Policing the Black Mind and Body

In the past 10 years across every major city, there have been an increase of cameras watching us.  Go here to see a visual map for the real time traffic cameras in NYC, http://nyctmc.org/, or here for various spots in California, http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1tmc/1_cam.php?cam=4. Ok, so you don’t drive very much, how about McDonalds, Wal-Mart of K-Mart, yep, if you been in any of these, there are cameras there watching you and all of the customers.  The point is that all of us are being watched, and the reason for being watched vary; theft prevention, safety and security, or helping us to get home faster by avoiding pile ups or accidents.   There are videos in stores, at cross walks, toll booths, and a growing majority of us have a cell phone with built in cameras.

Since 9/11, we have increased the notion that moves us from just watching us to engaging us to surveil others in our efforts to keep people safe.  If you have traveled in any major airport, for example, you will be familiar with the “see something, say something” campaigns, whereby if you see a suspicious person report it, or if you see a lone bag on the floor, alert the authorities. This is a seemingly innocent campaign whose goals are to engage us to report suspicious behavior of fellow travelers.  We also have learned a color coded alert system.

Our lives are being policed in ways that our grandparents could not have imagined.

The problem with watching each other, particularly for suspicious behavior, is that we often have to make split decisions about what we believe is threatening or harmful to us.  This is where all of this gets a little more funky.

Irrespective of our ethnic, racial, or gender identity all of us show unconscious bias toward African Americans, and many other groups; women, gays, and people with visible disabilities.   For example, women may not be offered to relocate to another area to entertain a job promotion because it is assumed that she won’t want to relocate her children.  Essentially, we associate Black people with being bad, and white people with being good.  Unconscious bias is different than the KKK variety of racial hatred and blatant workplace varieties of racial discrimination.  Unconscious means just outside of our conscious awareness.

Unconscious biases and racist behaviors are reflected across various types of local and national data. From 2003 to 2012, in New York city, there have been approximately 5 million stop and frisk reports, almost 50% or 2.5 million of these have been aimed toward African Americans (http://www.nyclu.org/content/stop-and-frisk-data).  On average, each year there are approximately 532,000 stop and frisks. If we take half of these, 50% then roughly 266,000 African Americans in New York city are stopped in a given year.

Blacks only make up 26% (2 million) of the overall approximately 8.2 million New Yorkers. If I am doing the math correctly, that is 1 out of 13 African Americans will be frisked.


Dr. Payne, a psychology professor at the University of Ohio, showed students a picture of either a White or Black man, and then showed another picture of either a tool or a gun.  Students were more than likely to associate the tool as a gun when it followed a black man than a white man.  “The results show how unconscious bias against blacks may affect decision-making in cases of extreme time pressure”, Payne said. The reason, at least in these experiments, “has to do with failures to control bias under time  pressure, not distorted perceptions of what’s being seen.”http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/gunbias.htm

We often think of prejudice and discrimination as a one way phenomenon that is negatively aimed at Blacks.  Whites and Blacks associate black with bad things, but there is more to this phenomena than just the “Blacks are bad story”.   In this line of research, we can see how being black facilitates the idea of bad.  But curiously being white inhibits the association of being perceived as bad.


Let me conclude with words from a famous speech by Frederick Douglass (july 4, 1852), this sums up how I feel on this subject:

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Oh! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be denounced.”

Thank you for reading my blog Pancake Diaries, at brianragsdalewriter.com.  This article is a blog post that you have my permission to forward to others under the creative common licensure agreement. Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

5 Comments Add yours

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    1. brianlragsdale says:

      Thank you. This is a free theme. Glad you enjoy the writing.


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    1. brianlragsdale says:



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