Darren Wilson's grand jury testimony about Michael Brown’s death has reopened questions about the degree to which white cops view black suspects through a distorting lens, says the Christian Science Monitor. The testimony “offers an unusual and unvarnished look into the mind of a cop deciding whether to use deadly force in a situation that had spiraled out of control,” the Monitor says. His comments paint a portrait of a man fearful for his life. Courts have repeatedly acknowledged the danger of police work by giving wide latitude to officers when life may hang in the balance. Wilson describes Brown as a rage-filled “demon” as he geared up to charge the officer. Wilson said he felt like a kid trying to wrestle Hulk Hogan during their altercation, despite being the same height as Brown. He called the street where Brown was shot as an area “hostile” to police, meaning his guard was up when he approached Brown about a stolen box of cigarillos. “The reason I have a clean conscience is 'cause I know I did my job right,” he told ABC News.
The question for policing is not necessarily one of overt racism, rather whether unexamined perceptions of black people and black neighborhoods creep into the so-called use-of-force matrix an officer turns to in times of crisis. Studies are not conclusive. A 2010 article in the Southwestern Journal of Criminal Justice looked at 10 years' worth of peer-reviewed studies on police use of force in minority neighborhoods. The authors found studies that established connections between an increased use of force and minority status, and others that found no correlation. A 2003 study by William Terrill and Michael Reisig did conclude that police officers tend to use more dramatic force when dealing with suspects in poor, minority neighborhoods. When race, class, gender and age “are considered at the encounter level, they are significant,” they write.