‘Deadly Force’ Lab Finds Racial Disparities in Shootings

Eric Sorensen, Washington State University, September 2, 2014

Participants in an innovative Washington State University study of deadly force were more likely to feel threatened in scenarios involving black people. But when it came time to shoot, participants were biased in favor of black suspects, taking longer to pull the trigger against them than against armed white or Hispanic suspects.

The findings, published in the recent Journal of Experimental Criminology, grow out of dozens of simulations aimed at explaining the disproportionate number of ethnic and racial minorities shot by police. The studies use the most advanced technology available, as participants with laser-equipped guns react to potentially threatening scenarios displayed in full-size, high-definition video.

The findings surprised Lois James, lead author and assistant research professor at WSU Spokane’s Sleep and Performance Research Center. Other, less realistic studies have found people are more willing to think a black person has a gun instead of a tool and will more readily push a “shoot” button against a potentially armed black person.

The findings also run counter to the public perception, heightened with the recent shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., that police are more willing to shoot black suspects. Statistics show that police shoot ethnic and racial minorities disproportionately to their population.

But the last comprehensive look at the racial makeup of justifiable and non-justifiable shootings was a 2001 study using more than two decades of U.S. Bureau of Justice data, said James. And while statistics show black suspects are shot at more frequently than white suspects, the 2001 study found black suspects were also as likely to shoot at police as be shot at.

“At the moment, there are no comprehensive statistics on whether the police do inappropriately shoot at black males more than they do at white males,” said James. “Although isolated incidents of black males being shot by the police are devastating and well documented, at the aggregate level we need to understand whether the police are shooting black unarmed males more than they are white unarmed males. And at the moment, nobody knows that.”

Shootings in the field are particularly difficult to study because they can have a multitude of complex, confounding and hard-to-control variables. But WSU Spokane’s Simulated Hazardous Operational Tasks Laboratory can control variables like suspect clothing, hand positions, threatening stance and race, while giving observers precise data on when participants are fired upon and how many milliseconds they take to fire back.

James’ study is a follow-up to one in which she found active police officers, military personnel and the general public took longer to shoot black suspects than white or Hispanic suspects. Participants were also more likely to shoot unarmed white suspects than black or Hispanic ones and more likely to fail to fire at armed black suspects.

“In other words,” wrote James and her co-authors, “there was significant bias favoring blacks where decisions to shoot were concerned.”

When confronted by an armed white person, participants took an average of 1.37 seconds to fire back. Confronted by an armed black person, they took 1.61 seconds to fire and were less likely to fire in error. The 240-millisecond difference may seem small, but it’s enough to be fatal in a shooting.

The recent study analyzed data from electroencephalograph sensors that measured participants’ alpha brain waves, which are suppressed in situations that appear threatening.

The participants, 85 percent of whom were white, “demonstrated significantly greater threat responses against black suspects than white or Hispanic suspects,” wrote James and her co-authors, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist David Klinger and WSU Spokane’s Bryan Vila. This, they said, suggests the participants “held subconscious biases associating blacks and threats,” which is consistent with previous psychological research on racial stereotypes.

However, the current study only measured the alpha waves of participants drawn from the general public, not law enforcement or the military. Consequently, wrote the authors, “results from this sample are not generalizable to sworn officers.”

“However,” they added, “there is some evidence from the field to support the proposition that an officer’s threat bias could cause him or her to tend to take more time to make decisions to shoot people whom they subconsciously perceived as more threatening because of race or ethnicity. This behavioral ‘counter-bias’ might be rooted in people’s concerns about the social and legal consequences of shooting a member of a historically oppressed racial or ethnic group.”

James said she has data on subconscious associations between race and threat from law enforcement subjects, and she awaits funding to analyze whether these biases predict decisions to shoot in the simulator. Like study participants from the general public, she said, “they were still more hesitant to shoot black suspects than white suspects. They took longer and they made fewer errors.”

Funding for the study came from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Naval Research.

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  • This isn’t hard. Cop or non-cop sees a black person and a white person threatening his life, and in a quick instant, sees the sociopolitical row that comes with having to shoot the former but none with having to shoot the latter.

    I have made up my mind that if I have to use deadly force to deter a black person’s criminal act and I don’t have to shoot and nobody is hurt, if he just runs away, I’m keeping it at that and not calling the cops.

    • Cecil Broomsted

      I am in favor of notifying the constables if for no other reason than the black might be stopped from harming someone else.

    • Ike Eichenberg

      Call the cops, the first person to contact the police is often automatically given the benefit of the doubt as being the victim.

      You don’t want to give the criminal the opportunity at that benefit, because there is a good chance the criminal will report a racist white guy pointed a gun at him and called him dirty names.

