The soft conversations and comfortable atmosphere in Hoff Theater changed once a screen showed differing videos of police interactions with black people in comparison to white people. A contrast became clear with incidents such as Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and Dylann Roof, the North Carolina shooter.
Once the videos ended the attention of students and residents turned to the speaker, Dr. Rashawn Ray, for his lecture on police compliance and racial bias in the criminal justice system.
“Structural racism is one of the themes we are looking at through the Bahá’í Chair,” said Kate Seaman, assistant director at n The Bahá’í Chair for World Peace. “It’s really important, particularly at this time in the United States to be looking at this issue.”
The issue of racial bias in the ways police treat people were outlined and discussed by Ray through statistics, reports and personal stories.
Why does racial bias happen in the criminal system? Ray outlined problematic policies such as Stand Your Ground, Stop & Frisk and what happens when police interact with blacks, whites and hispanics.
According to a Vox article from August, black people make up 13 percent of the population and 39 percent are killed when not attacking. In comparison, 63 percent of the population are white and 46 percent are also killed when not attacking.
“This is the difference in how people are treated when we talk about compliance,” Ray said. Despite the significantly smaller number of population black people are still killed in high numbers by police.
Ray not only discussed policies in the criminal system but also psychological and critical race theories that have an impact on what happens when a police officer encounters a black person or a white person.
For example, Ray explained the resulting problem of stereotypes. He displayed images of a snake and a tarantula spider. He asked if anyone feared those animals and some raised their hands.
“It is the same reaction when being in a close space, like an elevator, for whites when they are around black men,” explained Ray. “That is the same psychological reaction, now think about how irrational you may act when you are in that moment.”
In July behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey lay on the ground with his hands up in the air as he tried to console a patient with autism when a police officer shot him. Once Kinsey realized what happened he immediately ask the officer why.
“I don’t know,” was the reply Kinsey heard, according to NPR.
For Ray, his research analyzes the structures that create and facilitate racial and social inequalities. But his research went beyond statistics and reports and he talked about his own life.
Ray recalled the first lecture he gave but said he only remembered an interaction he had with a white woman in the elevator right before it.
“She moved her purse from one side to the other and I was just like ‘I have on my best Steve Harvey suit. I am in a university building with a briefcase,’” he said. “I remember thinking when I got off the elevator, ‘lady, nobody wants your purse.’”
Even so, these are interactions linked to stereotypes, ultimate attribution error and cognitive dissonance. Similar concepts in the preconceived ideas one group might have about another group are unncessarily used as a category.
So what happens?
Ray gave another example, about his oldest son who has a fear of dandelions.
“They haven’t done anything to him. But underneath the bed, inside the room and in the bathroom the dandelions are there,” Ray explained. To appease his son’s fear he checks the rooms and the bed even though his son admits the dandelions never did anything to him.
“He’s genuinely scared of dandelions, but that doesn’t give him the right to step on or smash all the dandelions that he sees,” said Ray.
Among the fear and stereotypes, Ray also discusses how minority communities grow up in the American society. For some students it was a shock.
“When he talked about how many people talk to their parents about how to react if they are ever stopped by police,” said Lizabeth Remrey, a criminology and criminal justice graduate student.
“I know how bad race relations are with police but I never realized that was a thing that happened,” she said.
Indeed the “talk” given to many students of color from their parents was evident when Ray asked those who received it to raise their hands and then look around.
“I think Dr. Ray is inspirational, when I hear him speak on these issues he gives a black perspective and I think we are flushed with white perspective,” said Connor Powelson, a sociology graduate student.
After the emotional videos, the defined statistics and the analysis of why interactions occur, Ray offered solutions. One of which was not only on a grand level, but also for students on campus.
“Conversations matter and the fact that you have conversations with your friends is very important,” he said. “Often times what happens is that we can plant a seed and over time that seed is watered and it grows.”
Such an idea was important for people to hear, like Christine Kennedy, a resident of Howard County.
“These problems aren’t new they have been with us for generations. It’s time for the younger generations to to come up with solutions,” said Kennedy.
“We are all from the same tree.”
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Marrow Density.
Naomi Harris is a senior multi-platform journalism and sociocultural anthropology double major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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