Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major News

Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major News

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:48 am

VIOLENT POLICE-CITIZEN ENCOUNTERS: AN ANALYSIS OF MAJOR NEWSPAPER ACCOUNTS
by Kim Michelle Lersch and Joe R. Feagin

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Department of Administration and Justice Studies, University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL 32514; and Department of Sociology, University of Florida, Gainsville, FL 32611
Crit Sociol 1996 22: 29  

Table of Contents:

Abstract
Power-Conflict Theory as Applied to Police Deviance
Differential Experiences of Black and White Citizens with Police Agencies: A Brief History
Continuing Racial Tensions
Situational Aspects of Police-Citizen Encounters
Penalties and Substantiation Rates: An Effective Deterrent?
The Problem of Data
The Research Project
Findings
o The Racial Characteristics of Officers and Citizens
o Situational Characteristics
o Penalties
Discussion and Conclusions
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Re: Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:49 am

ABSTRACT: This paper investigates trends in police brutality using data found through the Lexis/Nexis system. Using the keywords "police brutality," 15 newspapers classified as "major papers" by the Lexis/Nexis service were searched for descriptions of incidents of police misconduct against citizens that appeared from January 1, 1990 to May 31, 1992. One hundred and thirty distinct incidents of police brutality were analyzed based on the race and gender of the officers and of the victim, as well as issues of socioeconomic class. The situational characteristics surrounding the alleged assault were categorized and discussed. Minority citizens were involved in the vast majority of the incidents. The data also suggested a definite lack of penalties against the officers involved in abusive actions against citizens. Further, a citizen was equally likely to be assaulted for a disrespectful attitude towards a law enforcement officer than if the citizen had posed a serious bodily threat to the officer or another human being.


The reality of police violence was forced back into the public consciousness as a result of the national media attention given to the graphic beating of Rodney King at the hands of several white police officers in the early 1990s. While the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) became the focus of investigations of allegations concerning police misconduct, many police departments across the country came under greater public scrutiny. Was this incident an anomaly, or does police brutality against people of color continue to be a common occurrence across the nation?

While research concerning police brutality increased after the riots of the late 1960s, in the last decade few articles have been published focusing on contemporary police-citizen incidents and brutality trends, especially in regard to the non-lethal use of force (McLaughlin, 1992). Significantly, several well-publicized governmental studies of police malpractice have not been released for public and academic scrutiny. Official national statistics on the phenomenon of police malpractice or brutality currently do not exist.

This article investigates key issues concerning violent police misconduct against citizens across the nation using the only public data currently accessible: major newspaper accounts. To shed some light on the character of police malpractice incidents in the 1990s, we examine the racial group of the officer and the citizen involved in the altercation, the situational characteristics of the violent assault, and the penalties assessed against the officers involved.
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Re: Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:50 am

Power-Conflict Theory as Applied to Police Deviance

The power-conflict perspective will be used to better understand the phenomenon of police brutality. Power-conflict theorists focus on the great disparity in the distribution of power and resources in United States society. These inequalities may exist along lines of race, class, or gender. According to critical power-conflict theorists, the structure of capitalism in the United States in which a great proportion of the wealth is held by white corporate capitalists leads to a social system marked by exploitation and domination. Theoretical elaboration within the power-conflict perspective began historically with the works of Karl Marx and has continued to develop through the works of C. Wright Mills and others.

Feagin and Feagin (1990) developed a series of propositions to describe the power-conflict perspective: in society certain groups of people dominate over others due to their control of various important societal resources, such as wealth and income, private property that may serve to generate further wealth, and greater control over the police and military forces. As a group, white Americans are in a better position to use and mobilize both economic and political resources in times of conflict than do black Americans or other minority groups.

