Psych & Law Enforcement 101
By: Litesa Wallace, ABD, M.S
I will preface this entry with the following: I am the daughter of a Vietnam and San Diego PoliceVeteran. I am a mother of an African American son. I am psychologist with a research interest inimplicit (or unconscious) bias.
There are some experiences that are factual; no matter what vantage point one sees thatexperience. As such, it is a fact that men of color, African American men and Latinosspecifically, are more likely to be shot (and/ or killed) by law enforcement officers. This is thecase whether the officer yielding the gun is European American or also looks like the individualwho is shot. So how is this the case? Why would officers of all ethnic or racial backgrounds bemore inclined to shoot and kill a male of color?
My answer is implicit racial bias. I have coined the phrase the
ABCs of racism ©
. I will focusmainly on the cognitive-behavioral aspects. And here I will quote my previous work:
ABCs of Racism ©
Prejudice: how one feels about members of a given social category
Discrimination: how one acts toward members of a given social category
Stereotypes: generalizations about the perceived “typical” characteristics of a
How do we apply this to police shootings? Let’s examine the human mind.
Our subconscious thought is constantly taking in information, messages, and cues. It happensrapidly and it unbeknownst to the conscious mind (hence the term subconscious). Now imagineyour mind is a file cabinet. We take all these images and place them in nice neat folders called
schema. For example, when you see an apple, orange or banana you place it in the “Fruit” folder;furthermore, the “Fruit” folder may be in the hanging file called “Food”. Placing things into
categories is helpful for humans in many in
stances. You wouldn’t want to wonder “What isthis?” every time you saw an apple. Your brain will tell you in milliseconds and you probably
will not consciously think of the fact that an apple is a fruit that you may eat because it is food.
That is how schema or stereotypes work. They have a beneficent aspect to them. Now let’s apply
this to the scenario featuring of a law enforcement officer shooting a Black or Hispanicman. There are a million images of that defy facts related to race and crime. One is more likelyto be the victim of a person who looks like them; however, the media consistently (for centuries)features men of color as the perpetuators of crime, especially against White people. This image is played out thousands of times in
popular culture, even when you aren’t paying attention. Pretty
soon that becomes a scheme or stereotype. Black or Hispanic man=danger .