Study: Police Speak Less Respectfully To Black People, But We Already Knew That

The study found that White people are about 60 percent more likely to be spoken to respectfully.

Lihle Mtshali Jun, 06, 2017

A police officer is more likely to address a White person as “sir” or “ma’am” during a traffic stop, but a Black person would be addressed by their first name or other informal titles like “man,”  a new study has found. 

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, said that police officers spoke significantly less respectfully to Black people compared to White community members in routine traffic stops.

Researchers used footage from the body cameras of police officers in Oakland, California, to conduct the study. They analyzed 183 hours of body camera footage that was taken during 981 routine traffic stops by 245 Oakland Police Department officers in April 2014.

The study found that White people are about 60 percent more likely to be spoken to respectfully, while Black people were 60 percent more likely to hear less respectful instructions like, “Do me a favor,” or “Keep your hands the steering wheel.” Police officers tended to speak less respectfully to Black drivers within the first few minutes of the traffic stop, even if unprovoked, or even before the driver has said much.

The reason for the stop did not impact the officers’ level of respect. 

The study was led by Rob Voigt, a doctoral student in the linguistics department at Stanford University. The researchers wrote, “Routine traffic stops are not only common, they are consequential, each an opportunity to build or erode public trust in the police.” 

“Indeed, some have argued that racial disparities in perceived treatment during routine encounters help fuel the mistrust of police in the controversial officer-involved shootings that have received such great attention.”

Voigt told CNN that it was worth investigating whether this racial disparity in language happens in other communities across the US.

“At the very least this provides evidence for something that communities of color have reported, that this is a real phenomenon,” said Voigt.

Researchers concluded that “regardless of cause, we have found that police officers’ interactions with Blacks tend to be more fraught, not only in terms of disproportionate outcomes (as previous work has shown) but also interpersonally, even when no arrest is made and no use of force occurs.”

Hide Transcript
[BLANK_AUDIO] Who do you as black men speak to about feeling ostracized, these emotions, or do you not feel like these are conversation you can have with your friends? The people get most worried for me in these moments are my mother and my sisters, those were always- [INAUDIBLE] Love you- The first- [INAUDIBLE] And care. Calls that I get. I always try to talk to other black men, I went to Moore house for undergrads so I know a lot of black men, many of my friends are black men and for me what that does is it just helps me to remind myself that I'm not going crazy. Mm-hm. Right, so when something like what happens today happens and This feeling of numbness sort of washed over me. That's something that, I think, resonates with a lot of people that I know. We've been through this time and time again. And you have those feelings of anger and frustration and some empowerment Here and there and you need to be able to connect on those terms and I think finally, I try to put it into the work. So being a journalist, these are the conversations that I'm trying to start, the conversations that I'm trying to have What other people have Yeah I try to stay away from trolls like I don't read the comments. There's always trolls in every situation no matter what unfortunately. I don't want this to be my segue but we do want to go to social media to hear what the audience is saying. Drake posted to his Instagram, last night when I saw the video of Alton Sterling being killed it left me feeling disheartened Heartened, emotional, and truly scared. No one begins their life as a hashtag, yet the trend of being reduced to one continues. This is real and I'm concerned. And Leah Audrae tweeted, where is @NRA outrage for a law abiding citizen, legally carrying a weapon with a permit Murdered in broad daylight, hashtag Philandro Castile and I also have one more from Toure, we need a radical change in how police see black people. We need to be seen as full humans. Hashtag Alton Sterling, Hashtag Philandro Castile Kayla, what's our Essence Live audience saying? Lots of comments coming in in regards to the image of the black man in the media. Dwayne A Dewey says, this is a cultural thing, white officers and the general public are trained and conditioned to fear black males. Juna Shepherd says, no matter the life these young men lived, they didn't deserve to die. Bethany Ann Dixon says, what happened to the idea of using minimum force? Cops today shoot to kill instead of shooting to inquire. Mm-hm. Brenda Eldridge says, we have to unite as one to stop this. Rosa Owen says it's time to rise up. Those are some very, very good comments. Thank you so very much Essence Live audience for submitting those. Gentlemen, final thoughts? I think we're at the point of that rising up that she spoke about and I think Jessie Williams obviously, his much lauded speech. Talk about that right we need to change police's place in our society or at least think to do that and much like this sort of riots in LA. We're at this point now where things are so tense. That something is going to burst. And to expect that, and maybe there's healing on the other end of that. But it's gotta happen. But it's gotta happen. It's gonna happen, definitely. I would agree, I think that this has been going on for centuries now, that it's become a public conversation for the past few years. And we know what the problems are, it's time to get to fixing them. And I think that hopefully African Americans can become empowered to push for more change, and for that change to come from not a place of anger and hurt, but for love and black people, black life Hopefully, maybe then we'll see something better. Thank you, Donovan. Gene, you have the final word. Yeah. I think that we need to just kind of break down the rules of what we think revolution and rebellion looks like. [INAUDIBLE] in 1831, picks and axes. Today, we have. Social media, which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing, but I think that there is other pockets of things that we can be doing. And I think that if we focus on ourselves, which sounds very cliche cuz everybody says that, but really focus on ourselves, controlling our dollars, controlling our space and being able to look at ourselves and not worry about An entity that actually was created to subdue us, right? The police will never see us human. I'm sorry to give you guys the bad news, right? But I think that if we embrace the fact that we're on our own, I think that puts us in a position to then deal with Other communities in a humane way.


# Culture


# Culture