Racism in the Simulation

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S1: The following program may contain explicit language and.

S2: It’s Thursday, September 3rd, 20-20 from Slate’s The Gist, I’m Mike Pesca. I’ve got a confession of sorts. I’ve been having this thought maybe you have a similar thought. So every day I see another story, another news item of a black man being killed by police somewhere today, EDC footage of Beyoncé was released.

S3: D.C. police released body camera footage from yesterday’s incident. As you see in the circle, the 18 year old had a gun in his hand right before he was shot yesterday.

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S4: It was from Los Angeles.

S5: Kekkonen has obtained two new videos tonight of the shooting of DeJohn Kazemi, a black man.

S4: And today, also, new attention is being paid to the Rochester, New York police killing of Daniel Prude, which actually happened before even George Floyd was killed. But new attention because new footage is being released. So here’s my admission. Maybe you have the thought that I have, which is well, first, let me clearly establish the killings are, of course, horrible. I want investigations. I want answers. I want justice. But sometimes I breathe a bit of a sigh of relief. If the footage is unambiguous, as the D.C. footage, for instance, is where it clearly shows seems to show the person who was tragically killed waving a gun, threatening police, not that anyone deserves to be killed. And it would be much better if there were ways to disarm or end a situation. But when it seems pretty clear that this was the sort of police killing that a reasonable person would look at and say, OK, you could see where the police would fear for their lives, I say, well, good, because you know what? That’s not going to become in all likelihood, it’s not going to become a flashpoint.

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S6: And the horrible thing is that that is normally the thought pattern of someone who’s covering for bad policing or allowing the situation to perpetuate. And I don’t want it to perpetuate. I really want to reform. I mean, if you heard the show, if you’ve heard all the segments I’ve done about it, I think that’s pretty clear. And by the way, I think protests and civil action and calls to account, those are absolutely the right thing. And they probably won’t happen unless people see what’s going on and unless a lot of people take to the streets, of course, peacefully. But I do say, does that have to happen right now? I know it is the wrong thought. I have done the research. I know that social movements, especially for righteous causes, can and do cause change. And I know that we need change. But for the next two months, we don’t need flashpoints. We don’t need foder, which means. Right. What’s the implication? Not that they’re listening to me, but it’s me essentially telling grieving families, weary activists, you know what? Can you just table your anguish or worse? Can you let this which is the only moment for accountability, can you perhaps risk letting it slip by so that we can all focus on the big goal, a goal that will serve us all, a goal that will serve everyone who wants the situation to get better with policing and so much else in this country.

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S4: The goal of removing Donald Trump from office. Can you keep things calm until after the election? I saw a press conference where Daniel Crude’s family talked about their pain and I saw the video of him being restrained and put under a hood, a hood and asphyxiated. It’s called a homicide. There should be marches. I think in this instance, there should be calls for accountability. There need to be changes. There is a moral urgency. There is also a tactical reality. So I more than ever am hoping for restraint. I hope there is no foder, no ammunition, real or imagined and sometimes literal for the malignant forces of Trump supporters. It is on one level wrong of me to have these thoughts, but on another level, the one that actually is about voting and how to affect change in the real world. I do have the thoughts. I admit them to you and I don’t know what to do about them because they don’t really change anything except I’m trying to navigate these things in the most responsible way I can. I really have no advice. I have no condemnation. I don’t think anyone needs to be doing anything differently except maybe Twitter. The Twitter algorithm does seem to surface every single case where anyone is killed and they seem to do so in a somewhat sensational way. Then again, this is not an issue we could look away from still for two months. I most hope that we have more calm than disquiet. Even if the rage is warranted. On the show today, I spiel about Donald Trump’s advice to vote not once but twice, but first I came across the work of a very interesting sociologist named Rashaun Ray, who puts police officers into a realistic virtual reality setting and measures how they react to threats or their perception of threats. Ray has police officers and his family. In fact, he descends from the first black police chief of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and he has been using these trainings to improve policing. These days, though, it is just as important to inform the public of what goes through the minds of police in the moments where life and death are on the line. Dr. Ray, up next.

