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Event Public Safety Policing, Crime Control

The Reality and Rhetoric of Police Racism

Thursday July 2021


Michael Javen Fortner Assistant Professor, CUNY Graduate Center; Senior Fellow, Niskanen Center; Associate Professor of Government, Claremont McKenna College (Fall 2021)
Eric Kaufmann Adjunct Fellow @epkaufm
Justin Pickett Associate Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, SUNY
Rafael A. Mangual Nick Ohnell Fellow | Contributing Editor, City Journal @Rafa_Mangual

Race took center stage in the explosive debates about crime and law enforcement over the past year. Claims of rampant police abuse against black Americans fueled protests, riots, and new policies across all levels of government.    

But many beliefs about police racism do not match reality. A recent report from MI adjunct fellow Eric Kaufmann found, for instance, that eight in 10 black survey respondents believe that young black men are more likely to be shot to death by the police than to die in a traffic accident; and among a highly educated sample of liberal whites, more than six in 10 agreed. In reality, young black men are some 11 times more likely to die in a car accident than be shot and killed by the police.    

 Black perspectives on policing vary widely. Professor Michael Javen Fortner has found that there is no monolithic “black perspective” on policing and punishment; rather, African American communities hold complex, and sometimes contradictory, views on the matter. Research conducted by criminologist Justin Pickett, however, indicates that fear of the police is widespread among black Americans, who worry about their own and their loved ones’ safety. In fact, black respondents are more afraid of the police than of crime, in stark contrast to surveyed whites—even though the former are far more likely to be victims of crime than the latter.   

What drives these vast and consequential differences in perception? We are fortunate to have all three of these scholars together for a discussion on race, policing, perspective, and how to improve not only the realities but also the trust between black communities and American police that is needed for true public safety.