NOTE: Each page can have a different height. Control the height by placing more or less content.
We are social justice-oriented psychologists in the American Psychological Association and we are deeply saddened by the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. This tragedy is part of a long and disturbing history within the United States of racial violence against people of color going unpunished. Such violence includes land dispossession and genocide against American Indians, slavery, lynching, indentured servitude and other types of forced labor against African Americans, internment of Japanese Americans, sexual violence against women, and brutal attacks/murder of American Indian, Asian American, Black/African American, Latino and more recently Middle Eastern and Muslim men.
We are outraged by the recent murders of boys and men of color due to racial antipathy. We are equally outraged with the failure of the United States justice system to punish these crimes. Unfortunately, examples of such crimes are plentiful. The Kollin Elderts murder trial was underway during the Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association in Honolulu, Hawaii August 2013. Former federal agent Chrisopher Deedy killed the 23-year-old local Kailua man in November 2011. The defense attorney, Deedy, and some pundits in this case portrayed Elderts as the aggressor in order to justify Deedy’s use of deadly force. This portrayal relied in part on racial-gender stereotypes. Blaming the murdered victim is a tactic often used after these types of crimes. Racist caricatures and stereotypes were used to rationalize the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin (killed by a neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Florida 2012), Oscar Grant (slain by a transit officer at the Fruitvale train station in Northern California 2009), José Antonio (murdered by an unnamed US border patrol in Nogales, Sonora 2012), and many others. Instead of justice for these victims, they were vilified and blamed for their own deaths. Family, friends, and community members were left to deal with the senseless loss of a loved one and to make meaning of the unpunished crime.
In this brief statement, we provide an analysis of the ways in which the intersection of race and gender play out in the racialized violence directed against men of color. Psychology and social science research inform our interpretation of the ways in which race and racism bear out in this violence, including the acts themselves, outcomes, and interventions. Specifically, we highlight the ways in which race(ism) still matters in US society, outline how racial stereotyping influences people’s beliefs and behaviors, and present information on the racial empathy gap as a way of contextualizing the un(der)punished racialized assaults on men of color. We then provide concrete actions psychologists and others can take to make a difference, including working locally to repeal “Stand Your Ground” legislation, facilitating racial dialogues in our communities, and developing and evaluating ethnocultural empathy interventions. We include a brief resource list for those interested in finding out more about these issues.
Race(ism) still matters! Despite the claims that we have entered a post-racial or color-blind America, race figures prominently in American life. The color-blind approach to race is problematic on many levels. Claims that race is not important and that we have moved beyond racism, cause racial disparities in our society (in terms of income, education, health, etc.) to be are overlooked, or worse, provides a rationale for people of color to be blamed for the disparities. Moreover, the framework is used to justify policies and practices that actually harm people of color and create race-based problems.
Stop-and-frisk policing and Stand Your Ground legislation are two examples of practices that reinforce racial inequalities and directly challenge the erroneous assertion that our justice system is color-blind. U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin recently ruled in the David Floyd v. City of New York case that the “stop-and-frisk” practices of the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of racial and ethnic minorities in the city. Judge Scheindlin referred to the practices as “indirect racial profiling,” which resulted in discriminatory stopping of Blacks and Latinos. The Stand Your Ground laws in practice - as opposed to the ways in which the laws are written - reinforce racial disparity as well. The Urban Institute recently issued a report analyzing homicides in states with and without Stand Your Ground laws. Findings indicate that the presence of Stand Your Ground laws worsen racial disparity, such that there is an even greater odds ratio of a “justified” homicide ruling for white-on-black homicides compared to other types of homicides including black-on-white homicides.
Thus, disproportionate jailing of persons of color results from a prejudicial system of punishment, rather than evidence-based rehabilitation, that disenfranchises persons of color and creates the false impression that persons of color are likely to be criminals. Michelle Alexander has written extensively about this in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
As social justice-oriented psychologists, we take a strong stance against any practice in which people of color are unfairly disadvantaged and/or any practice which results in racial disparity, including Stand Your Ground laws.
Racial stereotyping influences behaviors. The fact that people adhere to negative racial stereotypes about people of color provides further evidence that we do not live in a post-racial or color-blind society. Consistent data in psychology indicate a clear association between racial stereotyping/racial animus and color-blind racial beliefs. So, while someone might believe they do not notice race, they in fact interact with others and make decisions based on negative racial stereotypes.
