Valued commenter CMM, a former police officer, published an article at Raw Story on the role unconscious bias plays in the split-second decisions cops make to use deadly force — the “oh shit” moment where life and death can hang in the balance. With her permission, here’s an excerpt:
[T]he incidents of the last week have been incredibly traumatic and painful for all “sides,” and I have been in plenty of deep conversations with people trying to think through and understand everything that has happened.
One person asked a seemingly simple question: Is it possible that these shootings are not caused by racism, but by a moment of fear and panic? My answer is that I believe that most of the shootings have happened in a moment of fear and panic — but that panic is driven by underlying racism.
One of my nerdy friends recently described humans as “pattern-matching machines.” The ability to rapidly take in a series of cues — appearance, body language, tone of voice, and more — is a survival trait that goes back to caveman times. We see a set of cues that read “friendly” and we react one way. We see a set of cues that read “danger” and we react another. Some of those cues are hard wired and some are learned.
Here’s where I think all of us who came of age in the United States in the last 50 years can be unconsciously racially biased, without being “racist” in the traditional sense. We have all been steeped since birth in a culture full of racially-driven signifiers…
So yes, it is possible to react out of fear and panic. Most of the shootings of black suspects are not done by officers with KKK-style racism in their hearts. But the fact that black people end up dead in encounters more often than white people IS a product of racism.
As responsible citizens, we can’t just shrug and say, my bad, can’t help it, it’s my subconscious programming. We have to fight it, we have to double check our gut reactions, and we have to understand the conditioning that we have all received. It’s still racism and it is still killing people.
The whole thing is well worth a read, IMO. CMM is absolutely correct that the onus is on us to be aware of and fight our subconscious biases. That’s especially important for people who are walking around with guns strapped to their hips. I’m not sure how that filters into police training, though. Is it just left up to individuals to work this out for themselves? God, I hope not.
Anyway, Vox published a statistic the other day that points a big red blinking neon arrow to at least part of the problem, IMO: Police academies spend 110 hours on firearms and self-defense and 8 hours on conflict management. Seems that cops with better training in de-escalation techniques would be less subject to operating in the “oh shit” moment, when minority citizens might be at risk of dying due to implicit bias.
Maybe that’s a start, anyway. What say you?