Neighborhood Racial Context and Perceptions of Police-Based Racial Discrimination of Black Youth
Racial profiling and discrimination against African-American youth by police are problems that periodically grab national attention. Yet there is seldom subtle discussion of whether such discrimination is more prevalent in predominantly black or white neighborhoods, or in mixed racial settings. Moreover, data from black adolescents themselves who may face these realities are infrequently collected, analyzed and cited.
A 2009 study from Florida State University, the University of Georgia and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, “Neighborhood Racial Context and Perceptions of Police-Based Racial Discrimination of Black Youth,” analyzes survey data from more than 760 black adolescents living across 73 communities in Georgia and Iowa. The study, published in the journal Criminology, ultimately seeks to examine how “neighborhood social conditions, especially neighborhood racial context, might shape the likelihood of police-based racial discrimination among black youth.” Some 26% of those surveyed said they had experienced racial discrimination by law enforcement in the past year. The neighborhoods that the subjects lived in were on average 59% white but varied widely in composition — from just 5% to 95% white.
The study’s findings include:
- The data show “significantly higher levels of perceived police-based racial discrimination in predominantly white neighborhoods that experience black population growth and in neighborhoods with higher levels of affluence.”
- After controlling for a variety of variables, the likelihood of racial profiling for black youths living in affluent neighborhoods increased 21%, as compared to those living in less affluent neighborhoods.
- The findings are “most consistent with a defended neighborhood perspective, which predicts that racial discrimination against blacks will be most prevalent where a black migration into homogeneous white neighborhoods occurs with long-standing racial dominance.… This may occur because racial stereotypes that link blacks to social problems such as crime, violence, disorder and poverty are widespread and have the potential to result in a defensive backlash by whites in an attempt to control a ‘threatening’ population.”
- The findings are also in keeping with other research that concludes whites who perceive such community racial “threat” are “likely to align themselves with social institutions such as the criminal justice system, specifically the police, which allows them to defend their neighborhoods and protect their interests.”
- Additionally, “higher levels of neighborhood violence increase the likelihood that adolescents will report experiencing discrimination at the hands of the police.” Indeed, “being male, having prior experiences with police discrimination, having parents who were discriminated against by police, experiencing school suspension or prior arrest, adopting of street code values and living in an urban neighborhood were all significant predictors of [reports of] racially biased policing.”
The authors warn that the numbers they analyze may reflect certain measurement errors because their underlying data are derived from self-reported accounts. But they note that their research findings generally conform to those of other scholarly studies that rely on law enforcement data.
Tags: race, crime, African-American, municipal, ethnicity and community
Read the issue-related The Atlantic article titled "Driving While Black."
- What key insights from the article and study should reporters be aware of as they cover issues of racial discrimination and law enforcement? What sort of context is important to bring to bear when new such incidents arise?
Read the full study titled “Neighborhood Racial Context and Perceptions of Police-Based Racial Discrimination of Black Youth.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?