According to a poll conducted by ICM Research exclusively for Sputnik and released Tuesday, a third of US citizens surveyed think that police racism is the main reason why killings of black men by law enforcement are so widespread in United States.
David A. Harris, distinguished faculty scholar and professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, believes that US police officers are no more racist than the society they live in.
"Many people in the US harbor unconscious biases — sometimes called implicit bias — against black people and in favor of white people… [Americans] hold unconscious negative perceptions of blacks," Harris told Sputnik, adding that a lot of US residents, regardless of their own race, tend to see black people as "dangerous" and "violent."
According to the scholar, an unconscious bias impairs a person's perceptions of others and, as a result, works to influence police response.
"This may explain why police shoot more black men than white men," Harris said.
Cassandra Chaney, an associate professor at Louisiana State University, suggests that these "unconscious biases" are deeply rooted in US history.
"Historically, blacks have been perceived to be hostile, aggressive, and guilty until proven innocent… Since that time, scholars have noted that police generally perceive blacks as criminal, which is the underlying reason why many of them are murdered," Chaney said.
Ronald Weitzer, a George Washington University sociology professor, who studies race and policing globally and in the US, stressed that police officers of any race can be racist against civilians.
According to Weitzer, police racism, whether implicit or open, is not the only reason black civilians are shot during police actions at higher rates than whites.
"Another part of the explanation… is the deployment of police in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are black, partly because of higher crime rates in these communities. This deployment means that police officers are much more likely to have contact with black civilians, which increases the chances of confrontations and use of force," Weitzer said.
John T. Kirkpatrick, clinical professor of sociology and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at University of New Hampshire noted that African-Americans in the United States have "disproportionately" higher rates of contact with police than whites.
Over the past year, the United States has seen a series of nationwide protests against ongoing and endemic police brutality. Large demonstrations in many US cities were triggered by a series of high-profile killings of unarmed blacks by white police officers.
According to the Killed By Police website, US police officers have killed more than 600 people since the beginning of 2015.