      • OTOH, I see me calling the cops, the news getting out, and a whole conga line of cracker jack box theology degree black reverends holding signs in front of my house. Then again, if I don’t shoot and the black doesn’t shoot, there probably won’t be that much attention paid at all.

        • Whitetrashgang

          No, my brother came over to my house with a gun etc and I said to the cop why believe my story and the first thing he said was because I called.

    • Musashi5000

      I’m all about putting him down and quietly walking away.

    • Periapsis

      Soon, letting them run away would be a very bad idea. Do you want them telling their cohorts where you are, what your are armed with, what your numbers are? In the coming civil war, dead enemies tell no tales.

  • Samuel_Morton

    So people have a rational fear of blacks (reflective of disproportionate violent crime rates), but we have been so browbeaten by anti-racist creed that we are slow to act against said threat.

    Purely pathological.

    • Cecil Broomsted

      Yes and the hesitation could cost your life. As my father always said, “Never pull your pistol unless you plan to use it.”

      • Alexandra1973

        My husband has said the same thing. Don’t point it unless you’re going to shoot.

      • C17H19NO3

        Consider the distances involved — generally less than 25 ft, often less than 10 ft. How fast can a person close 10 ft in a sprint? Pretty damn fast. That hesitation could easily be the difference between a quick draw shot and getting your head pounded into the concrete until death by a group of attackers.

        I’m far more paranoid these days as a white person in St Louis than I used to be. When a group of blacks is around me, whether I just hear them, or see them — I’m already checking my options, hand on my gun. I do it because not having that weapon, and the one moment I wasn’t aware of them did not serve me well in the past.

    • mobushwhacker

      Just as I was thinking. A white person, male generally, will hesitate. The white male has to be thinking about going to prison for a hate crime. That could cost him dearly.

      • Sick of it

        Once freed from the shackles of liberal society, however, one must question why said person would surrender to the police. In fact, one must question why he would not continue doing the policeman’s job for him. Would the consequences be any worse than what would happen if he turned himself in to the police? Alternatives are gone, brother. I’d wager the low IQ of the average person is all that is keeping white people from understanding this.

        • me

          Indeed. We’re running out of options. Another point is, why would any sane White man want to be a policeman in a majority ‘diverse’ neighborhood? You can’t do your job, because the US ‘government’ will come after you. You can’t uphold law and order, because there isn’t any law and order in this country anymore–not when our potus Barry, our ag Eric, and our entire ‘government’ is anti-White and corrupt to the core. Our ‘judicial’ system is corrupt as hell, too. What was the purpose of police work again? Oh, yeah….generating revenue for the corrupt government in the form of traffic tickets…..

          • Laura Dilworth

            maybe they don’t have alot of other options

          • Texan1st

            As Ferguson, Missouri has shown us, white cops can’t even defend themselves against black aggression without the risk of being railroaded by the DoJ. I guess white cops are supposed to just curl up in a fetal position, take their beating, and hope the black thug shows enough mercy not to kill them. No thanks! Depending on what the DoJ does in Ferguson, white cops all across this nation should respond by boycotting working in low income, predominantly black areas. Why risk their lives, the lives of their families, and the chance of being sent to prison when the inevitable time comes when they are forced to defend themselves? If blacks don’t want them there, give them what they want. As a white cop, it would be better to work in the white areas anyway. Less crime, less violence, and filled with law-abiding citizens that actually appreciate them being there.

  • Unfortunately, Ms. James is only an assistant professor, which means she has no tenure. Not only will she need another job soon, but she’ll need another career, as she’ll be blacklisted across much of higher ed.

    As a former academic myself I can guarantee you that there are a dozen or more others willing to fudge their results to prove her wrong. There’s too much invested in the “white cops are racist killers” to let her research stand unchallenged.

    • me

      WSU, the West’s bastion of libtard communism if there ever was one. That, and the fact that the state has legalized marijuana and ghey marriage, and outlawed sasquatch molesting and lollipops. Suckers!

      • Basketeddie

        I like that, “ghey” marriage. I will use that along with “enword” and “ghettotude”.

        • me

          Ha ha!

  • B.A_2014

    The study is obviouy racist since it didn’t come to the conclusions our diversity drunk masters demand.

  • Till the black majority as a whole ends the promotion and glorifying slave trade from pimping their girls and women, gangs drive by’s drugs and dealing as a successful way of life this will not change. This will take perhaps a generation or 2.
    There are many of educated blacks who do denounce this, but they are always drowned out by the media, (turn there mics down) and the likes of Al Jessy and Holder, yelling and screaming that it is not fare we need special treatment……..
    no you don’t, just look at what the culture rap about. and yes you rap about cop killing and other such things I mention hear, you will always look lick a thug

    • Periapsis

      More like silenced. The enemy controlled media has done a bang up job convincing average blacks the educated among them are “Uncle Toms” and “acting white.”

