Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings

By Stephen K. Rice; Michael D. White Roberts | Go to book overview

Introduction to Part I

Stephen K. Rice

The following section is foundational: it provides the criminological, sociological, social-psychological, and legal lens through which to better understand the theoretical basis and empirical examination of race, ethnicity, and policing. The section also provides the reader with a conceptual road map to better “place” the methodological advancements and controversies outlined later in the volume, illustrates how scholarship tends to coalesce around different ecological contexts and units of analysis (e.g., the neighborhood versus the individual), and provides an appreciation of how varied orthodoxies influence the pictures that get drawn. The chapters by Tyler and Fagan, and Weitzer are tasked with providing these distinctions, while the chapter by JonesBrown and Maule assesses police bias and profiling legislatively and jurisprudentially. The section also includes foundational work by Skolnick on “the symbolic assailant” and by Lamberth and Harris on early statistical assessments of minority motorists' experiences—assessments that have formed the basis for much of the public's interpretations of “driving while black/brown.”

The first chapter in the section, Skolnick's seminal “A Sketch of the Policeman's Working Personality,” advances a thesis that has informed decades of research on the social psychology of policing as an occupation: that through a confluence of pressures that include exposure to danger, problems of authority, police solidarity, and the need for efficiency, police officers develop distinct ways of perceiving the world around them. As a result, this “working personality” tends to facilitate a suspicious comportment on the part of officers—an orientation in which officers develop perceptual shorthands to classify certain individuals as potentially violent based on inputs such as language, dress, gesture, or not “belonging” within a street scene. Conditioned by an officer's inherent need for order (e.g., via regularity, predictability, and safety), these “symbolic assailants” come to be cast as differentially likely for police interrogation. In the years subsequent to Skolnick's publication, researchers have worked to assess the implications and by-products of this thesis, such as whether race and ethnicity are utilized by police in much the same way as language or gesture: as triggers for differential stop, search, and interrogation independent of observable behavior or situation. Either tacitly or explicitly, each of the contributions to Race, Ethnicity, and Policing focuses on this important question.

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