SPOKANE, Wash.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 Washington State University 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 (pdf) 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 male
|Contact: Lois James|
Washington State University