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Word to Police: Show a Little Respect

June 6, 2017, 4:35 PM UTC

New research confirms what many observers already knew: Police officers speak less respectfully to black drivers than white ones.

The paper, efficiently titled Language From Police Body Camera Footage Shows Racial Disparities in Officer Respect, draws a clear conclusion: “Such disparities in common, everyday interactions between police and the communities they serve have important implications for procedural justice and the building of police–community trust.”

The data joins a growing body of research on the types of police behavior that erode marginalized communities’ faith in law enforcement. It’s also validating. “At the very least this provides evidence for something that communities of color have reported, that this is a real phenomenon,” said Rob Voigt, a doctoral student in linguistics at Stanford University told CNN.

Voigt was one of the researchers who studied 183 hours of body camera footage taken by the Oakland Police Department, in Oakland, Calif. The team analyzed 981 routine traffic stops, and transcribed the interactions between the police and motorists. Words spoken to white and black drivers, called “utterances,” were given to a team of volunteers to review multiple times. The officers were then rated on a four-point scale of how friendly, respectful, polite, formal and impartial they were in the interaction. The volunteers had no identifying information about the officers or the driver, the reason for the stop or the outcome.

The Los Angeles Times has a terrific analysis of the study if you want more details. But here’s bottom line: “A clear pattern emerged: When the motorist was black, police officers were judged to be less respectful, less polite, less friendly, less formal and less impartial than when the motorist was white.”

This sort of research is important, experts say, because it enables police departments to identify the types of behavior that erodes trust. Unfortunately, the rich data produced by body cameras isn’t being used for meaningful critique.

“Despite the rapid proliferation of body-worn cameras, no law enforcement agency has systematically analyzed the massive amounts of footage these cameras produce. Instead, the public and agencies alike tend to focus on the fraction of videos involving high-profile incidents, using footage as evidence of innocence or guilt in individual encounters,” says the authors of the study.

This information, while helpful, is only the first step in a long journey to mitigate the bias that is deeply rooted in policing, and in routine traffic stops in particular.

The best current resource on the well-documented phenomenon of “driving while black,” is Michelle Alexander’s outstanding book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. “A classic pretext stop is a traffic stop motivated not by any desire to enforce traffic laws, but instead motivated by a desire to hunt for drugs in the absence of any evidence of illegal drug activity,” she writes. “After having your car torn apart by the police in a futile search for drugs, or being forced to lie spread-eagled on the pavement while the police search you and interrogate you for no reason at all, how much confidence do you have in law enforcement? Do you expect to get a fair hearing?”

Good manners will not be enough to solve this.

But for the officers and authority figures who are doing their jobs in good faith, and are alarmed to discover their tone doesn’t always reflect what’s in their hearts — here’s another observation to consider. Black and white people are listening for different things in an encounter with each other. As a leader, you need to be sure the respect you may feel is actually being perceived.

John Dovidio, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, offered some commentary on the body-camera study to CNN. “If you bring a majority and a minority group member together, a white and a black person, in those interactions the basic needs and goals of the white and black person are very different,” Dovidio said.

“The white person in these intergroup interactions tends to want to be liked. They want to be sort of affirmed as being a good person,” he said. “But people of color, and this occurs for other historically disadvantaged groups, their major goal is to be respected… Everybody wants respect, but minority group members in interracial interactions with authority figures have a particularly heightened need to feel respected in those interactions and that’s why respect is such a key variable.”

On Point

Uber hires Frances Frei, a highly-regarded management, culture and diversity expertFrances Frei is well known in academic circles and will be commuting from her post at Harvard Business School for her new gig as SVP of leadership and strategy. “[Uber] feels for me, given all the bad circumstances, as sanded, and that it is ready to have some education painted on it,” she told Recode. “My goal is to make this a world-class company that can be proud of itself in the end, rather than embarrassed.” She became well-known at HBS for her participation in the effort to revamp the organization’s culture to make it more conducive to “female success.” But her challenges at Uber are many, says Kara Swisher. “Which is to say that a deeply inexperienced, siloed and yes-men management and a culture crack-addicted to breaking the rules, even the good ones, has led to a variety of indiscretions and outright bad behavior that have gone unchecked for far too long.” Looking forward to Frei’s inevitable must-read book on the subject.Recode

Harvard rescinds acceptance letters after reviewing troubling Facebook posts
According to the Harvard Crimson, the university has rescinded offers of acceptance for at least ten incoming freshmen after discovering a Facebook group that mocked rape and the Holocaust, contained racially offensive material and joked that hanging a Mexican child should be called “piñata time.” The students had joined an official Facebook group run by Harvard for new freshman, but had decided to spin-off one of their own called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.” The university was alerted to the existence of the group by a student, and contacted the group members, asking them to share every post and explain their actions.

