a young age, children are taught that if they need help, to call the police. They’re taught that police officers are trustworthy individuals who serve and protect the community. Not only did Jeremy Yachik not live up to those ideals, neither did the Berthoud Police Department. Rather than aiding the person who needed protection-Savannah Yachik-they protected her abuser. In her interview with KDVR, she said there were times she just wanted to die. And still, her father was never arrested. Other times, she would go to school with black eyes, telling school officials that she got them while playing with her brother. And still, Jeremy Yachik was never arrested. In the interview, Savannah says her father threatened to kill her several times. And still, he was never arrested.

It took Jeremy Yachik being captured on video beating his daughter (because she ate carrots-I shit you not) for something to be done. The video was enough to get Yachik fired from the police force, but if you think he was punished, think again. He was sentenced to 30 days in a jail work-release program, 3 years of probation, and 80 hours of community service. Oh yeah, that’s punishment. Headdesk. Facepalm. Gee, is it because he’s a cop that he never spent time in jail? That can’t be it, because the criminal justice system doesn’t favor cops. Not at all. Yes, that’s sarcasm, because justice is not blind. It’s biased.

Here’s the video if anyone wants to watch it. I have to warn you, it’s disturbing.

Unconscionable behavior from a police officer (trigger warning)

The only reasonable response

Whether its an unarmed black teen in Ferguson (AAAAAAAAAAAAH! run for the hills), a 12-year-old black Cleveland kid “armed” with an Airsoft replica (“Danger Will Robinson. Danger! Danger!), or an unarmed black woman involved in a domestic dispute (“My Spider-Sense is tingling!”), some threats are so absolutely terrifying…so horrific…so panic inducing that the most reasonable response from law enforcement is to use lethal force. Those threats, however, pale in comparison to the perilous situation an Atlanta police officer was recently involved in:

Channel 2 Action News has obtained exclusive video of the man who was shot. Video showed him hanging naked from a balcony and walking around before police arrived.

“He was doing weird movement. He was crawling on the floor, lying down on the floor,” said one witness, who asked not to be identified

The officer was responding to reports of an unarmed and unclothed man banging on doors and crawling on the ground.

“He tells me, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK.’ That’s what he was saying,” the witness said.

The witness said he told the man, identified as 27-year-old Anthony Hill, to go inside or he was going to get arrested.

“He was acting crazy but he was calm like he didn’t know where he was. He was like kind of lost in his face,” the witness said.

The responding officer, who is described as a seven-year veteran, confronted Hill.

Some witnesses and the chief of police say Hill was aggressive and lunged at the officer.

“When the male saw the officer, he charged, running at the officer. The officer called on him to step back, drew his weapon and fired two shots,” said DeKalb County Director of Public Safety Cedric Alexander.

Hill died at the scene. Some believe the shooting was justified while others aren’t sure.

Well that’s silly. Of course it was justified. This was a naked, unarmed man. We all know what a threat they are. I mean, look at this image:

Clearly this naked, unarmed man (who happens to be black, which I’m sure means absolutely nothing) presented a danger to the life of the officer, so lethal force was completely justified. I mean, what else was the cop going to do?

The only reasonable response

Hope in the face of systemic racism

The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of former Ferguson, MO police Officer Darren Wilson served as a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter Movement.  The BLM movement is a protest movement comprised of individuals with multiple race-based grievances against the criminal justice system in the United States. From courts that fail to indict a ham sandwich, to the disproportionate presence of People of Color in jails and prisons (or under parole or supervision) compared to whites, to a ‘War on Drugs‘ that heavily targets people of color, to policies like Stop & Frisk or Broken Windows (both of which unfairly target communities of color) the criminal justice system in the United States is drowning in racial disparities.

When the system says that a police officer doesn’t have to stand trial, despite his use of an illegal chokehold maneuver that resulted in the death of a civilian…

When the system imprisons Black and Hispanic citizens at a higher rate than their white counterparts…

When Blacks and Hispanics make up the vast majority of those stopped and frisked (supporters of the policy claim it keeps weapons and drugs off the streets, yet 9 out of 10 people stopped are innocent, whites use drugs at nearly the same rate as People of Color, and white people stopped and frisked are more likely to be in possession of weapons)…

…the system is fucked up.

