Direct bias: Become an advocate for change (2023)



Melissa Little


  • There is a problem of racial prejudice in America that affects our entire society, especially the criminal justice system.
Direct bias: Become an advocate for change (1)

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If we're being honest with ourselves, because of the history of our country and the images we get as adults, etc., black people are often assumed to be dangerous. And that's how this should be resolved. Ultimately, police officers who receive this training are able to fight and de-escalate conflicts more effectively. – President Barack Obama

Over the past decade, technology and social media have allowed the world to witness the mistreatment of unarmed black men and women by police officers. High-profile cases such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have sparked social movements.protests, demonstrationsand public discourse on race and the fight against social injustice. These movements forced many people to face, or at least acknowledge, that there is a problem of racial prejudice in America and that it affects our entire society, especially the criminal justice system.

What is implicit bias?

Although "blatant racism" is not as prevalent today as it was at other times in American history, psychologists have found that a person may not be aware that their seemingly nonjudgmental actions are based on racial stereotypes.Implicit biasis an increasingly popular term to describe the prejudices people may have against another person.

According to the Kirwan Institute, "implicit bias refers to attitudes or stereotypes that unconsciously influence one's understanding, actions, and decisions." In other words, the Kirwan Institute explains people from bothpositive and negative evaluations of others based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance without consciously choosing to do so. Through exposure to direct and indirect messages, including media and news programs, people begin to develop prejudices from an early age.

Implicit bias researchers have found that everyone has some degree of bias that affects how we see our world. Once a prejudice is formed, people subconsciously seek information that confirms their existing beliefs.

Race and American History

The United States has a long history of laws, policies, and social norms that dehumanized people of color, particularly African Americans, and criminalized their free lives. For more than 200 years, African Americans have been viewed as property to be bought and sold. The justification for legalized slavery was based on the idea that blacks were inferior and subhuman.

Free, but not free

After the civil war of 1865-66. many laws were passed to keep the now freed African Americans at the bottom of the socioeconomic system and push them back into slave labor. For example, vagrancy laws forced many former slaves to sign labor contracts that required them to return to plantations and work for white "masters."

African Americans who were homeless or unable to show their work papers were arrested and fined. If a person could not pay the fine, he was imprisoned and sentenced to provincial labor or rented out to a private employer or plantation owner. These vague vagrancy laws allowed the police to stop and harass blacks only on suspicion of engaging in "criminal activity."

Jim Crow

Although conditions for African Americans improved from 1867 to 1877, the rise of supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan stalled and in many ways reversed any progress that had been made. After the Reconstruction era, a new set of laws emerged, known as the Jim Crow laws, whose goal was to keep the tribes separate. In 1896, the US Supreme Court upheld the states' segregation laws in a landmark constitutional casePlessy v. Ferguson.

Priests and theologians also supported Jim Crow. They argued that God intended racial segregation and that blacks were created to be servants. White scientists and social Darwinists also claimed that whites were the dominant race and that they were both educationally and culturally superior. The Ku Klux Klan was portrayed as a heroic member of society who maintained "law and order" and saved the South from a black takeover during the Reconstruction era.

After years of protests, marches, and the deaths of many protesters, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed, outlawing many of these rules and practices. However, centuries of cultural and social conditioning have already left their mark.

The power of messaging

  • “The amygdala, a brain region associated with the experience of fear, tends to become active when white subjects see an unfamiliar black male face (regardless of their conscious reports of racial attitudes).
  • "After whites see unfamiliar black faces flashed at subliminal speeds (too fast for conscious awareness), whites show more hostility in different situations—leading to the breakdown of interracial social bonds."
  • "Whites tend to associate negative words (eg, terrible, failed, horrible, bad, hardship, war, ugly, and horrible) with unfamiliar black faces rather than with white faces."
  • "Some studies show that many African-Americans hold implicit prejudices against strangers of their own race, similar to the prejudice whites hold against blacks." (Literature Review: Media Representations and Effects on the Lives of Black Men and Boys(2011).)

