Dehumanisation of Black Youth & Police Violence

Dehumanisation of Black Youth & Police Violence

A psychology study from 2014 finds that White police officers as well as White students overwhelmingly perceive Black children as young as 10 years of age to be older, less innocent and culpable, even though they have done nothing wrong. The study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology included 176 police officers, who were mostly White males (average age of 37), and 264 mostly White women undergraduate students. The participants over-estimated Black and Latino boys’ age by an average of 4.5 years. The participants also held an unconscious bias that led them to associate boys of colour, especially Black boys, with animals. Experiments show that the police officers were more willing to use violence to control Black youth.

The researchers argued that White people on the whole dehumanise Black boys, not showing the same empathy and willingness to protect their innocence in comparison to images of White children. In other words, Black children are presumed to be guilty and inviting violence by simply doing nothing.

The researchers write: “Again, the implicit dehumanisation of Black children predicted the extent to which police officers overestimate the age of Black suspects, how culpable those Black suspects are perceived to be, and the extent to which officers were more likely to use force on Black suspects than suspects of other races throughout their career, controlling for how much suspects resist arrest or are located in high-crime areas.”

These findings can help to put police brutality into context, and help to explain why studies find that White people’s confidence in police has increased since the non-indictment of police officers who murdered unarmed Black people including Aiyana Jones (age 7), Michael Brown (age 18), Eric Garner (age 43), Tamir Rice (age 12) and several other high-profile cases.

The study: (free PDF) Research on police confidence: Image by artist Mary Engelbreit, who donates all proceeds from this painting to the Michael Brown Jr Memorial Fund: #sociology #psychology #blacklivesmatter