There’s another area where the racial disparities in the criminal justice system can be seen: confrontations between law enforcement officials and civilians. Here are a few such confrontations:

  1. On 1/15/15, a bomb threat was called in to the Community Action Center of Sentinel, Oklahoma.  After determining the address the threat was made from, law enforcement officials descended on the residence of Dallas Horton and his wife.

According to the Mayor, the suspect would not let the law enforcement officers inside. So they broke down the door.

Officers cleared the first room. But as they entered the second room, one suspect shot Chief Ross three times, twice in his bullet proof vest and once in the arm, according to the OSBI.

The Chief actually borrowed the bullet proof vest from one of the deputies just before entering the home, according to the OSBI.

After firing numerous shots, the suspect surrendered himself to the officers. OSBI officials said no officers fired their weapons during the incident. The suspect and his wife were taken into custody.  Their names will be released once they have been booked into the Washita County jail.

Despite the fact that the suspect had a weapon and was firing on the police, the officers did not fire their weapons, and he was taken alive.  I wonder…what’s his race? (<—that right there is a rhetorical question)

  1. On 9/10/14, Darrien Hunt, a black man cosplaying as a sword-wielding character from a Japanese anime series, was shot and killed by Utah police officers.

At the time of his death, Hunt was dressed up as a Japanese samurai (what’s calledcosplaying“) and wielding a decorative sword. Police said he became violent and attacked them with the sword when they tried to take it away, but an autopsy found four of six gunshot wounds hit Hunt on his back.

The police officers involved won’t face any criminal charges. Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman found the officers who shot him, Saratoga Springs Corporal Matthew Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas, to be “justified in their use of deadly force against Mr. Hunt. Their belief that deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury was reasonable.”

Hmmm, shot in the back multiple times. Killed because the officers felt the low bar justifying deadly force was met. Oh, and Hunt was carrying a blunt-edged replica of a samurai sword, which would not have presented any danger to those officers.

  1. During the overnight hours of Christmas Eve 2014, two intoxicated white men walked into a Walmart, took a BB gun out of its packaging and began firing it in the store.

The Post Falls Police said a couple of intoxicated men walked into a Walmart in Post Falls and began shooting a BB gun.

It happened overnight when the two males walked into the store and took a brand new BB gun out of its box.

Police said they then loaded the gun and fired four separate times while inside the store.

The two eventually walked up to a loss prevention officer and asked if he wanted to join them.

They then walked out of the store, but several officers and a deputy were able to locate and arrest the two men.

Please note that these men were firing the BB gun in the Walmart store.  Anyone doing so is placing the lives of others in potential jeopardy, and should be arrested. Kudos to the officers involved for doing just that.  For some reason, the officers in the next example chose to employ lethal force against their BB-gun wielding suspect.

  1. In August of 2014, police shot and killed John Crawford III in an Ohio Walmart. Crawford, a black man, was carrying a BB-gun, but was not pointing it at anyone or threatening anyone.

The video shows Crawford, while talking on a cellphone, picking up a pellet gun, which was out of its package and sitting on a shelf. His family said he was talking to the mother of his two children. Crawford continues to walk through Wal-Mart aisles and passes by other customers, who do not appear to react to his presence. The Xenia Gazette reports that Crawford passed by Ronald Ritchie, the man who called 911 and told a dispatcher that there “was a gentleman walking around with a gun in the store,” that “he’s like pointing it at people” and the man appeared to loading what looked like a rifle and “waving it back and forth.” (A month later, Ritchie told the Guardian that Crawford never pointed the gun at anybody).

The video shows Crawford continuing through the store. He paused at some store shelves, and it appears he’s still on the phone, fiddling with the gun as it swings, pointed toward the ground. Then, police enter the frame to his side; you can see Crawford turn his head, fall to the ground, scramble in the other direction, then turn back around before ultimately falling to the ground. It’s unclear whether he dropped the gun before being shot or after.

Crawford did not fire the BB gun and didn’t pose a threat to customers or the police. Nonetheless, an investigation into the incident resulted in no charges against the officers involved. It was found that they were justified in using lethal force. How? I’ve no motherfucking idea, since Crawford wasn’t posing a threat to anyone, including the officers.

  1. 55-year-old Walter C. Peppelman (a white man) was arrested on 1/10/15 for-among other things- resisting arrest and assaulting an officer.

Police initially received a call around 6:10 p.m. from a woman who reported that someone driving a white Jeep Grand Cherokee with the license plate “Pepboys” was following her.