As applied to the problem of police deviance, power-conflict theory develops from the history of policing and the growth of capitalism within the United States. Focusing on the competition for power by various groups within society, power-conflict theorists view police brutality as a tool of subordination used by the dominant white group to protect its stronghold on limited resources. Minorities and others without political and economic power are more likely to be processed by law enforcement agents (Vold and Bernard, 1986) and experience differential enforcement of the law (Leinen, 1984; Smith and Visher, 1981).
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Re: Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:50 am

Differential Experiences of Black and White Citizens with Police Agencies: A Brief History

Organized police forces as we know them have been around for about 150 years. Prior to that time, cities were patrolled by a few men who roamed the streets in the evening hours, calling out the time or weather conditions. In 1838 Boston became the first to employ men to patrol during daylight hours. Six years later New York City combined day and night watchmen into a single organized force. Over a thirty-year period after 1845, nearly every major city in the United States developed an organized police department (Platt et al., 1982).

The sharp increase in the demand for organized social control in the mid-1800s may be attributed to several factors: increased population density, growing ethnic diversity, the development of industrial capitalism, and the emergence of a hierarchical class structure. Several social theorists contend that a primary purpose of the police was, and continues to be, to protect the property, wealth, and position of the higher classes (Platt et al., 1982; Feagin and Hahn, 1973; Fielding, 1991). Historically, police relations with poor racial and ethnic groups often have been marked by aggressive domination and violence. Many times in their efforts to control the "dangerous classes," as defined by powerful white leaders and groups, the police relied on brute force. For instance, in the Draft Riot of New York City in 1863, the local police were estimated to have killed more than a thousand people, many of whom were poor and working class Irish immigrants (Platt et al., 1982).

In the South, the emergence of an organized police force was somewhat different. The history of the southern watchmen dates back to the year 1690 with the legislation of the slave codes. In order for the slave population to be adequately subordinated and controlled, all white males were given the right to stop, question, and apprehend any black person. These methods of control reflected and perpetuated the negative, often criminalized, portrayal of the black man in the white mind (Owens, 1977).

Police violence against African Americans continued throughout the history of the United States. From 1920 through 1932 white police officers killed 54 percent of the 749 blacks killed by white persons in the South and 68 percent of those killed outside of the southern region (Myrdal, 1944). Further, in an analysis of 76 race riots between 1913-1963, the immediate precipitating event in 20 percent of the uprisings was the killing of or interference with black men by white police officers. This percentage dramatically increased in the years 1964-1967, when seven of the fourteen major riots that occurred over the three-year period could be directly traced to the misconduct of white policemen against black citizens. In addition, most of the smaller riots were triggered by the larger riots and were thus indirectly linked to police-citizen encounters (Feagin and Hahn, 1973).

According to a number of analysts (see Fielding, 1991), the modern police forces, as major control agents of the state, are not only concerned with crime and its prevention but also with the surveillance and coercion of subordinate racial groups in society. Groups of individuals who are viewed as a threat to the dominant white society must be adequately controlled. There is much close patrolling of black and other minority communities. From the 1960s to the 1990s the common practice of preventive police patrolling in ghetto areas, with its "stop and frisk" and "arrest on suspicion" tactics, has led to unfavorable police contacts for black and Latino males. Harassment of this type in turn intensifies negative attitudes toward the police. In minority communities there is often a strong mistrust and even hatred of the police officers, who are frequently viewed as serving the interests of the dominant white group. The relationship between black and other minority citizens with white police officers has been, and continues to be, different from the relationship these officers typically have with white citizens (Alpert, 1989; Bogomolny, 1976; Feagin, 1991; Walker, 1992).
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Re: Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:50 am

Continuing Racial Tensions

Surveys conducted in the 1960s and early 1970s indicated that black citizens expressed great dissatisfaction with local authorities. According to a 1970 Harris poll, only a fifth of the black respondents thought that local police officers applied the law equally; 62 percent believed cops were against blacks; 73 percent considered their local law enforcement agents were dishonest; and 67 percent thought police officers were more concerned with injuring African Americans than in preventing criminal acts (Feagin and Hahn, 1973). More recently, in a 1989 Gallup poll more than 50 percent of the blacks interviewed believed most police officers view blacks as suspects and would be likely to arrest the wrong person, and 25 percent of the black men stated that they had been harassed while driving through predominantly white neighborhoods (Bessent and Tayler, 1991). In a poll conducted by The New York Times, 28 percent of the blacks thought that police officers would give them a harder time when stopped for a minor traffic offense, which was nearly five times the percentage for white citizens. Further, one quarter of the black citizens interviewed stated that they knew someone who was a victim of police misconduct. This percentage was two and one-half times that for white respondents (Holmes, 1991).