  • Cecil Broomsted

    Quite a surprising study. I must admit though that I would have a hair-trigger with multiple head shots for blacks if required. No hesitation at all.

  • Who Me?

    Quite possibly it takes that long for the White person to figure out if the black is a real threat or just acting like a typical n****r.

  • Truthseeker

    This story will be buried, because people who put agenda ahead of truth don’t like it when you take away their narrative.

  • TruthBeTold

    Most blacks will read the headline and say, ‘see, I told you!’

    I wish the headline was clearer.

  • JInSanD

    “Statistics show that police shoot ethnic and racial minorities disproportionately to their population.”

    Correction: Statistics show that police shoot ethnic and racial minorities in direct proportion to their level of crime. Or probably much lower proportions.

    “there are no comprehensive statistics on whether the police do inappropriately shoot at black males more than they do at white males”

    That’s because no one has figured out how to rig the stats to make this look even remotely possible.

    “the participants “held subconscious biases associating blacks and threats””

    Doesn’t the word bias imply an unreasonable opinion?

  • Reverend Bacon

    What they ended up with is a partial explanation of why so many cops die at the hands of this anointed demographic.

    I have said this for years: the more they keep whining about it every time a criminal takes a bullet, the slower cops will be to react. The Shoot/Don’t shoot decision loop is a very complex one, as it is. Now, blacks have succeeded in making it more complex when there’s a black involved. This means more cops will die.

    I’d like to see a national program to train away this obvious “racism” from our cops, to protect them better. What are the odds that such a program will be funded?

    • MoMo

      Correct. The risk of killing versus the risk of being killed will cause the hesitation to last a fraction longer with the result being that more cops will die as a direct result of Ferguson.

  • Reverend Bacon

    It’s a good theory, at least. A woman was raped in my neighborhood a few days ago. Less than 5% black neighborhood, I might add. I found out that she saw the rapist from at least a hundred yards away, and didn’t do anything to protect herself until it was too late. She was, no doubt, afraid to be thought of as a racist. It’s the same fatal chink that the blacks have put in our defense mechanism. 40 years ago, her decision loop would have been much easier: see a black, call the cops. And with modern conveniences like mobile phones and the 911 system, she would have had plenty of time to save herself.

    I, on the other hand, have tried to train that fear out of myself. It would be worse for me, of course, because if I actually harmed one of these people preemptively, I wouldn’t pass the “non-racist” test and my life as I know it would still be over.

    • Musashi5000

      I look for them to start trouble just so I can demonstrate exactly how little I give a [email protected]@t about be called “racist”.

  • rowingfool

    With respect to “The participants, 85 percent of whom were white, “demonstrated significantly greater threat responses against black suspects than white or Hispanic suspects,” wrote James and her co-authors, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist David Klinger and WSU Spokane’s Bryan Vila. This, they said, suggests the participants “held subconscious biases associating blacks and threats,” which is consistent with previous psychological research on racial stereotypes.”

    There is another more plausible explanation and that is that blacks and whites have different body language, gestures, facial expressions and so on.

    Because of this disparity it takes a white person longer to decipher just what a black person intends to do, hence their reaction time would be slower. How many times have you listened to a tape recording of a black person and been left wondering just what they mean by what they say? Body language falls under the same domain which is why so many whites are taken completely by surprise by knock-out game type of behavior or why a white guy playing pickup basketball with blacks on a public court gets sucker punched by an opposing black player. The white guy never even sensed that he had crossed some indefinable line in the black guys sense of black justice. He literally never saw it coming.

    I’m serious here, not just engaging in gratuitous smearing. I grew up with blacks. They have different body language etc. than whites and whites, unfamiliar with black behavior will have difficulty reading just what’s going on in their heads.

    • Musashi5000

      That’s because they’re basically retarded.

      • John R

        No. They are basically a lower sub-species. The ones who are retarded are the Whites who wonder into their habitat and insist that the only difference is “The color of their skin.”

    • John R

      I, too, have been around blacks a lot, and you are right on the money. They’re whole culture is different. “When around blacks…” Now, I am not trying to say I am as smart as you; you probably do know more about blacks than I. But I know enough about blacks to avoid them if at all possible.

  • mike smith

    Due to black on black crime stats divided into overall gun casualties, statistically it makes more sense to shoot the nggr first.

    • John R

      Sir, could you kindly refrain from using that liberal invented phrase “black on black crime”? At least not here.

      • Spikeygrrl

        What is your preferred term?

        • John R

          Violence within the black community. Much more accurate. Blacks are not TARGETING other blacks. It is crime of proximity. It is a violent community overall. There, just some constructive criticism.

