Police shootings of black men over the past year have put a national spotlight on racial disparities in how cops use force and in the criminal justice system — but at least one officer is doing his part to get people to stop being racist.
These types of calls are a genuine problem, especially when the full details aren't relayed to dispatched officers. Last November, a 911 caller reported Tamir Rice when the black 12-year-old boy was throwing snowballs and playing with a toy gun at a Cleveland park — behavior the caller apparently found suspicious, although the caller noted that the gun was "probably fake." Within two seconds of arriving at the scene and getting out of his squad car, Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed Rice. Police claim Loehmann wasn't told by the dispatcher that the gun was "probably fake."
So not only can these phone calls be a waste of time for cops, but they can lead to seriously dangerous confrontations.
It's very likely that outright racism isn't behind many of these bad calls. Instead, social psychologists point to what's called "implicit bias," which is subconscious bias that can lead people to think, for example, that black people are associated with crime.
One useful piece of advice for police trying to control their implicit bias — relayed by L. Song Richardson, a professor at University of California, Irvine, School of Law — is to ask, "Would I find this behavior suspicious if the person were a young white man instead of a young black man?" The very same advice can apply to people calling the cops.
Watch: The racism of the US criminal justice system, in 10 charts
(Hat tip: Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post.)