Racial Perceptions Evident in Officer Wilson’s Testimony

Darren Wilson’s characterizations of Michael Brown in his grand jury testimony have led to renewed questions about how white cops’ perceptions of black suspects plays into use of force.
By Patrik Jonsson, CS Monitor Staff writer
St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office/ReutersView Caption
The release of officer Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony about his role in the death of Michael Brown has reopened questions about the degree to which white cops view black suspects through a potentially distorting lens.

Wilson’s testimony, released Monday after a grand jury decided not to indict him, offers an unusual and unvarnished look into the mind of a cop deciding whether to use deadly force in a situation that had spiraled out of control.
His comments to the grand jury paint a portrait of a man fearful for his life, and courts have repeatedly acknowledged the danger of police work by giving wide latitude to officers when life may hang in the balance.

Yet some of his characterizations of the incident have raised red flags among experts who study race and policing.

For example, Wilson describes Mr. Brown as looking like a rage-filled “demon” as he geared up to charge the officer. Wilson said that he felt like a kid trying to wrestle Hulk Hogan during their altercation, despite being roughly the same height as Brown. And he characterized Canfield Drive, where Brown was shot, as an area “hostile” to police, meaning his guard was already up when he approached Brown about a stolen box of cigarillos.

The broader question for policing is not necessarily one of overt racism, rather it is a question of whether unexamined perceptions of black people and black neighborhoods creep into the so-called use-of-force matrix an officer turns to in times of crisis. In a country where black people are up to 21 times more likely to be shot by police than whites, according to a ProPublica analysis of FBI statistics, the issue is of enormous importance, experts say.

“These are very much the issues at play: you do have to be careful about scrutinizing why people make certain judgments about people being threatening,” says Jens Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y.

Studies are not conclusive. A 2010 article in the Southwestern Journal of Criminal Justice looked at 10 years’ worth of peer-reviewed studies on police use of force in minority neighborhoods. The authors found studies that established connections between an increased use of force and minority status, and others that found no correlation.

A 2003 study by William Terrill and Michael Reisig did conclude that police officers tend to use more dramatic force when dealing with suspects in poor, minority neighborhoods. When race, class, gender and age “are considered at the encounter level, they are significant,” they write.

But the reason might not be racism, overt or subtle. It could be the simple fact that police are more on their guard in such neighborhoods. “Perhaps officers do not simply label minority suspects [as] … ‘symbolic assailants’ as much as they label distressed … neighborhoods as potential sources of conflict.”

The reasons for caution on the part of police are not imagined.

“Some research [shows] that even well-trained officers are not consistently able to fire their weapon in time before a suspect holding a gun can raise it and fire first,” writes John Whibey, in a report by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. “This makes split second judgments exceptionally difficult.”

Yet other observers say those dangers alone do not appear to explain Wilson’s actions on Aug. 9 or his testimony.

Wilson said in testimony that Brown punched him twice, hard enough for him to worry about losing consciousness if he was struck again. But forensic photos show only light bruising on Wilson’s face after the struggle.

“The abrasions on Wilson – it looks like he was in a fight, but that doesn’t look to me like something that would’ve necessarily necessitated escalation to lethal force,” says David Long, a law professor at Brandman University in Irvine, Calif., and a former federal agent and use-of-force expert.

Moreover, Wilson’s testimony at times casts Brown as almost bestial: “When he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back towards me.”

Says Professor Ohlin: “I worry about relying too much on Wilson’s assessment of how aggressive Brown looked and his facial character, like he looked like a demon – that can very easily be racialized.”

Under the law, he adds, “if someone finds an African-American attacker more threatening, that’s objectively unreasonable.”

A new study by Northwestern University titled “A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perceptions of Blacks” suggests that the historic dehumanization of blacks though slavery and societal prejudices has led to some white people being prone to seeing them as having abnormal strength or abilities.

“Perhaps people assume that Blacks possess extra (i.e., superhuman) strength which enables them to endure violence more easily than other humans,” the authors write.

For his part, Professor Long simply notes how much more comfortable white cops are with white men. Long, who is African-American, references YouTube videos in which “you see young white guys walking down the street with weapons, and the police approach them without guns drawn, have a chat, and that’s it.”

“You try that as a young black man, you’ll be dead,” he suggests.

This summer, John Crawford III, a black man, was killed by two police officers after someone reported him for holding a toy rifle in a Walmart. The shooting occurred in Ohio, where residents are allowed to legally carry guns openly in public.

In his testimony, Wilson specifically noted that Brown has his hand in his waistband – seemingly implying that Brown might have been armed. As Brown ran forward, Wilson said, his other hand was balled in a fist.

Wilson says he fired multiple shots and finally hit Brown in the head, at which point “his face went blank, the aggression was gone … the threat was stopped.”

