Cop shootings and implicit racism

June 1, 2009

I wanted to find something this morning to say about the murder of George Tiller, the abortion doc, but when I went to Tapped, The American Prospect‘s group blog, what I first stumbled on that caught my attention was this:


Over the weekend, there’s been a minor uproar over New York Rep. Charlie Rangel‘s remarks about President Obama‘s visit to New York. When a reporter asked Rangel what Obama should do when he visits the city, Rangel replied, “Make certain he doesn’t run around in East Harlem without identification.”

The remark was a reference to the killing of police officer Omar J. Edwards by fellow officer Andrew Dutton. Edwards was in plainclothes, and chasing after someone who was breaking into his car. He had his weapon out. Three other plainclothes officers arrived and yelled for them to stop. One, Dutton, shot Edwards three times as he turned around.

The posting, by Adam Serwer, was forceful but even-handed, and it linked to a NYTimes story, “On Diverse Force, Blacks Still Face Special Peril.” And in that piece I read too many quotes like this:

“We tend to pretend in the police force that we don’t see race, we don’t see ethnicity, but we do,” said Senator Adams, the [black] former police captain. “One of my cops once said that if he sees a non-uniformed black man with a gun, he takes precautions for himself; if he sees a white guy with a gun, he takes precautions for both because he knows it could be a fellow cop.”

Obviously, the broader concern is how the internalized prejudices of cops — be they black, Latino or white — affect what they do in the field. Which meant I had to revisit Sally Lehrman’s great Sci Am article, “The Implicit Prejudice,” about psychological tools for uncovering our cognitive biases, including racial ones.

We may intend to be fair, she [social scientist Mahzarin Banaji] explained, but underneath our awareness, our minds automatically make connections and ignore contradictory information. Sure enough, in a paper quiz, the [media] executives [meeting with Banaji] readily associated positive words with their parent firm, Time Warner, but they found it harder to link them to their top competitor, the Walt Disney Company. To their chagrin, they discovered the same tenden-cy to pair positive terms with faces that have European features and negative ones with faces that have African features.

Read the whole thing. There’s a series of implicit association tests (IATs) you can take online:

Maybe the NYC police force could start having recruits take these tests, if that’s not something they do already. Better: make them run a mile flat out, have them take a bump of meth — or shoot their guns in the air, whatever — and have them take the tests a second time. The Times story talked about cops undergoing “training” but didn’t give detail. Anybody know, or seen a link?


One Response to “Cop shootings and implicit racism”

  1. james Says:

    black police coming out for the white cop. fuck the police.

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