close and back to page

Latest News

Latest News

The Science Behind Why White People Call Police on Black People for Doing Ordinary Things

"People feel empowered to use tax dollars to police their own anxiety," said Alexis McGill Johnson, executive director of the Perception Institute.

This summer, repeated incidents of white people calling authorities on Black people for doing ordinary things have been captured on video, going viral on social media. From Permit Patty to License Plate Linda — the 911 calls seem to be getting out of hand.


"White communities feel the need to actually police and I mean literally involve the police in managing a dynamic that they think is going to go wrong," Alexis McGill Johnson told DiversityInc. "People feel empowered to use tax dollars to police their anxiety."

McGill Johnson is the executive director and co-founder of Perception Institute, a consortium of social psychologists and strategists who translate mind science research on race, gender and ethnicity.

In terms of research, McGill Johnson mentions three different phenomena at play.

"The first is implicit bias, which many of us understand to be our brain's automatic processing of negative stereotypes," she said. "It's largely unconscious living in the back of our brains.

"The other phenomena is racial anxiety, which is our brain-stress response when we engage in cross-racial interactions.

"It's literally a stress response that activates the rest of our physiology so our heart rate increases our respiratory rate increases, cortisol shoots out that helps us navigate and manage this stress," she said.

Alexis McGill JohnsonPerception Institute

"For people of color, our concern is that we're on guard for discrimination coming toward us. And for whites, the concern is 'Whatever I'm about to say it may be landing in a way where the person perceives me as racist.'

"So they double down because they don't want to admit a particular bias or slant."

Related Story: #BeingAPoliticianWhileBlack: Woman Calls 911 on State Rep. for Canvassing in Neighborhood

The third phenomena she mentioned is called racial threat, which is heightening in the U.S. as non-Hispanic whites are shrinking in population, while all other racial and ethnic groups grew between July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017, according to 2017 estimates released from the U.S. Census Bureau in June.

"Racial threat is when you fear your racial group will lose status," McGill Johnson said.

"It could be economic status, it could be political status; it could be social status. The racial threat becomes very real and the need to want your group to fare well is a natural impulse. They are basic fight or flight group dynamics."

McGill Johnson, a graduate of Princeton and Yale and frequent commentator on CNN and MSNBC, said the current political climate is filled with racial threat.

"The rhetoric that has come out of the conversations of this administration, which media channels have propagated, is essentially one of racial threat and it is one of permission to police the racial threat," she said.

Related Story: White Neighbors Call Cops on Black Kid Lawn Mowing — 'Who Does That?'

"Every study suggests that what allowed President Trump to gain momentum [in the election] was not the economy," she said. "The economy was actually growing and continued on a growing trend."

Racial anxiety that was prompted by racial threat was a major factor that motivated Trump's base.

"The level of xenophobia and racism and explicit bias that's being propagated to provoke racial anxiety and racial threat is really, really powerful," McGill Johnson said.

In regard to white people calling 911 on Black people, she said the individual incidences could be manifestations of the racial threat or it could also be "a sense of feeling empowered to challenge people who are perceived not to belong because the climate has given people cover to do so."

McGill Johnson said that as the incidents continue, "growing in our public consciousness," we might also continue to see law enforcement push back against the caller.

She brought up the incident in Sterling, Va., this week when a man called police after he was knocked to the floor following a hard screen during a basketball game.

Related Story: #FoulFreddy Calls Cops After Being Fouled During Basketball Game

"What's so interesting in the story to me is how the police were like 'This is ridiculous. I can't believe you are calling me,'" McGill Johnson said.

She added that police are pushing back and saying, "You don't get to define who our broad community is. We police for everybody and we're going to take back our ability to do our job.

Related Story: #LicensePlateLinda: White Woman Calls Cops on Black Family Then Damages License Plates and Cars, Gets Arrested

"And by the way, we're going to give you a consequence so that you stop wasting our time when we need to be focusing on real policing."