The woman told police that the driver of the Jeep had cut her off on Jonestown Road, leading her to beep her horn. The driver of the vehicle then began slamming on his brakes and later followed the woman for several minutes in the parking lot of Kohl’s, she told police.

Lower Paxton Township police Officer Brian Egli arrived at the parking lot and spoke with the woman, he reported in charging documents. During their conversation, the officer heard another woman scream across the parking lot, and he reported walking toward her.

The officer said he found the other woman, Peppelman’s wife, crying and visibly upset. After asking her what was wrong, Egli said Peppelman approached him and chest bumped him while saying there was no problem.

After telling Peppelman he was under arrest, Egli said Peppelman punched him in the left temple. The officer then called for backup, which eventually led to Peppelman being handcuffed and taken into custody.

Police reported smelling a strong odor of alcohol on Peppelman as he was placed under arrest. They also said they confirmed he was the driver who followed the woman in the earlier alleged road rage incident.

Interesting. Even though he assaulted the officer and resisted arrest, Peppelman is still alive. Unlike the next person on this list, who did NOT assault a law enforcement officer, and IMO, the level of “resistance” he offered doesn’t rise to the level of resisting arrest (he was vocally complaining about the harassment he’s endured at the hands of the NYPD).

  1. Nothing Eric Garner did on July 17, 2014 justified his death at the hands of the NYPD. Nevertheless, the video taken by Garner’s friend Ramsey Orta shows that tactics used by the officers directly contributed to the death of Garner. Despite this, a grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, the man who used the illegal chokehold maneuver that led to Garner’s death.
  2. Jordan Brown, a 23-year-old white male was arrested on charges of possession and distribution of cocaine, felony assault on a public servant, and a felony charge of attempting to take a weapon from an officer.

A pair of Midland police officers and a lone MPD officer were conducting surveillance at the 4400 block of W. Storey Avenue at 3:40 a.m. because of possible narcotic activity when they noticed a car leaving the residence soon after it had arrived. The vehicle headed west on Storey and failed to signal 100 feet before making a turn at the intersection of Storey and Amigo Drive. The lone officer made a traffic stop of the vehicle, which was being driven by Brown. The officer, suspecting that Brown was involved in drug activity, asked him to step out of the vehicle, according to the arrest affidavit.

Brown complied and the officer attempted to pat him down for weapons. Brown allegedly fled the scene, running northbound on Goliad Drive. The officer pursued Brown, who allegedly jumped two fences and ended up running on Alamo Drive, according to the affidavit. The officer caught up to Brown and tackled him in an attempt to arrest him.

Brown began trying to hit the officer in the face and upper body, according to the affidavit. The officer, who was unable to radio for backup because his mic had been ripped off, said Brown began reaching for his service pistol, according to the affidavit.

The officer said he hit Brown in the face multiple times to regain control of the situation. Brown then allegedly pushed the officer off him and attempted to flee, but the officer was able to restrain Brown again, according to the affidavit. The officer said Brown grabbed and trapped his hands and then he placed his elbow to Brown’s face to release his grip. At that point other officers arrived to assist.

Despite the fact that he assaulted an officer, tried to take his gun, and was in possession of cocaine, Jordan Brown is alive to face a court of law, unlike the next person on the list.

  1. Michael Brown, Jr was shot and killed by ex-police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014.  Wilson claimed that Brown assaulted him and tried to take his gun.  During grand jury testimony, he stated that “it look[ed] like a demon”, the “it” being Michael Brown, Jr. I guess dehumanizing someone to the point that they aren’t even 3/5 of a human being is necessary to justify an extrajudicial execution. Me, I think that Wilson’s dehumanization of Brown is a manifestation of unconscious biases and attitudes he holds about African-Americans (certainly, he holds some views of Black men as ‘Brutes‘).

Darren Wilson is not the only individual working within the U.S. criminal justice system with racial biases. The theory that unconscious biases help explain systemic racism in the criminal justice system is supported by a growing body of social science research:

Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji was once approached by a reporter for an interview. When Banaji heard the name of the magazine the reporter was writing for, she declined the interview: She didn’t think much of the magazine and believed it portrayed research in psychology inaccurately.

But then the reporter said something that made her reconsider, Banaji recalled: “She said, ‘You know, I used to be a student at Yale when you were there, and even though I didn’t take a course with you, I do remember hearing about your work.’ “

The next words out of Banaji’s mouth: “OK, come on over; I’ll talk to you.”