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S1: Rachael Ray is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland College Park, and he teaches at Brookings, a fellow in governance study, I should say. He’s also the editor of Contexts magazine, does a lot of things. I found that he had a podcast like a three episode podcast that before you heard this talk, I asked him essentially about every episode. I found him on an excellent podcast about policing called Mark Forty Three. And maybe we’ll bring a couple of guests in the host of that podcast. But now I have to speak to Dr. Ray because he does projects about implicit bias and virtual reality. I think he’s doing some fascinating things that get to the heart of these issues roiling America. Dr. Ray, thanks for joining me.

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S5: Thank you for having me. I really, really appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation.

S1: Tell me about the research you do in your lab and how you’re trying to tell us something about the state of policing today.

S5: So what we do at the lab for applied social science research at the University of Maryland is we aim to take social science research products and merge them with computer science technology. And what we’ve done is we’ve developed an innovative virtual reality decision making lab. And what this does is we put officers into situations that they encounter every single day, traffic stops, domestic house calls, suspicious person scenes, interacting with people who have a mental health condition, going to a store after a robbery. And what we do with that information is we have officers put on virtual reality goggles and they are immersed in a full three hundred and sixty degree, a virtual world where instantly they are in a space where they are hearing a call for service and then they interact with someone as they would in real life. The algorithm program has over one thousand responses and is impacted by what the officer says, how close the officer is to the virtual reality character and the tone of voice that the officer has. Based on that the character responds, interacts a certain way. And what we can do is we can measure police officers behaviors. We can measure their reaction time, their eye movement, their heart rate, their stress level, even. And then we have officers take attitudinal surveys. They get at their explicit attitudes, as well as their implicit attitudes, which sometimes might come out as being implicit or explicit bias. We then take all those data, put them into a statistical model, and we can tell officers in police departments what factors are determining their behavior and then working to hold those particular factors in check. If it shows, for example, which we found as far, that officers have antiblack bias so they are more biased against black people than they are with white people. And they can go through our program repeatedly to try to improve their objective decision making.

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S1: What are some of the other major findings, even surprising findings that your research has found?

S5: Well, I think one of the things that people will find surprising is we don’t find too much variation among officers in terms of their implicit bias. So officers, regardless of race and gender, are biased against black people and in favor of white people. Now, white officers are slightly more likely than black officers, but it’s not necessarily a big factor.

S7: The other thing we found, I think people will find surprising is that police officers are most disrespectful of black women. I think everyone will probably find it surprising to several black women officers are most disrespectful of black women and most respectful of white women. So what that means is when we say respect and disrespect, we are looking at the language usage that officers give off. Officers use harsher language with black women than they do white women across different settings. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a house, on a street or in a store. The other big finding, and this is really, really important is that ambiguity matters. So the more ambiguous a setting, the more officers exhibit bias. Specializing in social psychology, this makes sense. The more information you have about something, then the more objective you can be. The less information you have, the more you’re going to rely on your own thinking in stereotypes to look at decisions. And this is important because officers get calls for service that are incomplete overwhelmingly. So they are showing up to a scene with little information, trying to make a decision about who did something. It’s kind of like showing up at a bus stop like we have once seen. They show up at a bus stop and they’re told, oh, there might have been a fight. And a person has on a hoodie like, what the heck does that mean? I mean, if it’s like cold outside, you show up, almost everybody had to bust out, probably has a hood on and then you don’t know what happened. So then they have to infer who it is and what happened.

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S1: So what I’m hearing is that in the absence of facts or environments that the officer can be grounded in, like I know this neighborhood. I know this corner. I have. So many pieces of dead solid knowledge, if they have that knowledge, then they can be a little nuanced about how they deal with the people. But if you take that knowledge away, then all the nuance about the people reverts just to pretty much stereotypes based on gender and race.

S5: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And and interestingly, what you just described is the typical model. It can sometimes happen the other way where when officers hear a zip code or across Cross Street, they instantly think something bad is going on and they show up hot. So some people say, oh, well, that’s based on their past experiences. Well, not always. It’s literally sometimes based on their perception that they had areas just bad. It really doesn’t matter what the call for service is either. I mean, it could be something innocuous. Like we have to realize that nine out of 10 calls for service have nothing to do with violence at all. But they can then show up. Officers can show up what’s called hot, where they show up, revved up, adrenaline pumping.