Stereotypes in the media

The social conditioning of racial hierarchy throughout history and the way blacks are portrayed in the media contribute to how blacks are perceived and treated today. A few years ago, several news outlets ran a story about a black female flight attendant who raised her hand to help a sick passenger on the plane. According to media reports, the flight attendant replied, "Oh no honey, put your hand down." We are looking for a real doctor or nurse or some kind of medical staff. We don't have time to talk to you. The flight attendant's internalized prejudices meant that she could not accept that an African-American woman could become a doctor.

Unfortunately, news programs and other media sources resort to these stereotypes and continue to portray people of color as less intelligent and prone to committing crimes. Studies, including one by the Sentencing Project, have found that news programs overrepresent blacks as criminals and whites as victims of crime.

A study by Color of Change examined the NYPD's "actual" average arrest rate of black men for murder, assault and theft from 2010-2013, as well as the "representation" of black men as arrested or suspected of crimes in four of New York's top news outlets agencies. Researchers found that three out of four broadcasters overrepresented blacks as criminals by 19 percentage points. The highest distortion ratio was 31 percent.

Research has shown that people who constantly receive messages that negatively portray African Americans are more likely to internalize those images as true. (I understandQingwen Dong i Arthur Phillip Murrillo,The influence of television on youth stereotypes about Hispanic Americans.) In a 2010 national survey, whites were asked to estimate the percentage of African Americans who commit crimes such as burglary, illegal drug sales, and juvenile delinquency. Participants overestimated the actual involvement of blacks in these crimes, as measured by arrests, by about 20 to 30 percent. (I understanddr. sc. Nazgol Ghandnoosh,Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Measures(September 2014) citing Pickett, J.T., Chiricos, T., Golden, KM. and Gertz, M. (2012).Examining the Association Between Perceptions of Neighborhood Racial Composition and Whites' Perceptions of Victimization Risk: Do Racial Stereotypes Matter?50(1), 145-186 (pp. 155-6, 160). In a 2002 survey, participants estimated that 40 percent of people who committed violent crimes were African American, while the actual number was 29 percent; according to crime victimization surveys. Participants also overestimated the overall rate of violent crimes committed by Hispanics.

Ban the boxes laws

A study published in July 2016 on the impact of the ban on low-skilled workers is consistent with the research cited above. "No-the-box" laws prevent employers from asking job applicants about their criminal records to prevent employers from discriminating against people with criminal records.

Unfortunately, the researchers found that employers who could not ask applicants about their criminal records began to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics more broadly, assuming those men had criminal records. Consequently, the "ban the box" policy worked well for whites with criminal backgrounds, but reduced employment prospects by 5.1 percent for low-skilled black youth and by 2.9 percent for low-skilled Hispanic youth.

Racial prejudice and the criminal justice system

This assumption that all or most black people are dangerous criminals can have harmful consequences, especially when a biased person has power or authority and is unaware of their bias. This situation is all the more troubling because it is linked to bias in the criminal justice system. According to the Center for American Progress, one in 15 African Americans and one in 36 Hispanics are incarcerated, compared to one in 106 whites. In terms of sentencing, blacks and Hispanics are more likely than similar whites to be incarcerated and receive lengthy sentences in state and federal courts in some jurisdictions. According to ACLU calculations, sentences for blacks in the federal system are nearly 20 percent longer than those for whites convicted of similar crimes.

Stop and Inspect Policy

In New York, the police stopped more than 4 million people from 2004 to mid-2012. Nearly 90 percent of those stopped were black or Hispanic, and only 12 percent of blacks and Hispanics stopped were charged with a crime. In 2008, a class action lawsuit was filed against the city of New York alleging that the New York City police illegally stopped and searched people regardless of race. UFloyd v. City of New York, 959 F.Supp. 2d 540 (SDNY. 2013), a federal court found that New York's stop-and-frisk policy involved racial profiling and unconstitutional controls.

The Justice Department also investigated police departments across the country and found a pattern or practice of racial bias. In 2015, the Department of Justice reported that the Baltimore Police Department disproportionately stopped black pedestrians in each of Baltimore's nine police districts and that black Americans were more likely to be stopped multiple times in a short period of time. In the five and a half years of data collection, 95 percent of the 410 people stopped by police at least 10 times were African American. An African-American man in his 50s was stopped 30 times in less than four years, but none of the 30 stops resulted in a summons or criminal charges.

