Perception of American Public Toward Police Racial Profiling and Brutality

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Perception of American Public Toward Police Racial Profiling and Brutality


In the recent years, many cases have emerged, in which police have been accused of racial profiling and even brutality toward selected races. This has resulted to demonstrations from the public and human rights activities across the country. Racial profiling is a situation, in which police use the race of citizens as a key determinant in their decision making on whom to stop and question (Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2012). On the other hand, police brutality is the excessive use of force. It ranges from physical attack, verbal attack, or emotional intimidation. Police are perceived to have unfair judgments towards persons of certain races as they keep law and order. The American society is a multi-racial society. The largest race is composed of white citizens with a considerable percentage of African American citizens.

The recent police profiling and brutality, which have gone to the extent of shooting and killing, have sparked a lot of reaction across the nation from politician, citizens and human rights activists. Many states have passed laws or are in the process to pass laws that ensure demographic data on the race of the person stopped by police and interrogated is recorded (Moore, 2010). There are very little empirical data recorded to prove any major racial police profiling and brutality. The studies of perception held by citizen of America about police racial discrimination also remain remote with few or no studies ever been conducted in that area. This paper will focus on the reasons, which make it very crucial to study the perception that Americans have in regard to the police racial profiling and brutality in the USA.

Perception is the ability that an individual has in recognizing and interpreting his or her environment. It differs from one person to another. Perception depends on the diversity among individuals, be it education, class, sex, or even race. Good perception is very crucial in any content. In the social context, it promotes better social skills and help in better understanding in the social relationships (Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2012).

Public perception of police treatment is very important in promoting good police-public relation. Perception towards American police in terms of racial profiling and brutality has not yet been explored. This is so even after a series of incidents, which have shown clearly discrimination by police among the African American society (Moore, 2010). Several incidences of killing in different states and profiling of African Americans in traffic stop have definitely led to the formation of a certain perception among individuals.

The study of perception held by members of the public on racial profiling and brutality has not been conducted yet. Individuals use only media information to make conclusions on the perception of public toward the police (Thibault, Lynch, & McBride, 2004). In addition, speculations have been widely spread that African-Americans believe that police target them on traffic stops based on their looks. Other individuals argue that police profiling is not an important issue as it only affects law breakers alone. Therefore, this research will be a new set of idea, which will seek to examine the truth held by this speculation. It will focus on individuals of all races and will seek their ideas when it comes to police operations. Past researches have focused on one time incidence and did not evaluate if the police profiling was really a big deal to the public. This research will evaluate the damages caused to citizen perceptions by few known single incidents, in which police have been brutal.

Variables to Investigate

The dependable variable in this research will be perception, which occurs in two main ways. There can be either positive or negative perception. Positive perception is a positive interpretation and understanding of an event (Moore, 2010). In this case, it is positive understanding that police do not have racial profiling and do not engage in brutal acts. One assumes that those involved deserved it. Negative perception is negative interpretation of events. One assumes that police are involved in racial profiling and brutality.

Perception will depend on the profiling acts and brutal incidences. Racial profiling is mostly said to occur in traffic stops. This is where police discriminatory stop an individual of a given race based on his or her look for questioning (Peffley & Hurwitz, 2010). Police profiling can also be reflected on the number of prisoners locked in prisons in term of race. Thus the number of individuals of a given race is stopped for questioning in a traffic stop and the number of a given race imprisoned will be independent variables of profiling that determine perception.

Perception, as seen earlier, will also depend on brutal acts by police. The number of recorded physical and brutal encounters by police to persons of a given race will be considered. The number of killings that have occurred, that is, who was killed, will also be looked at as an independent variable. The number of recorded verbal attacks and emotional attacks will also be considered as independent variables.

Significance of the Study

Knowing perception of individual and racial groups toward the police is very important for policy makers and the whole society as well. If a certain race holds negative perception towards police, then it is likely that representatives of this race will always behave in an unfriendly way toward them (Peffley & Hurwitz, 2010). This lowers the public-police relation, which is very crucial in proper performing the police duties. If a problem of negative perception is not addressed properly, then this increases the gap among the police and the said race thus causing them to be less cooperative to the police duties.

Policy makers need well-researched data, which indicate clearly the stands that Americans have on the police profiling and brutality. This will enable the policy makers and the involved groups to come up with countering ways, which will increase and improve perception of the public toward police with the aim of facilitating police operations.

Moreover, knowing the perception will also be important in evaluating police operations. Negative perception will obviously result from past bad police encounter. People always talk good of police if they are treated well despite having a lawsuit brought against them (Thibault, Lynch, & McBride, 2004). If a certain race has negative perception toward police, then that will make them conclude that unfair judgment was done on them. By knowing this perception, it will aid a lot in regulating the police. Safeguarding of the American right is very important to the nation and thus perception will lay a good platform to evaluation if the rights of individuals have been violated or not.


The hypothesis for this research is that many African American citizens have negative perception towards police profiling and brutality unlike their white counterparts. This dates back to the period of slavery, when they struggled for their rights, to this era, where their rights are highly safeguarded by the law. Being among the minorities in the nation, they are likely to feel that at times they are treated unfairly compared to their white counterparts. Many police officers across the nation are white and they have a duty to maintain law and order regardless of the citizen involved. Black people may at times think that they are the most targeted based on their history and being the minority. This may increase their negative perception toward police.

On average, the number of deaths caused by police shooting black people largely exceeds that of the whites (Moore, 2010). Questions therefore arise on whether there is fairness within the police departments. Many blacks also claimed to have been stopped discriminatory in the traffic point and even interrogated for no good reasons. This may form a good reason to believe that black Americans may have negative perception toward police.

On the other hand, the whites are the dominant race in America. They form the dominant race in the police force; hence the likelihood of a white person being stopped or interrogated by a white policeman is low. When one is dealing with people of his or her origin, it is hard to assume they are treated unfairly (Peffley & Hurwitz, 2010). This may not be the case but people will always believe that people of their race will always be fair to them. Whites also talk positive of police and believe that those who complain are just law breakers. This reason may contribute to most whites having positive perception toward the police racial profiling and brutality.


In conclusion, the importance of this kind of research is impressive. Knowing an individual and group perception towards the police will aid a lot in improving the relationship between police and the public. It will also help policy makers to come up with good policies, which will change the negative perception that may exist. Lastly, knowledge of perception will enable the country to safeguard the rights of those who feel that they are treated unfairly by police.