Ignoring race often harms people of color, primarily because biases and stereotypes go unexamined. A study by Donald Bucolo and Ellen Cohn at the University of New Hampshire found that the introduction of race by the defense attorney of a hypothetical Black client reduced the effects of racial bias compared to when race was not mentioned (Bucolo & Cohn, 2010). One error in the state’s approach in the George Zimmerman murder trial may have been the decision to ignore issues of race and racism.
Racial stereotyping of Black and Latino men in particular leads to negative and harmful actions. University of Colorado professor Joshua Correll’s systematic line of research on shooter bias illustrates this point. Along with Melody Sadler and other colleagues, he has found that greater discrimination beliefs and personal stereotypes among police officers were related to the bias to shoot Black and Latino targets, respectively (Sadler, Correll, Park, & Judd, 2012). DiversityUS, a blog of the Center for the Study of Diversity (http://sites.udel.edu/csd/), further highlights the psychology research on the negative impact of racial stereotyping.
We affirm the APA’s 2001 resolution on racial/ethnic profiling in law enforcement activities (http://www.apa.org/about/policy/racial-profiling.aspx) and the recommendations set forth in the APA 2012 report on the effects of discrimination and promoting diversity (Dual pathways to a better America: Preventing discrimination and promoting diversity).
People of color are not seen as victims. The lack of empathy for people of color perpetuates inequalities across many areas including disparities in sentencing of Black youth and racial disparities in pain management. Mounting research demonstrates that Blacks and Latinos receive lower quality pain treatment compared to their White counterparts (e.g., Drwecki, Moore, Ward, & Prkachin, 2011). Although some people may consciously believe that Blacks and Latinos do not feel the same level of pain as Whites, this disparity may lay just beneath the surface. The racial bias in empathy can be detected in physiological responses to viewing the pain of others; these findings are particularly present among individuals with greater levels of implicit bias.
What does the racial bias in empathy mean for Trayvon Martin and similar crime victims? Because Black males are stereotyped as violent and Black teenagers are stereotyped as adult-like, these racial stereotypes support a convenient narrative to rationalize a position that Trayvon was the aggressor in the altercation with George Zimmerman and that deadly force was warranted.
The promising news is that growing psychology research supports the effectiveness of interventions and strategies to reduce racial bias in empathy. Researchers in China – Feng Sheng and Shihui Han – have shown that endorsing cognitive strategies such as paying close attention to another’s pain reduces racial bias in empathic neural responses (Sheng & Han, 2012).
As social justice-oriented psychologists and concerned community members, how do we translate our beliefs and our emotional response to such stark injustice into action?
Psychologists and concerned community members should become informed about the relevant laws. There are 22 states* that currently have Stand Your Ground laws. There are approximately another 16 states** that have expanded Castle doctrines. It is not terribly clear which states have passed specific laws and which states are following case law precedent on these issues. Whereas the Castle doctrine states that a person “has no duty to retreat whatsoever when their home (our italics) is attacked,” the “Stand Your Ground,” “Line in the Sand,” or “No Duty to Retreat” laws state that “a person has no duty or other requirement to abandon a place in which he has a right to be, (our italics) or to give up ground to an assailant.” [Florida Statutes Title XLVI Chapter 776]
There is evidence that “the consequences of adopting stand your ground laws are pernicious, in that they may lead to a greater number of homicides – thus going against the notion that they are serving some sort of protective function for society.” [NPR story, “’Stand Your Ground’ Linked to Increase in Homicides,” Shankar Vedantam and David Schultz, January 2, 2013, 4:50 pm] Lisa Wade, a professor of sociology at Occidental College, concluded, “… Stand your ground laws give jurors more leeway to give defendants the benefit of the doubt. This … furthers the chances that a white-on-black homicide will be considered justifiable because jurors will likely give that benefit of the doubt to certain kinds of defendants and not others. Stand your ground may or may not be a good law in theory but, in practice, it increases racial bias in legal outcomes.” [“Stand Your Ground Increases Racial Bias in ‘Justifiable Homicide’ Trials” July 13, 2013, 10:36 p.m.] As noted above, John K. Roman, Ph.D. concurs, in his paper, “Race, Justifiable Homicide, and Stand Your Ground Laws: Analysis of FBI Supplementary Homicide Report Data” published by The Urban Institute (2013). Roman writes, “Overall, the rate of justifiable homicides is almost six times higher in cases with attributes that match the Martin case. Racial disparities are much larger, as white-on-black homicides have justifiable findings 33 percentage points more often than black-on-white homicides. Stand Your Ground laws appear to exacerbate those differences, as cases overall are significantly more likely to be ruled justified in SYG states than in non-SYGstates (p = 0.02) … With respect to race, controlling for all other case attributes, the odds a white-on-black homicide is found justified is 281 percent greater than the odds a white-on-white homicide is found justified. By contrast, a black-on-white homicide has barely half the odds of being ruled justifiable relative to white-on-white homicides. Statistically, black-on-black homicides have the same odds of being ruled justifiable as white-on-white homicides … Being in a SYG state increases the odds of a justifiable finding by 65 percent.”
