As the nation holds its breath waiting for a decision by the Ferguson grand jury, it’s important to remember why officer Darren Wilson expects to go uncharged for shooting a black teenager who was running away, then surrendering, then falling to the ground with bullets in his body. He expects the grand jury to buy his story because there remains a widespread, pernicious, and ugly kind of prejudice in which whites subconsciously ascribe superhuman abilities to black people. By coincidence, we also have real science to describe the phenomenon now:

While most people are familiar with the idea of seeing different ethnic or religious groups as subhuman, the researchers write that “the phenomenon of superhumanization has received virtually no empirical attention in psychology.” So what should we make of the fact that white people appear to “implicitly and explicitly superhumanize” black people? The authors state that more work is needed, but they suggest that superhumanization bias could help explain why black patients are undertreated for pain, for example, or why “people consider Black juveniles to be more ‘adult’ than White juveniles when judging culpability.”

The study was published by the journal Social Psychology & Personality Science in October. Not only do the researchers show a clear bias among whites to project superhuman capabilities on blacks, the researchers have proven that whites also predict greater “denial of pain” by blacks. In other words, Darren Wilson kept shooting because he thought the big, black monster didn’t feel any of the bullets hitting his body — and white grand jurors are likely to think that way, too.