• Robb G. Best

Fear of Police Brutality Differs Among Races, Study Finds

According to a recently published nationwide study by two professors at the University of South Florida, Black people are five times more likely to fear police brutality than white people, while Latino people are four times more likely than white people.

The report was written by criminology instructor Murat Haner and Melissa Sloan, associate professor of sociology. In “Race and Worrying about Police Brutality: The Hidden Injuries of Minority Status in America,” they write that while only 6.6 percent of whites “worry a lot” about police violence, some minority groups live with significantly higher rates of fear. 32.4 percent of Black people and 26.5 percent of Latino people report they “worry a lot” about becoming victims of police violence.

On the other hand, three-fourths of white people “do not worry at all” about violence from the police, while only one-third of racial minority respondents “do not worry at all” about it. These numbers are especially stark considering that the police in the United States are generally discussed as a solution to violence. Two-thirds of the people of color surveyed expressed at least some fear of someday being on the receiving end of violence specifically from the police.

Haner and Sloan conducted their research over three months in 2018, along with four other professors. They administered a survey to 1000 Americans across the country, asking respondents to measure by fear how much they worry about various potential incidents of violence. Participants were asked to rate how much they feared:

  • Experiencing police brutality

  • Becoming victim of a racially motivated hate crime

  • Becoming victim of violent crime

  • Experiencing a break-in while at home

  • A mass shooting in a public space or school

  • Becoming victim of a terrorist attack

This was the first study to specifically examine fears of police brutality, and also somewhat unusual in its inclusion of Latino people. The study suggests that Black and Latino people's fears of police brutality have a long-term effect on their physical and emotional health, due to the corrosive nature of ongoing stress. Thus, high-profile incidents of police brutality against Black or Latino people can have a negative ripple effect across entire communities nationwide, regardless of an individual's direct involvement, or lack of involvement, with the criminal justice system.

“Taken as a whole, what remains is an insidious picture in which communities worry about those they are supposed to trust during their greatest time of need,” said Haner. “There is a substantial subpopulation in America that worries about being victimized, not by some perpetrator, but by the state – the very people who are sworn to protect and serve them.”

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