The Conversation (3)
21 Jul, 2018
5 words to answer this: they don't go to jail. Somehow these lies and white on white fights get unnoticed. It's boring to make these easy checks but it has to be done. Just be patient and hopefully the police won't double down on this madness, given fortunately no one has been attacked on these false calls.
John Hoade21 Jul, 2018
I totally agree with Dawn!
Dawn20 Jul, 2018
These white people who call 911 for frivolous reasons do need to be held accountable. I don't think it will stop until that happens. Give the person a ticket or jail time, eventually people will stop doing it.

U.S. Justice Department Charges Racist Kroger Killer With Hate Crime

The indictment became based on a hate crime as Gregory Bush murdered two people because of their "actual and perceived race and color."

Gregory Bush, the racist murderer of two Black shoppers at a Kentucky Kroger store last month, was indicted Thursday on federal hate crime charges.

Read More Show Less

Community Marches in Protest of Colorado Man's Nazi and Confederate Flags

A rally against racism, prompted by the Confederate flag and a flag with a swastika.

Screenshot/ KCCO

A 40-year old resident, Larry "L.J." Brooks, of a home in Fruita, Colorado was met by protesters who were outraged that their neighbors had erected a Confederate flag and a flag with a swastika above his house.

Read More Show Less

Neo-Nazi Group Claims Killer of Gay Student as One of Their Own

Judge revoked $5M bail, and instead held Sam Woodward without bail citing he's a danger to the community.

Samuel Woodward, age 21, stabbed Blaze Bernstein, age 19, a University of Pennsylvania student, 20 times in a park in January after luring him out on the premise that it was a date. In September, he was charged with murder and a hate crime, and DNA evidence was cited as proof on a knife and bloody sleeping bag.

Read More Show Less

Black Security Guard Doing His Job Shot Dead By Police

Police officers saw, Jemel Roberson, "a Black man with a gun, and basically killed him," said a witness.

WGN Screenshot

Jemel Roberson, age 26, was working as a security guard at Manny's Blue Room bar in Robbins, Ill., when a drunken patron who he had been asked to leave earlier, returned with a gun. The patron shot four people.

Roberson, who was armed at the time, returned fire, grabbed one of the men, held him down and waited for police to arrive, according to witnesses.

"He had somebody on the ground with his knee in back, with his gun in his back like, 'Don't move,'" Adam Harris told WGN-TV.

An unnamed Midloathian police officer, according to other officers in that department who were called to assist Robbins' police, opened fire on Roberson, killing him.

Read More Show Less

Texas Man Goes on Tirade Against Couple Protesting Confederate Monument: Video

"You try to destroy our heritage; you're tearing down monuments!" he screamed.

A man was caught on camera in a profanity-filled rant against a couple protesting in front of a Confederate monument in Orange, Texas.

Read More Show Less

Mississippi Senator Makes 'Reprehensible' Comment About 'Public Hanging'

Mike Espy, a Black man, in a runoff election against Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said her comment has "no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country."

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith with President Trump at a campaign rally in Southaven, Miss., on Oct. 2. / REUTERS

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) will face Democratic candidate Mike Espy, a Black man, in a runoff election. In a video clip, which went viral on Sunday, she jokes about attending "a public hanging" — a method of domestic terrorism that killed hundreds of Black people in the state.

Read More Show Less

Michelle Obama: Bigotry of Trump's 'Birther' Claims Put Her Family in Danger

"And for this I'd never forgive him," Obama writes in her new memoir.

INSTAGRAM

Former first lady Michelle Obama is trending on Twitter for what is revealed in her new memoir.

In public speeches, when giving her opinion on the current state of the U.S., Obama never refers to President Trump by name. But in her new 426-page book, "Becoming," she mentions her disdain for Trump.

Read More Show Less

Mother of Murdered Black Teen Wins Georgia House Seat

"I was looking beyond my own tragedy," Lucy McBath said.

TWITTER

Winning in a district with affluent white voters as the majority, Lucy McBath was advised initially during her campaign not to talk about the details of her 17-year-old son's murder.

Instead, she not only mentioned Jordan Davis' story, she also called attention to the reality of other Black teens like him, including Trayvon Martin.

McBath, a Democrat, defeated Republican incumbent Karen Handel who had been elected to represent Georgia's 6th Congressional District just last year.

Read More Show Less