Did Darren Wilson Superhumanize Michael Brown?

Like so many others, I was struck by Darren Wilson’s use of the word “demon” to describe Michael Brown in his testimony to the grand jury. But it wasn’t just the officer’s description of Brown as a demon, which is dehumanizing enough, it’s the use of “it” in reference to Brown’s face (“it looks like a demon”):

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This “demon”-ization of Michael Brown reminded me of a recent RD post from Joseph Laycock on “a psychological study suggesting that white people are predisposed to ascribe superhuman and magical qualities to black people.” 

Then I recalled a passage from earlier in Wilson’s testimony where he likens his grip on Brown’s arm to “a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan”:

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(As an aside, yes, Michael Brown was 6’4” and 290 lbs, but according to grand jury testimony, Wilson himself is 6’4” and around 210 lbs.)

In any case, it makes you wonder whether this “superhumanization bias” was at work in the killing of Michael Brown which, as Laycock wrote, can have tragic consequences:

While it might sound positive, or at least benign, to think of another race as superhuman, researchers suggest that the superhumanization bias carries other consequences. For example, aggressive police responses to black juveniles may seem justified in part because they are believed to have abilities that white juveniles do not. The data also suggest an assumption that superhumans don’t experience pain like the rest of us, perhaps leading to the assumption that they don’t require the same level of care and support.

14 Comments

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I guess Darren Wilson won this round, but they had to play their “Black Demon” card. It only works once, so it will be exciting to see what they play next round.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I doubt any black man could look as demonic as a KKK dress.

  • papayasf@gmail.com' PapayaSF says:

    We know that Brown had just robbed a store and assaulted a clerk, in full view of a security camera, walked down the middle of the street holding the loot, got into an altercation with an armed policeman, tried to take his gun, got wounded, ran away, and finally charged back. Anyone suddenly assaulted by a violent, irrational, and angry man might well describe him as “demonic.”

    To put it another way, just because something is a stereotype does not mean that nobody ever embodies that stereotype.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    What better self-justification could there be for murdering an entity you thought had super-powers and was a spirit warrior for Satan? We hear this defense frequently from post-postpartum infant killers and twenty-somethings who live with their mothers

  • phillinj@slu.edu' NancyP says:

    Autopsy evidence, which I believe is reliable for a variety of reasons (concordance, knowledge of pathologist involved, knowledge of pathology involved), supports the scenario that Brown’s hand was very close to the gun (grabbing for it?). Unfortunately, Brown had the bad judgement to think that he could get into an argument with an armed cop and win. Brown would have been alive if he had had the sense to leave the middle of the street and walk on the sidewalk, away from the cop. We ought to be examining the stereotypes of toxic masculinity which cause 18 year old men to strong-arm store clerks and get into shoving (at minimum) matches with policemen (and for policemen to escalate confrontations instead of trying to calm things down). Yes, undoubtedly the cop was operating out of his own stereotypes as well. Yes, it is a tragedy that Brown did not get a chance to grow out of the bully/thug phase.

  • imjessietr@yahoo.com' Kelly says:

    I’m an overweight 4’10” white girl. Never had problems with big black guys. Can’t imagine why these cracker cops are having such a hard time…

  • imjessietr@yahoo.com' Kelly says:

    The policeman acts like he was bloodied to a pulp. He has, like, 2 minor bruises, no swelling, nothing to indicate any major damage. He clearly went to the George Zimmerman school of BS Diagnoses.

  • dalegitlin@aol.com' Let's See says:

    You must have missed the third, less circulated picture of the back of the officer’s neck with a huge bruise.

  • papayasf@gmail.com' PapayaSF says:

    I suspect your job does not involve protecting the public from criminals.

  • papayasf@gmail.com' PapayaSF says:

    So, Kelly, people aren’t allowed to defend themselves until they are severely injured? You seem to be applying the same standards that prosecutors used in the bad old days: “You have no injuries, so how can you claim you were raped?”

  • mjsmith0001@gmail.com' Mr_Smith01 says:

    What’s your point, you agree with the testimony but disagree with the officers response? Or do you think it went down some other way?

    If I were in this officer’s shoes, I would have shot Brown too

    I can’t wait for Brown’s juvenile records to be released showing that 2nd degree murder charge on him…

  • mjsmith0001@gmail.com' Mr_Smith01 says:

    Back at ya, you want to believe this is all a conspiracy and whitey is out to get you to justify all the lawlessness, killing and rioting taking place in Ferguson over the past few days.

  • joerogers67@gmail.com' joeyj1220 says:

    Funny… I thought cops were trained to deal with such situations without having to resort to deadly force. A cop on duty is hardly “people being able to defend themselves”

  • papayasf@gmail.com' PapayaSF says:

    If you are a cop sitting in a car, and someone outside the car punches you through the window and tries to take your gun, deadly force is called for. Pepper spray, taser, or nightstick would not work in those circumstances. And once out of the car, being charged by a 290 lb. assailant also justifies the use of deadly force.

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