A Breitbart writer was fired for tweeting anti-Muslim remarks
It is, admittedly, a bit hard to understand what line was crossed for a website known for its controversial positions supporting “alt-right” sentiments. On Saturday, Katie McHugh tweeted: "There would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn’t live there #LondonBridge." Her colleagues told CNN that they found her tweet “appalling” and “dumb.” Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow announced McHugh's departure to the staff yesterday morning. Another Breitbart writer, Ryan Saavedra, retweeted McHugh's initial remark, adding, "People think I'm kidding when I say this but the crusades need to come back." That tweet has been deleted, and there is no word as to whether Saavedra was reprimanded. McHugh has since pinned the tweet to her Twitter profile.

A Flint, Michigan official is caught on tape blaming the water crisis on “niggers [who] don’t pay their bills”
The tirade goes downhill from there, unfortunately. Phil Stair, the sales manager of the Genessee County Land Bank, has offered his resignation after being recorded by an environmental activist and independent journalist. In his attempt to explain the city’s current water crisis, he said that Flint was forced to use contaminated water from the Flint River after Detroit was unable to cover their own water costs. “Flint has the same problems as Detroit ... fucking niggers don’t pay their bills; believe me, I deal with them.” He also called Flint residents “derelict motherfuckers” and “fucking deadbeats.” The Genessee County Land Bank is Flint’s biggest property owner. There are more audio files coming, says the activist.
The Root

The Woke Leader

When it's time to stop speaking to white people about racism
Reni Eddo-Lodge is a London based writer and social justice advocate who burst into the public eye with a 2014 blog post titled “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race.” With unusual sensitivity, she explored the painful pointlessness of speaking with a white majority around an issue that they remain unprepared to believe. Her only choice to save her sanity was to abandon the quest. “I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience. You can see their eyes shut down and harden.” Eddo-Lodge has just re-published the essay and expanded on it. She explores the idea of structural racism in depth – at one point she revisits the insidious role racism played in a famous hate crime investigation London – and deftly links it to how Britain’s tortured relationship with race blocks opportunity for people of color. “Structural racism is an impenetrably white workplace culture set by those people, where anyone who falls outside the culture must conform or face failure. 'Structural' is often the only way to describe what goes unnoticed – the silently raised eyebrows, the implicit biases, snap judgments made on assumptions of competency.”
The Guardian

Remembering the Six Day War
Fifty years ago this week, the Six Day War transformed the Middle East, expanding Israel while further displacing Palestinian people. “But the Six-Day War didn’t only transform Middle East politics: It also transformed religion—in ways that would reverberate far beyond the region,” explains The Atlantic, a ripple effect that was even felt in evangelical circles around the world. Here are six experts who explore the implications of the War through a variety of perspectives, each one insightful. One may be familiar to regular readers. Maysoon Zayid, Palestinian-American actor, comedian and disability advocate talks about the many contrasts of Palestinian life. “Some say that Palestinians have become more religious than they were when they were first occupied,” she says. “[As]Palestinians fight for their existence, the festivities have gotten even grander. This is a marker of resistance, a signal that Palestinians refuse to disappear.” But in other ways, things are the same. "To this day, in my parents’ village, different women in the same family will cover up differently. You will see one sister with her hair flowing out in the open and the other choosing to wear hijab. You will also see Muslim men with beards down to their belly buttons and others drinking beer (forbidden in Islam) regardless of the length of their beards.”
The Atlantic

An interactive map of the history of black professional athletes, racism and housing
Louis Moore, an associate professor of history at Grand Valley State University, has created a fascinating story map that highlights the problems that elite black athletes from Jack Johnson to LeBron James have historically had with racism and their homes. All the stories are jarring, but Lenny Wilkens’s arrival in St. Louis in 1960 really stings. “For Sale” signs courtesy of the KKK pop up on the lawn of his home in Moline Acres, a city suburb. His neighbor exits his car backward for four years so he won’t have to look at him. “One evening the Wilkenses find their collie, Duchess, frothing at the mouth in their fenced-in yard. They rush her to the vet. Too late, the vet says. She has been poisoned.” Each node links to a local news account.


One of the core principles of the Fourth Amendment is that the police cannot stop and detain an individual without some reason – probable cause, or at least reasonable suspicion – to believe that he or she is involved in criminal activity. But recent Supreme Court decisions allow the police to use traffic stops as a pretext in order to "fish" for evidence. Both anecdotal and quantitative data show that nationwide, the police exercise this discretionary power primarily against African Americans and Latinos.