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Aug 22, 2016

Dehumanization Contributes to Aggressive Policing Against People of Color

There have been a high number of people of color that have died as a result of police aggression over the past several years. Many of the victims of this police aggression were unarmed at time of the encounter. Therefore, one can’t help but ask why are so many people of color dying at the hands of law enforcement officers?

First, I believe that most officers are upstanding citizens and that they generally work to serve and protect the citizens of this great country. However, it is very difficult to continue to ignore the violence and aggression that is occurring against people of color across the nation. According to 2015 data,young African American males were 9 times more likely than other Americans to be killed by the police.

Personally, I believe that there are a number of factors that contribute to the high incidence of violence against people of color. Intuitively, I think that the dehumanization of people of color is at the core of the epidemic. Dehumanization has been defined  as the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment. The essence of dehumanization is a direct result of the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes against people of color over time.

For example, much of what people know about individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds comes from the media, television, movies, etc. Moreover, Hollywood has historically promoted and systemically reinforced negative stereotypes relative to individuals from minority backgrounds, especially African American men and women. The men tend to be over-represented as “thugs” and the women tend to be over-represented as “sapphires” in movies and television shows. These stereotypical images further contribute society’s negative perception of people of color.

There is a body of research of emerging in the psychology literature supporting the impact of stereotypes on policing.  For instance, research conducted by Jennifer Eberhardt, Ph.D has suggested that stereotypical thinking or assumptions can impact whether we can detect a threat when looking at an individual. Additionally, research conducted by Phillip Goff, indicated that African American boys as young as 10 may not be viewed the same as their white peers. Instead, Goff found that African American boys were more likely to be mistaken as older, perceived as guilty and more likely to face violence if accused of a crime. Goff also found that police were more likely to use force against black children if officers have “dehumanizing” attitudes pertaining to African Americans.

I believe that ACA could offer leadership to address many of these concerns. A Special Issue in both Counseling Today and the Journal of Counseling  and Development would be a great starting point to address issues related to aggressive policing and people of color. Also, ACA could partner with Law Enforcement agencies nationwide to make sure that diversity training is adequately addressed in the training curriculum.
David Staten a Professor of Rehabilitation Counselor Education at South Carolina State University. He also co-owns a counseling practice, MERGE Counseling and Coaching, L.L.C The website  is



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