Black drivers were also disproportionately stopped and searched, although searches of African Americans were less likely to turn up contraband. In fact, Baltimore police officers were twice as likely to find contraband when searching whites compared to blacks in vehicle stops and 50 percent more likely in pedestrian stops. African-Americans account for 86 percent of reported crimes, despite making up only 63 percent of Baltimore's population. For individual criminal acts, these differences were even more pronounced. Black was 91 percent of the 1,800 people charged with only trespassing or trespassing, 89 percent of the 1,350 charges of making false statements to a police officer and 84 percent of the 6,500 people arrested for disorderly conduct. Similar statistics were found in other police departments, such as San Francisco and Ferguson, Missouri.

Racial prejudice and children

Unfortunately, racial prejudice affects both children and young people. According to the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, there are disparities in dropout rates between white and black students as early as preschool. Although studies do not show that black students misbehave more often than white students, black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled. A 2002 study found that white students were more likely to be punished for unintentional offenses such as smoking, vandalism and foul language, while black students were more likely to be punished for discreet actions such as swearing. Libby Nelson and Dara Lind,The school-to-prison pipeline explained(February 2015).

In terms of student arrests and referrals to law enforcement, black children made up 16 percent of all children enrolled in 2011-2012. However, they accounted for 31 percent of all school arrests. In the school year 2009-2010. black and Hispanic students were responsible for more than 70 percent of school arrests or police referrals. rachel wolf,School discipline disparities drive black students to prison(March 2012).

A change in the right direction?

Social media and advances in technology have allowed people to see some of the harsh realities African Americans face due to internalized prejudice. Images like that of Eric Garner choking to death while arrested on suspicion of selling individual cigarettes from unmarked packs, or the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice while she was playing with a gun in a community park, opened the Gateway to political, legal and social activism. In his town hall address, President Obama emphasized the importance of building strong community-police relationships by training law enforcement officers to recognize and remove implicit bias. In June 2016, the Department of Justice announced that it would introduce an implicit bias course as part of its regular training program, which all prosecutors and law enforcement officers would be required to attend.

Contribution to the fight against implicit bias in ABA

At the American Bar Association, during her tenure in 2015, former president Paulette Brown described one of her key initiatives to eliminate bias and improve diversity in the legal system. As a result of their leadership, the ABA adopted a policy encouraging groups responsible for mandatory legal education to require diversity and inclusion as separate and distinct points.

Umri ABAjudicial departmentalso started oneA website to fight implicit bias in the justice system. This site includes video training, an implicit bias test, and a group presentation tool. There have also been several campaigns to end the school-to-prison pipeline, and schools have begun to change their discipline manuals to include restorative justice policies. These practices include peer mediation groups, peer assessments, community service, and class circles to resolve conflicts and teach students how to recognize and manage their emotions. There are also online diversity toolkits and other resources, eg B. Implicit Bias Training Courses for Teachers and Faculty Members.

Fighting implicit bias

Despite the worrying statistics and examples, Americans can be encouraged by the fact that research is being conducted on these issues and that some institutions are actively working to address these issues. In order to maintain momentum and have a greater impact at the national level, advocates must be actively involved.If you are a young lawyer who wants to help fight implicit biasI'm not sure where to start. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Teach CLE forimplied bias.
  • Determine if your state offers a separate credit CLE program for diversity and inclusion and eliminating bias in the legal profession. If not, write an attorney letter to your local or state bar association.
  • Take a pro bono case to help a person injured by police misconduct or discrimination in employment or education. For pro bono opportunities, contact your local legal aid office. There are also non-profit projects at
  • Organize a town hall meeting with the police and community members. As officers of the court, attorneys are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap in understanding between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. You can also partner with a local faith group, NAACP chapter, or Urban League.
  • Host a Know Your Rights workshop at a local high school where you teach students how to deal with confrontations with the police. For some materials to use in such a workshop,


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