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Unconscious Bias Just Isn't Going Away

Even as the nation watched in real-time as former police officer Derek Chauvin sat at trial in Minneapolis for the death in police custody of George Floyd, just a few miles away in the suburb of Brooklyn Center another black man, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, was killed at the hands of police.

On April 11, Wright was pulled over by Brooklyn Center police, ostensibly for having expired license plates as well as for hanging an air freshener from his rear-view mirror. In the resulting interaction, police discovered that Wright had an outstanding warrant for his arrest and attempted to arrest him. Wright pulled away from officers as they were attempting to handcuff him, and as he re-entered his vehicle, Officer Kimberly Potter fired a single shot that killed Wright.

Misunderstanding or Malfeasance?

The official explanation for the shooting from police was that Wright’s death was an accident, and Potter had meant to pull out her Taser instead of her pistol. Body camera footage in which Potter can be heard yelling “Taser” several times before the shooting and seeming shocked after her gun discharged appears to support that explanation. It’s a tragic series of events that turned a routine traffic stop into the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old father.

But many observers, including civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, one of several attorneys representing the Wright family in the aftermath of the shooting, believe that the true source of this tragedy is rooted in unconscious attitudes police and society in general have towards blacks and other minorities.

Potter, Crump told ABC in an exclusive interview, was a field training officer so it’s unlikely that training, or lack thereof, was at play here, he says. It’s not about training, he said: “It's about implicit bias. "It's about giving the same respect and consideration to people of color that we give to white American citizens. We don't see these sorts of things happening to white young people that we see happening over and over and over again to young, marginalized minorities."

Corporations are a Microcosm of Societies: We All Have a Lot to Learn

Many argue that the real reason Wright was pulled over was for committing the crime of being a young black man, noting that expired plates and hanging air fresheners are minor violations routinely disregarded by police unless they’re looking for an excuse to pull someone over.

The series of events that led to Daunte Wright’s death at the hands of police could potentially have been avoided at many points. Some argue Wright escalated the situation when he tried to run. Others will argue Potter’s mistaking her gun for her Taser was a freak accident. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that the event that triggered the entire encounter was the decision of police to stop Wright in the first place, and many will understandably wonder whether he would have been pulled over at all if not for his race and the implicit biases of police.

What are You Going to do About It?

This is a society issue and story, so what does it have to do with corporations? A lot. Corporations are a microcosm of society—people are both citizens and employees. Their sentiments and actions span both environments.

That may seem disheartening, but it can also seem empowering. There is a lot we all can do to combat systemic racism, unconscious bias and the uneven playing field that unfortunately still exists for people of color.

As you consider your workforce, your corporate culture, your policies and practices, what are you doing to ensure an inclusive environment. What are you doing to bring unconscious biases to the surface? What are you doing to make a difference?

You—we—all have an important role to play here.

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