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S7: Excitement in this can lead to bad decision making and bad outcomes. As an example, there were a group of kids playing walking from the park. Someone call the police and say some kids were fighting. Officer shows up, sees a group of kids who happen to be a group of black teenagers just walking down a street with a basketball instead of asking what they were doing because no one was fighting at the time. Instead of observing them for a second, he hops out the car and pulls his gun and those other types of situations, they escalate things and it escalates it because officers receive about 50 hours of firearm training and less than 10 hours of de-escalation training when they come through the police academy. That should actually be the exact reverse.

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S1: Right. So I’m sure that many of our listeners are finding this fascinating, but also saying, OK, but come on, virtual reality is not answering a survey, but it’s not reality. And the officers are going to be on, quote, unquote, their best behavior. So how do you account for a norm for that?

S5: Great question. So we have a series of methodological techniques that I mean, for us as scientists, I mean, we’ve been doing I mean, they’ve been around for decades. I mean, depending on our age. I mean, we’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve been doing this for over a decade.

S7: So one of the things we do is we have them go through a series of interactions. They just don’t do one. They go through a series of them. We also have what we call protocol checks where we figure out are they paying attention or not? We put certain things in the scenario. We ask certain questions that at times can have nothing to do with what’s going on just to see whether or not people are paying attention. So we have these protocol checks, these manipulation checks. The other thing that is important to recognize is that after people have been in a virtual world or an experimental setting for a period of time, they start to act similarly. I give a good example. Imagine being a kid. You’re in third grade and your parents come to class and they’re sitting in the back of the class. The first 30 minutes, you know, your best behavior. Six hours in, all of a sudden, you’re doing similar things that you did before because that’s what you have been socialized to do. So part of it is thinking through the timing that we do for these types of scenarios. And then the other thing is, when it comes to experiments, the biggest factor is consistency. So if all officers are put into the same environment, the officers who still exhibit bias, you know what? They’re going to still exhibit bias in that same environment because everyone is getting a similar sort of experimental treatment. And I think the final thing is important to note is that when people go in these types of experiments, they start to really process things as if they were there. And the program that we are using is super innovative. It isn’t something that anybody has even seen before, and it allows us to triangulate attitudes, behavior and physiology.

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S1: But what are the consequences of getting something really wrong in your world versus the real world? With many of the lethal shootings, the officer will always say, I feared for my life and maybe they know that’s a catch all excuse that usually gets them off of prosecution. But you’ve got to think that in a large number of a large percentage of these interactions, it’s a legitimate fear or at least a fear that they were really experiencing. And they know that maybe one day you could argue that I shouldn’t be firing my weapon, but I don’t want to take the one or two or three or five percent chance that this guy is going to shoot at me. Whereas in your world, it seems like that is an entirely different calculation, the actual fear for the life of the person doing the experiment.

S5: So I think these two things first, we actually want what you described.

S8: Part of the problem is law enforcement hasn’t been able to have training scenarios that really mimic what they do in real life. They have a lot of shoot, don’t shoot scenarios. What they don’t have is what we do is social interactions. As I mentioned before, 90 percent of what officers do is having a conversation and assessing a scene. It isn’t pulling their weapon, but that is the end part of it. There are things that happen along the way where an officer or the person who is interacting with the officer can be disrespectful, can use force, a lot of things that still matter in life. So the first big thing is that our environment is safe. It’s a safe environment, and we want that. We don’t want officers going out. The first time they’ve been in a setting is when something happens and they’re scared or they rush to judgment, they do things that in people’s lives. This is the reason why a city like Chicago has spent about seven hundred million dollars in civilian payouts for police misconduct over the past two decades. It’s not always because officers are being racist is because oftentimes they’re just not making good decisions and they’re more likely to make those decisions when a person they interact with is black. The second thing I think is really important to note is that officers have the ability to learn and practice. So not only is it a safe environment, but they can continuously practice in our program. The algorithm is set up where when they go back in and they go through these different scenarios, they have a different interaction every time because they’re using different words. They might be having a different day. And this allows for them to really practice on the go the same way that it would be when they are on the streets.

