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Shocking Blacks and apes study

Saeed Shabazz | 4/12/2011, 4:37 p.m.

Social science experts and law enforcement officials from across the nation are scheduled to gather on Feb.26 for a one-day conference on how police departments may improve data gathering and practices to improve racial and gender equity, especially in the areas of racial bias in officers' decisions to shoot or in the use of force. The conference is sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation, which is located on East 64th Street in Manhattan; the Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity, UCLA, and the Denver Police Department. What is fueling this particular conference is a February 7,2008,paper entitled "Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences," which appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a publication of the American Psychology Association.

The study revealed that "many Americans" subconsciously "associate Blacks with apes." In addition, the study's findings show that society is more likely to condone violence against Black criminal suspects as a result of its inability to accept Blacks as fully human, according to the researchers.

"Despite widespread opposition to racism, bias remains with us," stated coauthor Jennifer Eberhardt, who is Black. "African-Americans are still dehumanized; we're still associated with apes in this country. That association can lead people to endorse the beating of Black suspects by police officers, and I think it has lots of other consequences that we have yet to uncover."

Eberhardt, a Stanford University associate professor of psychology, said it was one of the most depressing research assignments she had ever worked on. "This shook me up," she wrote. "You have suspicions when you do the work--intuitions--you have a hunch. But it was hard to prepare for how strong [the Black/ape association] was."

The research took place over six years at Stanford and Penn State under Eberhardt's supervision. It involved mostly white male undergraduates. In a series of studies that subliminally flashed Black or white male faces on a screen for a fraction of a second to "prime" the students, researchers found subjects could identify blurry ape drawings much faster after they were primed with Black faces than with white faces. The researchers consistently discovered a Black/ape association even if the young adults said they knew nothing about its historical connotations. The researchers stress that dehumanization and animal imagery have been used for centuries to justify violence against many oppressed groups. That is why last week's New York Post cartoon is no laughing matter, according to Dr. Alvin Poussaint, M.D., director of the Media Center for the Judge Baker Children's center in Boston. Dr. Poussaint, who is also a professor of psychology and dean of student affairs at the Harvard Medical School, explained to the AmNew sthat the cartoon suggests that it would be "okay for the assassination of President Barack Obama by police officers."

He called the cartoon "a profound and frightening image." Noel Leader, spokesman for 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, tells the AmNews that there is a history within the NYPD with associating Blacks and apes. "I remember back when a white lieutenant literally hung a photo of an ape over his door at the 20th Precinct." It took some serious complaining before the photo was removed, he added.

Leader said Black officers on the street are reporting that white police officers are saying that people are "overreacting" to the Post cartoon, saying it's just "satire."

Ironically, the NYPD has yet to RSVP for the Russell Sage conference, according to Michael Hamill Remaley, a spokesman. He told the AmNews that 64 police departments had been invited, but only 15 have said they would attend. The NYPD has not responded to calls requesting an explanation on whether they would attend the conference.

At the conference, police officials will learn about a model program developed by the Denver Police Department that has produced significant advances in racial and gender equity in policing.

"This initiative represents a huge opportunity to change law enforcement culture. By choosing to participate, departments are making an unprecedented commitment to transparency and accountability," claims Dr. Tracie L. Keesee, division chief of research, training and technology with the Denver department, in a press release.

The conference sponsors say that participating departments will--for the first time--provide independent researchers with unprecedented access to police resources and records that could help scholars and police come to a better understanding of what underlies racial and gender biases in law enforcement.