Could bias have been responsible for the Jeffrey Dahmer murders? If you think that sounds a bit like a way out there conspiracy theory, let me help you follow the logic.
Glenda Cleveland was a woman in the neighborhood who, along with her daughters, followed up several times with the police because of suspicious activity surrounding Jeffrey Dahmer’s movements. Without going full blown spoiler alert, I’ll simply say that in one instance, had the police believed her and not Jeffrey Dahmer, the victim would not have met his death.
Jeffrey Dahmer was a blonde haired, blue eyed person of middle European descent, and he looked like what in my childhood was known as an “all-American” type. The American predisposition to favor that type of good looks was one part of the bias that allowed him to go undetected for so long. Ever notice how the blonde folks are rarely the bad guys? It’s better now, but for a very long time, blonde/blue was THE Hollywood beauty standard.
Combine that with a conflicted policing history and slow police response time in non-White neighborhoods, and you have a perfect storm, especially for crimes committed against gay people of color in a neighborhood of Black and Brown people.
What if Cleveland had been believed? What if the victim’s family, immigrant, English language learners, had been heard and believed? What if the officers called to serve and protect, thought that marginalized populations held the same value as people who looked like them?
Netflix and Chill with your Halloween Candy
This Halloween, if you are watching something scary, consider watching the Jeffrey Dahmer movie on Netflix. It’s hard to watch, and it’ll take longer than one night. BUT, start, and watch for bias that comes into play. Make a note of moments when you feel the unconscious thoughts of one person affected the life—or death—of another. Then join me on Twitter. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Extend your learning:
Racial Bias and Disparities in Proactive Policing
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Proactive Policing: Effects on Crime and Communities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24928.