Study: Both Public, Police View Black Kids As Older, Less Innocent Than Whites

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  • If I were to tell anyone of color with a clue that White children are given the benefit of the doubt and Black kids are not, I imagine the response would be, “And water is wet.”

    Indeed it is, but it’s always good to know something you know to be true anecdotally confirmed and conflated with analysis. According to new research published by the American Psychological Association, Black boys as young as 10 are proven to not be given the same presumption of childhood innocence as their White peers. Instead, they’re considered to be much older than what they are, perceived to be guilty, and face police violence if accused of a crime.

    The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, sought to examine the extent to which the racial bias exists and how significant the consequences are.  Speaking on the report, Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, explained, “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics, such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that Black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when White boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”

    Some of the findings include:

    - Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized Blacks were more likely to have used force against a Black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize Blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against Blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with Black children in custody, according to the study.

    - In one experiment, students rated the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25 year olds who were Black, White, or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to 9 years old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered Black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.

    - In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated Black and White youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave Black children lower ratings and estimated that Black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

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