photo by mohamed_hassan (Pixabay)

Shooter bias is when the decision- making behind shooting an individual is based on the influence of racial stereotypes. The article I read used two studies to determine whether or not this shooter bias plays a role in police-related deaths.

Study one manipulated the perceived safety and/ or threat depending on what neighborhood the individual resides in. After testing this, the researchers concluded that officers made more incorrect shooting decisions when in a neighborhood of the opposite race compared to a neighborhood of the same race. Another factor that plays into this is what the background/ setting is. The more “dangerous” the background seems, such as graffiti, increases the likelihood of incorrect shooting compared to neutral backgrounds.

Study Two manipulated the perceived safety and/ or threat associated with what the individual is wearing. The researchers concluded that wearing hoodies is associated with criminality, danger, and “thugs”, which are viewed as more threatening when worn by Black males. Trayvon Martin was wrongly shot and killed by a police officer in 2012. He was wearing a hoodie, which led some individuals to blame the fact that he was wearing a hoodie, and some went as far as saying it was Martin’s fault for wearing the hoodie. Wearing baggy sweatshirts, bandanas, baseball caps, and baggy jeans are also associated with threats and “criminal stereotype.”

Another study was done to understand how stereotypes play into these decisions. Participants were asked to play a video game called, “Shoot/ Don’t Shoot”, which measured their error rates in quick decision making. The participants shot more unarmed Black targets than unarmed White targets, and show less armed White targets than armed Black targets. When people encounter a Black suspect, the Balck racial stereotype plays a huge role in influencing the decision to shot. Increasing the prominence of the racial stereotypes, like reading an article about a crime committed by a Black male before making the decision to shoot, increases the amount of shooter bias.


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