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S1: So your program can both be used to study police behavior and get to the truth about what’s going on, but also use to train police officers affirmatively.

S7: That is correct. You know, I think what’s really important for law enforcement or any type of research policy training endeavor is to take an evidence based approach. We take an evidence based approach. We are researchers. There’s not a one size fits all. We have worked with thousands of police officers around the country, dozens of police departments. They are all different across the country. There are eighteen thousand over eighteen thousand law enforcement agencies. This is why we need federal policies, because there are so many so many differences. And what they I can tell you is that there will be one department that has a problem with race, but there might be another department that has an issue with police, might have an issue with geography, or might have an issue with age or social class. And so different departments have different things going on and we can measure that. We can’t simply make the assumption that is race because the departments, they don’t have issues of race. Well, guess what? We need to study them more. We need to know why they have that outcome. So what we do is we take what is this department doing? We give that information back to the department and then we help them to craft an implicit bias training in classroom training that centers around the main biases that came out in our virtual reality program. And then we have the officers repeatedly go through the virtual reality program. I mean, this is going to become something that officers just that police departments just have in their departments. And it’s a training tool that they can use to make better decisions and check their own biases in decision making to be better, which is honestly pretty much. Every officer who I’ve interacted with wants to get better, they really, really want to be good at their jobs, but sometimes they fall short and similar to physicians or health care providers. When they fall short, when police officers fall short, someone might lose their life. And that’s the problem.

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S1: Has your implicit bias training methods been demonstrated to have an effect? Because from what I hear, we’re OK at identifying it, but really bad at doing anything about it.

S7: We have not only our virtual reality training program, which generally takes officers about four hours to get through because it’s a series of things they do. But then we also have a full one to two day implicit bias training course has been approved by the Maryland State Police Commission. We’ve used it with the Department of Homeland Security. We’ve used it with the military and is because our program is proven is evidence base is tested. It is really in depth. It’s not watered down. And I think that’s what’s key. Oftentimes when people hear diversity training or implicit bias training, they’re like, oh, that’s not effective. Well, you know what? If your company or organization makes it one hour when you know what is not going to be effective because you had a lifetime to build up the biases you have, doing something for one hour isn’t going to do anything about it. And so we make sure that the projects we take on that when we talk to police departments that we say, look, in order for this to be effective, you have to do all of these things. You can’t do one of them. Like we we’ve tested it. You cannot do just one or two of them. You have to do it all. You have to do the virtual reality program. Then we have to analyze it. And then you have to do the implicit bias program and you have to do it fully because if you compromise, it is not going to work. And we’ve walked away from police departments for wanting to water down our program. They’re like, oh, well, we only have this amount of time. I’m like, well, it’s not going to be effective, so we’re not going to do it. And of course, these are decisions that we make because of just how true we are to evidence based and how we know what we do works. And if people really want to do what works, you have to be willing to put the time in. And that goes back to the fundamental thing about how much time they spend firing weapons versus how much time they spent on the escalation. We need to change that and that will change some of the outcomes we see on the streets.

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S9: That is Dr. Rachel Ray, editor of Contexts magazine published by the American Sociological Association. And what we’ve been talking about, he’s the director of the lab for Applied Social Science Research. And tomorrow we’ll be back. We’ll talk more about his studies, including his finding that officers are not reluctant to use force in virtual reality. And I’ll ask him what he sees and hears when he sees the tape and hears the conversation around the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. That’s on tomorrow’s show.

S4: And now the spiel today, President Trump revealed a part of his election strategy to his supporters in North Carolina. He has the message vote, you should vote. And then after you vote, you’re going to need to vote, keep voting. Here is the advice the president gave out while doing a campaign stop to North Carolinians upon receiving their mail in ballots.

S10: Send it in early and then go and vote. And if it’s not tabulated, you vote and the vote is going to count.

