March 04, 2015

Police shoot at black targets

If you're black in America, stereotypes kill

By Olivia A. ColeBlack faces as shooting range targets—some with bullet holes through their foreheads and eyes—stings particularly painfully when, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a white police officer used deadly force against a black person almost two times a week between 2005-2012. Police officers like Darren Wilson and wannabes like George Zimmerman often use the "I feared for my life" defense when attempting to justify the shooting and killing of unarmed black kids. We all remember Zimmerman—a trained MMA fighter—claiming that 17-year old Trayvon Martin overpowered him, forcing Zimmerman to use his weapon, and more recently, Darren Wilson—6'4" and 210 pounds—testified that he "felt like a five-year-old holding Hulk Hogan" in regards to his encounter with Michael Brown, calling Brown a "demon" and an "it." Wilson's testimony especially exposes something particularly disturbing about the way white people (even police) perceive black bodies—as dangerous, evil, inhuman—and what that means for the safety of black lives.

Research backs this up. In a study carried out by the University of California, research showed that dehumanization of black people led to increased violence (trigger warning for racist imagery):[Police officers] who compared blacks to apes were seen as having a higher level of dehumanization. Researchers compared ... officers' personal records against their levels of dehumanization towards blacks. They found that officers who had higher levels of dehumanization towards blacks were more likely of having a history of using force against black children in custody, than those who did not dehumanize blacks. Use of force was defined for the purposes of the study as instances of an officer using a takedown or wristlock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt instrument using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Surprisingly, only dehumanization was found to increase a police officer's use of force against blacks. Both conscious and unconscious prejudice did not have any link to the likelihood of police officers using violent force against black children in custody.
And:We should remember this demonization of black people—whether young or old, male or female—when police take the lives of unarmed civilians: The police, like all of us, have been born and bred on a media culture that feeds us the myth of White Heroes and Black Thugs. With testimonies like that of George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson, Americans are persuaded to believe that it's scary being a cop (or a neighborhood watchman) and scary being face-to-face with black men. But what are we supposed to believe when police officers are caught using pictures of black men as target practice in the shooting range? That doesn't sound like fear: It sounds like hate. It sounds like the ideological construction of an enemy. The North Miami Beach officers have also claimed to have photos of Osama bin Laden in the range as a target. Is this how officers are molding their vision of the civilians they are sworn to protect? By equating them with terrorists?

A recent study found that police officers come out of the police academy already having a bias toward use of force, and that there is alarming correlation between race and perceived threat. But what of police who thrill themselves with this perception of threat? Literally training their eye in the shooting range to see a black face and shoot? Is it really fear triggering the gun, or is it the result of a well-practiced drill?

Like in the Implicit Association Test, in which the test taker must quickly choose whether to apply "bad" and "good" words to black or white people (pain, joy, horrible, pleasure) in the blink of an eye, in which all our prejudices are tested, perhaps police like those in North Miami Beach are underestimating what they teach their own brains when they tape up pictures of black boys to gun down. What it comes down to is that we are supposed to believe police officers' fear because we are supposed to believe that people with black skin are to be feared. We are sold the officers' fear and convinced to ignore the fear of being black in America, born with a target painted on one's face.
Comment:  Substitute "Savage Indian" for "Black Thug" and the same analysis applies. Indeed, the police are more likely to shoot Natives than any other minority.

Mascots and other stereotypical images contribute to the violence against Natives--just like the targets on the shooting range. If you see Natives as cartoon characters fit only for product labels or Halloween costumes, you're less likely to treat them as human beings. You're more likely to react negatively when they don't match your expectations.

Many Natives have heard comments along the lines of "You're not a real Indian" or "Where are the real Indians?" Anyone who says such things is doubtful and suspicious by definition. How are you supposed to receive fair treatment when the person opposite you questions your existence?

For more on the subject, see Blacks Killed Because of Racist Stereotypes.

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