The Reverse Racism Effect

Lois James
Assistant Professor, Washington State University College of Nursing

Key Findings

  • Police officers were slower to shoot armed black suspects than armed white suspects.
  • Police officers were less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects.


Race-related debates often assume that implicit racial bias will result in racially biased decisions to shoot. Previous research has examined racial bias in police decisions by pressing “shoot” or “don’t-shoot” buttons in response to pictures of armed and unarmed suspects. As a result of its lack of external validity, however, this methodology provides limited insight into officer behavior in the field. In response, these authors conducted the first series of experimental research studies that tested police officers and civilians in strikingly realistic deadly force simulators.

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