A new study puts a face on systemic racism by examining police interactions one at a time. Using body-cam footage of traffic stops by Oakland police, Stanford University researchers demonstrated that police used more respectful language toward white people than toward black people.
An analysis of 981 traffic stops made by 245 Oakland officers in April 2014 found that officers were more apt to use terms of respect such as “sir,” “ma’am,” “please” and “thank you” when dealing with white motorists when compared to black ones. They apologized to white people more frequently for having to stop them, and expressed concern, telling them to “drive safe.”
The study found that white people were 57 percent more likely to hear an officer say something judged to be highly respectful, while black people were 61 percent more likely to hear an officer say something judged to be extremely disrespectful.
The study doesn’t highlight dramatic, attention-grabbing abuses. It’s about constant, seemingly minor differences in the way people are treated that add up. One wonders whether the same differential would show up if you put body-cams on cashiers and waiters and doctors and teachers. One can imagine so.