Inherent bias must be rooted out

Inherent Bias

“Inherent bias” is defined as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner” by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. Many feel that Philando Castile was the victim of inherent bias when he was shot and killed on July 6 after a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.

The Castile shooting, which came nearly eight months after the Jamar Clark shooting in North Minneapolis last November, brought the national spotlight to the Twin Cities again regarding the ever-present problem that seems to exist whenever persons of color come in contact with Minnesota police officers. The MSR in separate phone interviews spoke to two national experts on the subject.

Judy Lubin
Judy Lubin (Courtesy of

“African Americans are more perceived as being a threat, particularly in police encounters,” said Dr. Judy Lubin, a policy analyst, Howard University sociologist adjunct professor, and president of Public Square Communications, a Washington, D.C.-area consulting firm. “We have to look at the question of bias in general, but also [in] recognizing that there is such a thing as explicit bias or unconscious bias. The officer may not think they are operating from stereotypes or [that their] negative perceptions of African Americans [are] being internalized.”

Police officers are no different from the public in how Blacks in this country often are seen, Lubin pointed out. “All across the country we are seeing these examples…in which Blacks are being seen as animals. There is a culture or certainly a tolerance of these viewpoints of African Americans within [police] departments. That needs to be rooted out.”

Inherent bias training for police officers might not be enough, said Debbie Hines, a Washington, D.C. trial attorney and former Maryland prosecutor. “That’s putting it too simplistic, because there are some people who are inherently racist…and that includes police officers. They are not going to change. You are not going to change them just through training.”

Being involved in such inherent bias training would be most beneficial to someone who realizes that they have an inherent bias, especially toward Blacks and other people of color, said Hines. However, this is limited only to those officers willing and open to change.

“[They] are going to want to change and recognize that they do have a problem.” Hines stressed that “weeding out” police officers who have no intention of changing is equally important.

“This problem of police brutality has been with us for a very long time,” said Lubin, who is co-founder of Sociologists for Justice, an independent collective of nearly 2,000 experts, researchers and distinguished scholars organized to speak on police brutality in communities of color. “It is not going to change overnight. It’s systemic.

“It is part of the racial history in this country that we have not healed from. There is this broader healing and dialogue in the nation that needs to happen.”

Debbie Hines
Debbie Hines (Photo courtesy of

Asked if the video posted by Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, could have an effect on whether or not the St. Anthony police officer is charged, Hines responded, “We have seen video before with Eric Garner where we saw the entire incident where the man lost his life at the hands of police, and there was no indictment. In her video it’s just her showing the incident after it unfolded. [It] doesn’t show what happened.

“I think with social media and cell phone technology, we are actually seeing it in real time, like the young lady’s video,” continued Hines. “It’s another thing to see it as opposed to years past reading about things that happen in African American newspapers.”

Whether or not the officer involved is charged, Lubin said, “We can’t give up hope. We can’t accept that as status quo or unchangeable. We have models on how to bring down a legal system” such as the Civil Rights Movement, which she sees as “an ideal model” for pushing for change. “Even in our grief, we still have to have clarity. We can change things.

“We have to be strategic about it, and look at this through policy,” continued Lubin. “How do we change policy, because this is a legalized system that supports officers to be allowed to say that they fear for their lives as a justification for killing citizens, particularly African Americans. [Policy is] the starting point on how to dismantle that.”

On July 11, The Minneapolis Urban League and the African American Leadership Forum submitted a list of demands “to improve law enforcement practices in the wake of the Philando Castile homicide,” according to their joint press release. These demands are listed in the adjacent box and include policy changes of the kind Lubin advocates.

Lubin recommended “extreme action,” which includes the community demanding regular updates on negative encounters between Blacks and police, as well as required training by officers, including inherent bias. “We have to be committed to this for the long haul, and not just being upset for a day or two or for a week after a shooting. We have to mobilize and organize.

“That’s what we have to do as a community in Minneapolis, Detroit, Baltimore, Baton Rouge — everywhere.”

Lubin admitted that sometimes protest is a part of grieving. “I really believe in the power of protesting. We have to connect to other people…especially if we are experiencing one event after another that is traumatic and it seems like it is not going to end, that the police are not going to change. We have to give ourselves some time to grieve, but we also must recognize that we have power and are not powerless.”


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