House G.O.P.-Led Benghazi Committee Backs Obama

The Republican Party–or the House Speaker John Boehner-lead part of it has got it wrong when they read the election results are a mandate to continue the “Party of No” activities with more government shutdowns and rejections of any bill coming from President Obama. Even before the new Congress is sworn in, the Boehner team is refusing to negotiate the president’s simple bill that would put 5-Million long-term illegals on the road to citizenship. These aren’t people just off the boat, but rather immigrants who have been here for about 8 or so years and have never been charged with any crimes. They would make good citizens of the United States if they could come out of the shadows where they fear they’ll found and deported. They want to be citizens and yes, pay taxes. Mr. Obama is commendable in his effort to get the House Speaker to move the bill to the floor; with the president offering, “If you don’t like it bring your ideas on solving this immigration problem and we’ll see if we can’t work out a deal.” To this Boehner has nothing to bring to the table and we are back to what appears to be an even worse stalemate than last year. Boehner is misreading the very strong message the voters sent earlier this month. The public is angry over disfunctional Washington and said so by voting out a record number of incumbents. Must say Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed to a workable immigration bill, but it’s Boehner who refuses to bring it to the House floor. Instead of handling immigration and the likes of critically needed highway and bridge funding legislation, Boehner keeps bringing up the 2012 Benghazi attack which killed 4, including U.S. Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens, in hopes it will impede Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run for president. Boehner who has 6 committees looking at how the attack happened had quite a shock this past weekend when his Republican-lead House Intelligence Committee concluded the Obama White House did not intentionally mislead the public. There was no “stand down” order while the military tried to save the four, as Boehner has alleged. But that’s not stopping Boehner who is directing his other committees to search for anything the Intelligence Committee might have missed. Anything to discredit Hillary Clinton, who was then Secretary of State. The committee is highly complimentary to the C.I.A. for “ensuring sufficient security” for Benghazi facilities “ably and bravely assisting the State Department on the night of the attacks, when it wasn’t required to do so. The committee report states: “Their actions saved lives.” Yes, the White House made the mistake of changing its story and Susan Rice, UN US Ambassador up for Secretary of State, wasn’t experienced enough to handle the first reports on the Sunday morning talk shows. But Boehner remains with little evidence to attack Hillary Clinton in what may be her run for the presidential nomination.

Ferguson, Mo. Can Teach all Americans. Are We Ready?

The police can’t be expected to be surrogate parents. It’s our parental duty to show police our children are above suspicion. Ferguson, Missouri late teen Michael Brown was getting psyched up for an exciting weekend night–had stolen 50 dollars of goods from a deli. The police station had warned officers in the field to be on the lookout for a possible suspect whom they described on the police radio. Then Brown kept walking down the middle of the main street what may have seemed to have been a challenge to officer Darren Wilson in his patrol car. The heavyset Brown kept coming until a 7th shot stopped him. We are not taking sides in the issue as the grand jury decision is about to happen any day now, but we hear nothing about parental responsibility in this case, which could have very well saved Brown’s life. Yes, I know Ferguson needs to make several quick changes, starting with hiring more trained black police officers to the present force of 53 whites and only 3 blacks in a town which is only one-third white and two-thirds black. Somehow Ferguson has to encourage more black participation in local elections. The white minority at present
overwhelms the handful of voting blacks. And those whites on the police force need an education about about the First Amendment. Two Washington reporters were handcuffed and jailed for doing nothing more than their job as journalists. They were simply on deadline, writing their stories in a closed McDonald’s away from the riot area last summer. The hundreds of battle-dressed National Guards and Missouri State Police seemed to be overkill, showing instead a small city divided rather than unified to correct a problem. Kids don’t know how dangerous weapons can be in an officer’s hands. Parents have to make sure their kids do not appear as troublemakers before the police. Also, kids should know we need our police to put down trouble before more totally innocent American citizens are harmed. Without police there would be anarchy in our streets. All should know, we need the police. A lot more of us would be killed if police weren’t on our streets. We as parents, should make our children aware part of the responsibility is in their own hands. I remember as a first grader, my father and grandfather told me emphatically never ever point one of my toy guns at a police officer. “Maybe you know it’s a toy, but how would a police officer know who has to make that judgement within seconds?” These two experienced and caring men didn’t stop until several minutes after I stopped laughing. There were lots of police on the streets as their station was just 2 blocks away. Parents should NOT assume kids know right from wrong. They have to be told, as I was. In Cleveland, a 12 year old boy pointing a toy revolver was shot and critically wounded Saturday, when the boy refused to raise his hands or surrender his toy gun. Kids just don’t know. They have to be told by their parents or guardians what may be obvious to us but is not to them.

In Secret President Obama Extended U.S. Military Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times | BREAKING NEWS ALERT

In Secret, Obama Extended U.S. Military Role in Afghanistan Combat
President Obama signed a secret order in recent weeks authorizing a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.
In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”
But Mr. Obama’s secret order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

Obama’s Afghan Promise Broken: U.S. Troops to Fight Another Year

Also staying on in Afghanistan will be German Troops in the North; Italian Troops in the East; Turkey is to guard the capital, Kabul. Afghan troops will be in the East and South under the Pentagon plan. The U.S. will take the lead role in training and advising those Afghan troops deployed in the East and South. Get the full New York Times story by typing Twitter@DouglasAB.com. Aides say the president plans to gradually end operations before the 2016 presidential election, thus taking credit for finishing a war the Republican administration started. Thanks, Bill Deane

