Warrior-mindset training conditions law enforcement officers to fear the people they serve, putting Blacks at greater risk of deadly force, critics say.
The brutal and ultimately fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers has again ignited national outrage and demands for reforms in law enforcement. The National Affairs Office of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is calling for legislative efforts in Congress to include a ban on the psychological, warrior-style training that has been delivered to thousands of police across the country, potentially conditioning them to overreact with excessive and deadly force.
The controversial psychological training teaches law enforcement officers to approach their job as if they are at war, becoming “warriors” ready and willing to use deadly force. Police officers are taught to view members of the communities they serve as potential threats they should be ready to kill.
“They are taught that they live in an intensely hostile world. A world that is, quite literally, gunning for them,” according to Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and currently a law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, writing in the Harvard Law Review. “Under this warrior worldview, officers are locked in intermittent and unpredictable combat with unknown but highly lethal enemies. As a result, officers learn to be afraid.”
This orientation can lead to police deemphasizing de-escalation techniques and responding instead with unnecessary and even lethal force, which may account for many instances of police brutality and deadly encounters.
“Killology” is the term coined by Dave Grossman, a former Army Ranger and West Point psychology professor, who developed a type of warrior-mindset training that has been delivered to thousands of law enforcement officers, mental health providers, school safety organizations, and the military over the past two decades, according to his website.
George Floyd’s killing in 2020 turned attention to the training given to officers in the Minneapolis Police Department. Floyd’s family referenced “killology” training and the warrior-type mentality of police in the federal civil rights lawsuit they filed against the city of Minneapolis, which was settled by the city for $27 million.
“This training has the potential to reinforce racial profiling that has been occurring since slavery, and we don’t need anything that insidiously reinforces this on our streets today.”
— Rev. Fred Shaw, CCHR Task Force Against Racism & Modern-Day Eugenics
A lawsuit filed after the 2019 fatal shooting of Ethan Murray by police in Spokane Valley, Washington, also cited “employee attendance at ‘Warrior Mindset’ and/or ‘Killology’ trainings” of police for creating “a culture of excessive force and disregard for de-escalation.”
The Task Force Against Racism and Modern-Day Eugenics, headed by Rev. Fred Shaw, a former Los Angeles County deputy sheriff and current president of the NAACP Inglewood-South Bay, California chapter, is leading CCHR’s effort to expose the hidden influence of this type of psychological training on law enforcement and its tragic consequences for the Black community.
“This training has the potential to reinforce racial profiling that has been occurring since slavery, and we don’t need anything that insidiously reinforces this on our streets today,” Shaw said.
The warrior mindset is particularly dangerous to African Americans, thanks to the eugenics movement that instilled racism in the U.S. from the late 1800s on. Eugenics, the doctrine that some races are inferior and dangerous to other races, was perpetuated by American psychiatrists and psychologists, who continued to provide pseudo-scientific “proof” of Black inferiority up to the present. In 2021, both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association admitted the prime roles of psychiatrists and psychologists in justifying and promoting racism in the U.S.
This legacy of racism can feed into the mindset of police officers conditioned with warrior-style training, so that this training becomes yet another in a long line of psychological experiments and programs that end up harming African Americans while failing to reduce violence or improve community conditions.
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights continues to be concerned with the larger issue of law enforcement relying on psychiatric and psychological practices that include screening, profiling, and warrior-type training, with psychiatrists and psychologists often embedded in police departments to advise them, but with no evidence of improvement in community safety as a result of their involvement.
CCHR will continue to make the harms of warrior-type training and other psychological practices known, so that law enforcement can replace them with effective, equitable practices that ensure civil and human rights and improve public safety in the communities they serve.