White Cops and Black Cops in the ’Hood

February 26, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the early years of this blog, I wrote a post ( here) with the title “Racism Without Racists.” (I don’t think I originated the phrase, though I still don’t know who to credit it to.) The point was that racially discriminatory outcomes can result even when the people producing those outcomes are not racists.

That post looked at data showing that LAPD car stops, Blacks and Latinos, compared with Whites, were more likely to be ordered out of the car, frisked, ask to consent to a search, and arrested. The chief of police, Bill Bratton, insisted that the department did not have a policy of racial profiling. My guess was that you could get these racially skewed outcome even without a profiling policy and even if no cops harbored racist attitudes. Instead, it could result from our inability to “read” people of a different race.

That was car stops and searches. What about shootings?

For their recent NBER paper, Mark Hoekstra and Carly Will Sloan sifted through 2 million 911 calls in two cities in order to compare shootings by White and Black cops. The paper is behind a paywall at NBER, but here’s the key sentence from the abstract.

While white and black officers use gun force at similar rates in white and racially mixed neighborhoods, white officers are five times as likely to use gun force in predominantly black neighborhoods.

White cops in Black areas — five times more likely to shoot than are Black cops. In part, that’s because White cops are generally more violent (“white officers use force 60 percent more than black officers, and use gun force twice as often.”) But they may also perceive situations differently. Just as our cross-race readings of individuals is unreliable, so too may be our reading of cross-race social settings, especially in tense situations that require very quick decisions.White cops in Black neighborhoods may read a situation as extreme danger where Black cops see it as less threatening and less urgent

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