House Republicans Blocking Obama’s Immigration Bill

House Republicans have forgotten we are all immigrants–even those we now call American Indians which DNA recently told us walked over from Asia. Now that we are all here, Republicans don’t want to let anybody else in. Now just days after the election House Republicans are talking about impeaching–at least one is mentioning jailing President Obama if he skirts a congressional inaction with executive declaration legalizing 5-thousand immigrants already here. House Speaker John Boehner pointing his party’s guns at the president: “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms he claims he seeks. But its been months while House Republicans let their own immigration reform bill sit in committee. Conservative is their word for keeping things as they are. Winning House Republicans have incorrectly taken their November election gains as a sign the public wants another stalemate, when surveys indicate the public only wants action, including passage of a new immigration bill. Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Texas Republican Michael McCaul declares the president’s actions are “unconstitutional and a threat to our democracy.” and I’ll “use every tool at my disposal to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions from being implemented.” Impeachment and even prison are being quietly discussed, while the Republican leadership cautions that’s too radical and could lead to encouraging another government shutdown. Republican Michelle Bachman of Minnesota is considering censuring the president if not a government shutdown. As it turned out the public blamed Republicans more than Democrats for the 16-day government shutdown over Affordable Care last year. But more oblique attacks against Mr. Obama are being considered more seriously, such as passing a broad spending bill to fund the government through December 11th; and then vote to remove all the funds required to kill the money required to initiate a passed immigration bill. Republicans are misreading their surprising landslide over the Democrats in the election. The public want both Congress and the President to get the job done. President Obama’s first immigration step only prevents 5-thousand long-time illegals from being deported. So simple; so modest House Republicans aren’t complaining about its contents. They just don’t like the bill because it comes from President Obama. And they are even willing to lose millions of votes in the Latino communities to get back at the president. So its more of the same in Washington.

Some Clarity Expected on Exploding AirBags at Senate Hearings Today

Auto airbag manufacturer Takata denies it went for a dirt cheap propellant in 1998 for bigger profits but at least 5 are dead and 14-million cars are on recall worldwide. Takata overruled the advice of at least 2 of its engineers and several competing companies that an ammonium nitrate propellant acted erratic over time, particularly in damp weather with temperature changes. Takata had been warned early-on that the compound was too dangerous to be used as an airbag propellant. Explosive manuals have repeatedly warned the compound “tended to disintegrate on storage under widely varying temperature conditions.” Ammonium nitrate draws in moisture too readily, particularly during damp nights in the south. Most of the American accidents have been in the deep south in states along the Gulf Coast. The company is insisting a recall should only be in the humid south. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is demanding a national recall, threatening legal action if Takata doesn’t comply. The question arises why didn’t the N.H.T.S.A. take action when ammonium nitrate was first used shortly before the turn of the century. There were plenty of warnings from other companies, none of which would use the erratic compound. Explosives engineering expert Paul Worsey told the New York Times explicitly: “It shouldn’t be used in airbags. The compound is more suitable for large demolitions in mining and construction, but it’s cheap, unbelievably cheap.” Takata spokesman Alby Berman said the company was sold on an ammoniumnitrate propellant because the compound was an efficient gas producer allowing the smallest and lightest of all available inflaters. Expect heavy grilling of Takata senior vice president Hiroshi Shimizu at today’s (Thursday’s) Senate Commerce Committee hearings. Chrysler and Honda, 2 of the biggest purchasers of the ammonium nitrate compound, a victim and the N.H.T.S.A. are also expected to testify.

Congress takes up Auto Airbag Dangers–FINALLY!

A month ago, October 23rd, to be exact, OurMissingNews exposed the potential dangers of 14-Million airbags in U.S. cars that had to be recalled because more might explode shooting metal parts at the driver. The danger is so evident that Toyota at that time urged owners not to drive with anyone in the passenger seat. One person, an Orlando, Florida woman had died and over 30 were injured. Takata, the Japanese manufacturer issued a recall for high humidity states only, such as Florida and Mississippi. Issuing a recall is only a publicity stunt when replacement parts have yet to be made. Auto engineers were talking about years before all the dangerous bags could be replaced with a safer model. Now Congress back after an 8-week election-re-election foray is finally getting down to business, holding hearings tomorrow. Chrysler and Honda representatives will be there along with the Takata company which maintains an all-states recall is not necessary. This flies in the face of the National Transportation Safety Board which is ready to go to court to force Takata to replace bags in all 50 states, not just in the high humidity states. Sure this is a life and death situation–and it has been for months–but not a peep out of any politician while the vacation and “important” re-election business was going on. Now you’ll hear members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation grandstand tomorrow. What a marvelous opportunity get get their faces on TV! They’ll talk about the possibility of more deaths. But why did they wait so long? I get it. Is there any difference between the politicians in Washington and actors in Hollywood? Not much! Is it too off base to say the windbags of Congress will use airbags in their political performance tomorrow?

This blog is dedicated to bringing back the commitment of professional journalism. As a former network news editor, major market news director and anchor, BILL DEANE gives you the inside story often missed by media more interested in Hollywood gossip. OUR MISSING NEWS gets into the WHY of the day's significant events.