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”):


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.