After she changed her mind, Banaji got to thinking. Why had she changed her mind? She still didn’t think much of the magazine in which the article would appear. The answer: The reporter had found a way to make a personal connection.

For most people, this would have been so obvious and self-explanatory it would have required no further thought. Of course, we might think. Of course we’d help someone with whom we have a personal connection.

For Banaji, however, it was the start of a psychological exploration into the nature and consequences of favoritism — why we give some people the kind of extra-special treatment we don’t give others.

In a new book, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Banaji and her co-author, Anthony Greenwald, a social psychologist at the University of Washington, turn the conventional way people think about prejudice on its head. Traditionally, Banaji says, psychologists in her field have looked for overt “acts of commission — what do I do? Do I go across town to burn down the church of somebody who’s not from my denomination? That, I can recognize as prejudice.”

Yet, far from springing from animosity and hatred, Banaji and Greenwald argue, prejudice may often stem from unintentional biases.

Take Banaji’s own behavior toward the reporter with a Yale connection. She would not have changed her mind for another reporter without the personal connection. In that sense, her decision was a form of prejudice, even though it didn’t feel that way.

Now, most people might argue such favoritism is harmless, but Banaji and Greenwald think it might actually explain a lot about the modern United States, where vanishingly few people say they hold explicit prejudice toward others but wide disparities remain along class, race and gender lines.

The research done by Banaji and Greenwald is further supported by recent research by psychologists Samuel Sommers and Satia Marotta from Tufts University.

In an overview of recent research, Tufts University psychologists Samuel Sommers and Satia Marotta write that, while overt prejudice is surely a factor in some cases, “unconscious—or implicit—racial biases can also taint legal decision-making.”

“All of us, regardless of personal ideology or professional oath, are susceptible to such biases, even when making life-and-death decisions,” they write in the journal Policy Insights From the Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Sommers and Marotta examine the way unconscious racism influences decision making at three levels of the legal process: policing; the decision of district attorneys to press charges; and the conduct and outcomes of criminal trials.

Starting with the police, the researchers cite the U.S. District Court’s 2013 ruling on the New York Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” policy. “Of the more than four millions stops the NYPD conducted between 2004 and 2012,” they write, “52 percent were of African-Americans and 31 percent of Latinos, despite respective general population rates in the city of 23 percent and 29 percent—and although stops of African-Americans and Latinos were actually less likely to yield weapons or contraband than were stops of whites.”

That same data showed that “use of force occurred in 23 percent of stops of African-Americans and 24 percent of stops of Latinos, but in only 17 percent of stops of whites.” This pattern was found in spite of the fact that “African-Americans and Latino New Yorkers were actually less likely to possess contraband than their white counterparts.”

The researchers point to two ways to address this issue: Using hiring decisions to shape “more diverse police forces,” and making changes in how young officers are trained. “Experience with simulated building searches, in which officers interact with actors, some of whom ‘attack’ using weapons with non-lethal ammunition, does predict reduced bias,” they report.

Conscious or unconscious racism also plays a role in how a black person is treated once arrested. The researchers point to a 2008 study that found “prosecutors more likely to charge capital murder, and seek the death penalty, in cases with black defendants and/or white victims. This, combined with the fact that more than 90 percent of all guilty verdicts result from plea bargains and not juries, demonstrates a clear need for further study of how race shapes attorney perceptions and decision-making,” Sommers and Marotta write. They report there is “a dearth of data on prosecutorial discretion.”

“Race can influence what happens in court as well,” the researchers add, noting a 2005 analysis of 34 studies that finds “a small, but significant, effect for racial bias in both verdict and sentencing decisions.”

In addition, a 2008 study found that “in almost 200 actual juries in felony cases with black defendants … the greater the percentage of whites on a jury, the more likely it was to convict a black defendant. This association persisted regardless of crime type, or strength of prosecution case.”

Another way to combat implicit racial bias is to offer counterstereotypes:

Calvin Lai and Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia recently challenged scientists to come up with ways to ameliorate such biases. The idea, said Harvard University psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, one of the researchers, was to evaluate whether there were rapid-fire ways to disable stereotypes. Groups of scientists “raced” one another to see if their favorite techniques worked. All the scientists focused on reducing unconscious racial bias against blacks.