S4: This is not good advice if you want to stay out of jail. Of course. Why would anyone take advice from Donald Trump about staying out of jail? Well, I guess he’s managed to accomplish that so far. That is true. Now, just to clarify, North Carolina’s director of elections, Karen Brinson Bell, issued a statement making clear that anyone who votes twice is committing a felony. She also said they are on top of the fact that your vote will be counted when it’s mailed in. And if it’s not counted, you will be notified. So maybe the press release issued by the North Carolina secretary of state will be a sufficient counter message to what the president of the United States says. Let us just for laughs, check the size of the audience that these two messengers enjoy. North Carolina State Board of Elections has six thousand six hundred fifty five Twitter followers, Donald Trump and the White House. Their combined Twitter feeds more than 110 million. So that press release, yeah, that should count for the greatest presidential blowhole the world has ever known. I was wondering why Trump would be targeting North Carolina specifically. Probably nothing deeper than that’s where he was. Where he is is where he targets, but also where he targets is where he goes. But also there has been a giant spike in requests for absentee ballots. It’s staggering. Tomorrow, North Carolina sends out its first batch of absentee ballots. There have been six hundred eighteen thousand requests so far. Four years ago, twenty one thousand voters in North Carolina cast mail in ballots for the presidential election with two months to go, six hundred eighteen thousand North Carolina station WFAA quoted Karen Brinson Bell yes, that Karen Brinson Bell once again doing her best to reassure voters they are on top of things.

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S11: So long as no one does anything stupid, it’s going to be a rolling process as it will be through the entire election. So be mindful. If you do not receive your your ballot immediately, you will. And we will have those to you by the end of the month.

S4: Now, at the end of the month and the month means this month, September at the end of the month, it is October. Yes. You turn to the gist for such insight. But here’s what happens in North Carolina in October. Oh, the trees turn a delightful color, but on October 15th through October 31st, it is early voting period. So you can go to the polls and cast your ballot or you could do this. Other thing that is advised by Professor Michael Blitzer of North Carolina’s Catawba College.

S12: If I get my absentee mail ballot and I’ve got it in my hands, can I trust that it’s going to get returned and accepted? And, you know, I always talk about make sure you follow the instructions. It’s like with our students, read the syllabus, read the the requirements. You have to sign things. You have to have a witness and then mail it back or and people, I think, are very much astonished that you can do this. If you get an absentee by mail ballot, you can physically take it to your county board of elections office or when early voting starts, you can go to one of the early voting sites and drop it off.

S6: You see you see what he’s saying. You don’t have to follow the strategy of the president who might be advising you to commit a felony felony one sixty three point two seven five, paragraph seven. In fact, the North Carolina Criminal Code. See, I know I know what comes after September and the North Carolina Criminal Code. What you could do is you fill out your mail in ballot and instead of mailing it in and wondering if they got it, you go you take it with you. Although if you’re going to go in to vote, you might have just done that anyway. But at least you have the time to look over the mail in ballot if you’re at all nervous about this happening. Nervous like the president says, you might be nervous. Don’t wait till Election Day to check in and then cast a vote. Just take it down ballot with you. There is also the possibility I’m going to raise this possibility that the president was not motivated by civics when he offered his version of best practices to voters in North Carolina, because I am sure the president would absolutely hate if a lot of his followers broke the law. Maybe he’d hated a little less if they weren’t caught. Maybe he’d have only a theoretical quibble if his clarion call to commit felonies inspired many, many votes that weren’t court votes for him, though you’ve got to think if that happens, he will really have. Some more evidence for his great notion of there being a rigged election in this case, however, he didn’t say who was doing the rigging.

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S2: And that’s it for Today Show, Margaret Kelly and Daniel Shrader produced the gist, you know, of a lot of stray Karen Brinson, Belle FACT’s. I thought this would be a good place to share them. So when the old Board of Elections director was replaced, Republicans were very upset. It’s very political there. In North Carolina, there were court cases. And as the vote went through, the scene was described on WRAL Dotcom as the board pushing the decision through as fire alarms blared and forced the evacuation of the board’s office downtown. Let’s pause to consider what was the cause of that mayhem. As I tell you that, Alicia Montgomery is executive director of Slate podcast.

S4: A few paragraphs later, board spokesman Patrick Gannon said the alarm sounded after someone put a pot pie in a toaster on the fifth floor, the largest we have now a great analogy for so many presidential statements. The man is always shoving a pot pie into a toaster oven for desperate to Peru.

S2: And thanks for listening.