          • Spikeygrrl

            Wow, how very PC of you. Thanks, but no thanks; all puns intended, I’ll stick to calling a spade a spade.

      • mike smith

        What sort of Orwellian doublethink is that? The reality behind the term is obvious. It is you Sir who are typically wordsmithing as liberals do.

        • John R

          I must have wondered on to YouTube’s comments area by mistake. I thought that this website at least supported White people. Well, don’t worry, guys, you have plenty of black people to make you feel good about yourselves and tell you that you are good White folks who are not racist.

  • Neuday

    Maybe we hesitate because we want to savor the moment.

  • superlloyd

    ‘The participants “held subconscious biases associating blacks and threats,”’

    These are not biases but rational beliefs, subconscious or not, based on reality and corroborated statistically. They may well save one’s life. On average, blacks are more violent than whites to the same degree that men are more violent than women. It is thus completely logical to be more wary around them than around whites, asians or others and indeed used to be plain, common sense before mass PC indoctrination was instituted.

  • John R

    As a rule, Whites are just nicer to blacks in every way than we are to other Whites. The White Guilt Syndrome has eaten deep into our psyches. Even I catch myself doing it from time to time, I am embarrassed to admit.

    • tancred guiscard

      Agreed. Being of the blue collar persuasion, i expect way more effort on the part of whites and mestizos. But if a black does a halfway decent job, holy whiz, im taking him to the vending machines.

  • MekongDelta69

    More endless, useless pseudo-studies blaming White people for all the ills in the world, and getting paid handsomely (by our tax dollars) to carry out these studies.

    Monetarily, I’m definitely in the wrong business – but then again, I have pride in myself.

  • R L Buds

    A while back I was working in the yard and a car pulled up and stopped. The guy said “hey, can I axe you something?”. So I walked over to him and said “what’s up?” He said “you dont remeber me do you?” I said “no i don’t”. Finally he said “I can tell you’re not a racis’, so I was wondering if i could borrow a couple of dollars for gas?” I said no and he left.
    He used the idea that we think TALA, so I would say yeah i remember you and give him money. He also said that he felt i wasn’t racist, implying that if I give him money that would prove that I am in fact not racist.
    Anyway, the point is never give them anything and avoid them whenever possible.

    • John R

      Good points. Blacks may not be book smart, but they are well practiced at “getting over on people.” But, in the future, don’t even go over to the car, if someone wants to “axe” you a question!

  • John R

    Good points. But, in the future, you should go back into the restaurant and call police. You could have been car jacked. “Ask you a question!” my ARSE! He was right outside a place of business, and with two others. What “question” did he need to ask you? Your instincts were right, though: If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.

  • tancred guiscard

    This just in. Minorities disproportionately shot on weekends. Inventors of the julian and gregorian calender’s progeny consiered for indictment.

  • none of your business

    Washington State University. Washington is so anti White and anti American they want get rid of the name Washington because George Washington was a White man who owned slaves. It is really the home of the lunatic fringe liberals. For instance, a dog leash law was passed a few years ago. Of course some dog lovers objected. But the gay men of Seattle favor pit bulls and the gay men of Seattle fought against the dog leash law. That is normal, there are always people for and against dog leash laws
    But the gay pit bull owners had a slogan for the anti leash side. It was ” We(gays) don’t ask you to leash your children. Don’t ask us to leash our children(dogs)

    Washington is barking mad liberalism run amuck. I wouldn’t believe a word coming from that state.

  • none of your business

    After the Rodney King riots the cops of all colors in Los Angeles went on a sort of slow motion strike. They showed up, clocked in and spent the day pretending to work. The uniformed patrol gave out tickets and responded to calls where if possible they reported it as some small incident and made no arrests. The detectives spent their days in the office writing and re writing reports and driving across town to interview witnesses who they knew would be somewhere else.

    Crime skyrocketed for a while until the media and politicians forgot about Saint Rodney of PCP.

  • none of your business

    Samuel Hathaway’s story brings up a very important point. 3 black men is a mugging team. One in front,one in back and a driver. Also dividing the spoils among 3 is profitable,anymore and there are too many to share. 3 is also a rape team. 2 might possibly be going about honest business, but 3 or more,call the PD immediately.

    You can exaggerate a bit, don’t say loitering. say attacking a woman. 3 blacks followed me home one night. I went into a 7-11 near my home,parked right next to the door and ran in.
    The blacks parked in the lot and thought they could get me when I came out. I came to the door with 2 store clerks at my side and yelled as loudly as possible. “we called the police” They got out of there as fast as they could drive.

    Always look out and 3 or more is always a mugging, rape or carjacking team.

  • none of your business

    Oh yeah, that borrow a couple dollars for gas thing. There was one black couple who were at the same gas station every day axing for gas money.