Normally, I find Nicholas Kristof’s columns to be models of calm reason. They tend to add up nicely.
So I was disappointed with this one from last week, which you may have seen in The State today.
First, I was disappointed because I thought both Kristof and I had written before about this first-person-shooter test, which gauges the extent to which we — regardless of how enlightened we may be on the subject of race — are more likely to shoot first at a black man than at a white one. But I couldn’t find where I wrote about it before. If anyone can point me to it, I’ll be grateful.
Anyway, according to Kristof, here’s what the test continues to find:
Joshua Correll of the University of Colorado at Boulder has used an online shooter video game to try to measure these unconscious attitudes (you can play the game yourself). The player takes on the role of a police officer who is confronted with a series of images of white or black men variously holding guns or innocent objects such as wallets or cellphones. The aim is to shoot anyone with a gun while holstering your weapon in other cases.
Ordinary players (often university undergraduates) routinely shoot more quickly at black men than at white men, and are more likely to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black man than an unarmed white man.
I’m typical. The first time I took the test, years ago, I shot armed blacks in an average of 0.679 seconds while waiting slightly longer — 0.694 seconds — to shoot armed whites. I also holstered more quickly when confronted with unarmed whites than with unarmed blacks.
In effect, we have a more impulsive trigger finger when confronted by black men and are more cautious with whites. This is true of black players as well…
I tried taking the test (again) this morning. I don’t think it was working right. It kept throwing scenarios at me well past the five minutes it was supposed to take, so I just quit after awhile, and therefore didn’t get graded.
I found the interface rather glitchy. Many times I would press either the J key (to shoot) or the F key (to holster) and it wouldn’t register. I’d be told I was dead, or merely out of time. But then, even when it did register, I was very often too late. That’s the crux of the test, you see — not to give you time to think. If I were a cop in a real situation, I would take that second to think. Maybe I’d be dead as a result, but I would take the second.
I did accidentally shoot a “good guy” at least three times — about the same number of times that I holstered when the guy had a gun, meaning I was dead. On a couple of the innocents I shot, I noticed before the image was gone that my victim was black. But that points to another flaw with the test: I tended to see the gun before I saw the guy. Several times, I would shoot, be told I’d made a good shot, and then the picture would be gone before I could look to see if the guy was black or white.
As for that quick-holstering thing — why would a cop holster his gun, when unthreatened, as quickly as he’d fire it if threatened? The natural reaction would be to keep the gun out, keeping options open, for a bit longer — wouldn’t it?
Anyway, the sad thing is that, assuming there is bias in our shooting tendencies (and as I said, I never got my test results), how are we supposed to be reassured by this:
There’s some evidence that training, metrics and policies can suppress biases or curb their impact. In law enforcement, more cameras — police car cams and body cams — create accountability and may improve behavior. When Rialto, Calif., introduced body cams on police officers, there was an 88 percent decline in complaints filed about police by members of the public….
OK, maybe. But how does that help with the shoot-don’t shoot equation? If that is reflexive, and tends to play out even when we know we’re being tested on it, what good does the body cam do? Seems to me there is still a marginally greater chance that black suspects will be shot. The only difference is that with a body cam, there’s more likely to be huge community outrage over it.
Right? Or am I wrong? My point is, either these atavistic impulses are reflexive — in which no amount of supposed “accountability” will stop bad things from happening — or they are not. Which is it?