The most effective political action is often local. As social justice-oriented psychologists, we can work, within our own states, for repeal of both the “Castle” legislation as well as the “Stand Your Ground” legislation. We can organize and educate our constituencies and meet with our state senators and representatives. We can publish and distribute research papers that demonstrate the disparities in criminal justice. We can give lectures and hold discussion groups. We can grow a groundswell of support for repeal of these laws.
The deeper issues of conscious and unconscious racial bias and stereotypes must be addressed. Psychologists are well equipped to lead our communities in public dialogue about the destructiveness of negative racial bias and stereotypes. We can start by initiating dialogues with our psychologist peers. But, we need to go beyond our like-minded peers and organize forums in our communities. We can talk with our mayors and governors and hold Community Awareness programming on racial attitudes city- and state-wide.
The teaching of empathy across racial boundaries is critical. We need to model to our students, our peers, our neighbors, empathy for for those who are of a different race or ethnicity from us. We can organize programs with children, teens, adults, and older adults to promote the learning of empathic responses for those who are different from us. Living with diversity promotes learning about “the other” and experiencing greater levels of empathy.
As members of APA, the largest organization of psychologists around the world, we cannot sit back and do nothing about Stand Your Ground laws nor can we do nothing about the pervasive racism that continues to pervade our private and political thinking.
Therefore, we are advocating for the APA to :
Speak out against “Stand Your Ground” laws;
Encourage the Department of Justice to investigate “Stand Your Ground” laws;
Take a firm position against the acquittal of George Zimmerman;
Use available psychology research to take a firm position against the racial disparities that occur throughout the criminal justice system;
Argue for increased federal funding to support racial stereotyping prevention research
We are only too aware that racial stereotyping causes untold tragedies, day after day, year after year, generation after generation, in our society. We say that we must act to stop the violence and if not now, when?
* Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia
**Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin
WORKS CITED AND SELECTED RESOURCES
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York, NY: New Press.
American Psychological Association. (2001). APA resolution on racial/ethnic profiling and other racial/ethnic disparities in law and security enforcement activities. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/policy/racial-profiling.aspx
American Psychological Association. (2012). Dual pathways to a better America: Preventing discrimination and promoting diversity. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/promoting-diversity.aspx?item=2
Bryant-Davis, T. (2013, September 19). How to talk to your kids about in a post-Trayvon world. Retrieved from http://communitypsychologypractice.blogspot.com/2013/09/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-racism.html
Bucolo, D. O., & Cohn, E. S. (2010). Playing the race card: Making race salient in defense opening and closing statements. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 15(2), 293-303. doi:
Drwecki, B. B., Moore, C. F., Ward, S. E., & Prkachin, K. M. (2011). Reducing racial disparities in pain treatment: The role of empathy and perspective-taking. Pain, 152(5), 1001-1006. doi:
Jones, J. M. (2013, August 2). Race always matters. Retrieved from http://sites.udel.edu/csd/.
Keita, G. P. (2013, July 24). After the acquittal: The need for honest dialogue about racial prejudice and stereotyping. Retrieved from
Roman, J. K. (2013). Race, justifiable homicide, and Stand Your Ground laws: Analysis of FBI supplementary homicide report data. The Urban Institute. Retrieved from http://www.urban.org/publications/412873.html.
Sadler, M. S., Correll, J., Park, B., & Judd, C. M. (2012). The world is not black and white: Racial bias in the decision to shoot in a multiethnic context. Journal of Social Issues, 68(2), 286-313. doi:
Sheng, F., & Han, S. (2012). Manipulations of cognitive strategies and intergroup relationships reduce the racial bias in empathic neural responses. NeuroImage, 61(4), 786-797. doi:
Toporek, R. L. (2013). Violence against individuals and communities: Reflecting on the Trayvon Martin case [Special Issue]. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 5. http://jsacp.tumblr.com/day/2013/03/22
COMMUNITY RESOURCE LIST
Killing of Travyon Martin and the Acquittal of George Zimmerman: Community Resources: http://multiculturalpsychology.blogspot.com/2013/08/killing-of-travyon-martin-and-acquittal.html