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Ralph Bunche Journal of Public Affairs

Publication Date

Spring 2017

Abstract

When law enforcement officers, regardless of race and ethnicity, are exposed to messages of Black violence, these perceptions of danger can become deadly. In 2014, the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri elevated this concern; but, there were many other cases previously publicized in the media such as Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell. Using a content analysis of news reports from 1994 to summer 2015, this paper offers an assessment of media influence in the construction of public perceptions of Black dangerousness that seems to impact Black male and law enforcement interactions that become deadly for the former. The study also describes the local police-community contexts where such interactions seem likely. Patterns of contact and police narratives across a number of high profile police and Black male interactions are described. Noting these patterns, suggestions are offered toward creating a path for constructively addressing the problem of news-generated perceptions that can lead to needless tragedy for some. Community disempowerment and divergent community perspectives of law enforcement are often evident in these cases. This study is thus, an effort at enhancing awareness of modern-day news-perpetuated perceptions linking crime and Blackness.

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