“Within five minutes, you have to do something to somebody’s mind so that at the end of those five minutes you will now show a lower association of black with bad. And so this was run really like a competition to see which ones of them might work to reduce race bias and which ones don’t,” Banaji said.

The results were as surprising for what they didn’t find as for what they did. Teaching people about the injustice of discrimination or asking them to be empathetic toward others was ineffective. What worked, at least temporarily, Banaji said, was providing volunteers with “counterstereotypical” messages.

“People were shown images or words or phrases that in some way bucked the trend of what we end up seeing in our culture,” she said. “So if black and bad have been repeatedly associated in our society, then in this intervention, the opposite association was made.”

Banaji, who has been a pioneer in studying unconscious biases, said she has taken such results to heart and tried to find ways to expose herself to counterstereotypical messages, as a way to limit her own unconscious biases.

One image in particular, she said, has had an especially powerful effect: “My favorite example is a picture of a woman who is clearly a construction worker wearing a hard hat, but she is breast-feeding her baby at lunchtime, and that image pulls my expectations in so many different directions that it was my feeling that seeing something like that would also allow me in other contexts to perhaps have an open mind about new ideas that might come from people who are not traditionally the ones I hear from.”

If racial counterstereotypes help shatter unconscious racial biases, then it is imperative that greater diversity initiatives occur at all levels of society.  That diversity can and should take on many forms and here are a few suggestions:

  • Hollywood movies need to portray more women and men of color in leading or supporting roles (outside the stereotypical ones)
  • White people need to develop a circle of friends that includes PoC (75% of white USAmericans have a circle of friends that includes very few People of Color)
  • Comic books need to show more PoC in unique, non-stereotypical roles (a great example of this is Sam Wilson, a black man who is the current Captain America, the living symbol of the United States)
  • Greater racial diversity among elected officials (PoC make up roughly 37.2% of the U.S. population, but account for only 10% of positions at the local, state, and federal level.  Meanwhile white people-who make up 31% of the population-account for 65% of elected officials) (source)
  • Further diversification of children’s programming so that children of varying races and ethnicities can see themselves portrayed in a positive light

Hopefully we’ll continue to see greater diversification initiatives at all levels of society because so long as racial prejudices and stereotypes exist in the criminal justice system, the lives of People of Color will never be treated as if they matter.

Hope in the face of systemic racism

Black women's lives matter

Discussions about the protests surrounding the racial bias in the criminal justice system (from the police to the courts) often mention Michael Brown, the unarmed teen gunned down in August by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (the death of Brown was the beginning of the protests). You’ll also hear of Eric Garner, the 43-year old father of six who was killed by NYPD officers while being placed under arrest. You may also hear the name Tamir Rice, the 12-year old shot to death by a police officer literally seconds after the officer exited his vehicle. Other names that you might here are Dontre Hamilton, Antonio Martin, Darrien Hunt, Kimani Grey, and Kendrec McDade.

Often overlooked in the discussions of African-American victims of police brutality are black women. I have been guilty of this myself. Thanks to an article by Evette Dionne at Bustle, I can work on ending that ignorance:

Protestors in New York flooded the streets last week, toting signs that blazed with images and phrases about cruel injustice. Just a week after similar events in Ferguson, a grand jury ruled that Daniel Pantaleo — the NYPD officer who put Eric Garner, a 44-year-old, black, Staten Island man, in a chokehold that led to Garner’s death — should not be brought to trial for his actions. A failure to indict the police officer responsible for Garner’s unjustifiable, illegal, and unnecessary death signifies why there’s been a breach of trust between communities of color and those tasked with enforcing the laws. In black American communities, we are holding our breath, waiting for whoever’s next. There is no guarantee that the next victim will be a black male, but there appears to be a guarantee that the victim will be marginalized or forgotten by the mainstream media if she is a girl or woman of color.

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a non-profit organization whose mission is to defend the human rights of black people, found that every 40 hours, a black man, woman, or child is killed by police, security guards, or self-appointed law enforcers. In fact, since the killing of Mike Brown, more than 14 black teens have been killed by the police, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a boy in Cleveland, Ohio who was murdered less than two seconds after police arrived at a playground to answer a 911 call related to a black child carrying a pellet gun. We know another Eric Garner is coming, and it is impossible to prepare for the onslaught of grief that will accompany the next traumatic injustice.

But one of the largest injustices is how little we collectively discuss the many women of color who are also killed by police.

Dionne goes on to list 9 women (and one young girl) who were killed by law enforcement officials.

 Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley-Jones

7-year old Aiyana Stanley Mo’nay Stanley-Jones was killed during a SWAT team raid in 2010.

Rekia Boyd

22-year old Rekia Boyd was killed by an off-duty Chicago police officer in 2012.

Yvette Smith

Yvette Smith, 47, was shot to death by police officers as she opened her front door.

Pearlie Golden

Pictured at right, the 93-year old Pearlie Golden was killed by a Texas police officer in 2014.

Tarika Wilson

26-year old Tarika Wilson was shot and killed by an Ohio SWAT team member in 2008.

Tyisha Miller

Tyisha Miller, 19, was killed by four California officers in 1998.

Kathyrn Johnston

The 92-year old was killed in 2006 by Georgia police officers during a botched drug raid.

Gabriella Nevarez

Nevaraz, 22, was killed by a California police officer in 2014.

Eleanor Bumpurs

66-year old Eleanor Bumpurs was killed by NYPD officers in 1984.

All black lives are affected by police brutality. The black women who have had their lives taken by police officers deserve to be recognized.

Black women's lives matter

Black women’s lives matter

Discussions about the protests surrounding the racial bias in the criminal justice system (from the police to the courts) often mention Michael Brown, the unarmed teen gunned down in August by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (the death of Brown was the beginning of the protests). You’ll also hear of Eric Garner, the 43-year old father of six who was killed by NYPD officers while being placed under arrest. You may also hear the name Tamir Rice, the 12-year old shot to death by a police officer literally seconds after the officer exited his vehicle. Other names that you might here are Dontre Hamilton, Antonio Martin, Darrien Hunt, Kimani Grey, and Kendrec McDade.

Often overlooked in the discussions of African-American victims of police brutality are black women. I have been guilty of this myself. Thanks to an article by Evette Dionne at Bustle, I can work on ending that ignorance:

Protestors in New York flooded the streets last week, toting signs that blazed with images and phrases about cruel injustice. Just a week after similar events in Ferguson, a grand jury ruled that Daniel Pantaleo — the NYPD officer who put Eric Garner, a 44-year-old, black, Staten Island man, in a chokehold that led to Garner’s death — should not be brought to trial for his actions. A failure to indict the police officer responsible for Garner’s unjustifiable, illegal, and unnecessary death signifies why there’s been a breach of trust between communities of color and those tasked with enforcing the laws. In black American communities, we are holding our breath, waiting for whoever’s next. There is no guarantee that the next victim will be a black male, but there appears to be a guarantee that the victim will be marginalized or forgotten by the mainstream media if she is a girl or woman of color.

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a non-profit organization whose mission is to defend the human rights of black people, found that every 40 hours, a black man, woman, or child is killed by police, security guards, or self-appointed law enforcers. In fact, since the killing of Mike Brown, more than 14 black teens have been killed by the police, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a boy in Cleveland, Ohio who was murdered less than two seconds after police arrived at a playground to answer a 911 call related to a black child carrying a pellet gun. We know another Eric Garner is coming, and it is impossible to prepare for the onslaught of grief that will accompany the next traumatic injustice.

But one of the largest injustices is how little we collectively discuss the many women of color who are also killed by police.

Dionne goes on to list 9 women (and one young girl) who were killed by law enforcement officials.

 Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley-Jones

7-year old Aiyana Stanley Mo’nay Stanley-Jones was killed during a SWAT team raid in 2010.

Rekia Boyd

22-year old Rekia Boyd was killed by an off-duty Chicago police officer in 2012.

Yvette Smith

Yvette Smith, 47, was shot to death by police officers as she opened her front door.

Pearlie Golden

Pictured at right, the 93-year old Pearlie Golden was killed by a Texas police officer in 2014.

Tarika Wilson

26-year old Tarika Wilson was shot and killed by an Ohio SWAT team member in 2008.

Tyisha Miller

Tyisha Miller, 19, was killed by four California officers in 1998.

Kathyrn Johnston

The 92-year old was killed in 2006 by Georgia police officers during a botched drug raid.

Gabriella Nevarez

Nevaraz, 22, was killed by a California police officer in 2014.

Eleanor Bumpurs

66-year old Eleanor Bumpurs was killed by NYPD officers in 1984.

All black lives are affected by police brutality. The black women who have had their lives taken by police officers deserve to be recognized.

Black women’s lives matter