In addition, in a poll of 1,901 residents of Los Angeles and Orange counties in 1990, half of the black respondents believed there was a "fair amount" of police brutality, which was twice the proportion found among white citizens (Decker, 1990). A 1991 poll found that two-thirds of Latinos in Los Angeles reported that incidents of police brutality were very common in their city; 35 percent of this group said that racist attitudes were very common among law enforcement officers. At public hearings in 1991 an independent citizens’ commission investigating the Los Angeles Police Department heard testimony from Mexican Americans that the department "acted like an army of occupation" (Ford and Stolberg, 1991).

Most racial relations researchers agree that selective enforcement of the law by police officers is institutionalized and routine and that officers apply a greater number of formal sanctions against minority Americans (Lienen, 1984; Smith and Visher, 1981). The relationship between minority groups and the dominant white society is marked, among other things, by competition for limited resources. Whites have a vested interest in the conservation and protection of the economic and residential resources they currently hold. The police, through differential enforcement practices and violence against blacks and other minorities, play an important role in maintaining the status quo as whites see it (Feagin and Hahn, 1973; Fielding, 1991). The police instruments that serve to protect the dominant position of white society also serve to keep blacks and other minorities in a subservient state (Oberschall, 1973).
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Re: Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:51 am

Situational Aspects of Police-Citizen Encounters

Several research analyses have focused on the situational aspects surrounding the lethal use of force by police officers (Fridell, 1989; Fyfe, 1989). Research concerning the non-lethal use of force and the situations leading up to the encounter is rare, perhaps for a number of different reasons: the police-citizen incidents are often transitory and occur out of the public eye (McLaughlin, 1992); violent altercations with citizens are a relatively rare occurrence (Bayley and Garofalo, 1989; Fyfe, 1989); and many violent incidents go unreported by both the officer and the citizen involved.

McLaughlin (1992), in a review of several recent studies that examined use-of-force incidents, reported that many violent encounters in Orlando resulted during attempted arrests of unarmed misdemeanor suspects or of a "non-infamous felony suspect." While McLaughlin did not indicate whether or not these were minority citizens, he did state that blacks were more likely to resist arrest and that white officers were disproportionately involved in the overall number of use-of-force incidents. The Croft Report (Croft, 1985) examined 2,397 reported use of force incidents in Rochester, New York, from 1973 to 1979. This study reported that 80 percent of the incidents occurred in the course of an attempted misdemeanor crime or during a noncriminal situation. Furthermore, 30 percent of the arrests and the force necessary to subdue the citizen could have been avoided if the citizen "had ceased fighting, arguing, being verbally abusive to the officer or had obeyed orders of the officers" (Croft, 1985: 4). This finding was consistent with the findings of Reiss (1968) and Friedrich (1980), who found that suspects who were disrespectful or uncooperative were more likely to be arrested. Disrespect, however minor, for police officers is considered a major issue by many officers. Westley (1970) found that 37 percent of the responding officers indicated that illegal violence was justified if the suspect was disrespectful.

Falsification can also conceal an officer's use of excessive force. A number of officers told us how they and others would insulate themselves from excessive force complaints simply by adding charges of "resisting arrest" to the arrest report -- a practice rarely questioned by supervisors. In the 30th Precinct case, for example, one officer reported how he and another officer chased and finally caught an individual who had run from his car after a traffic stop. While the officer was holding the individual, another officer struck the defendant in the head with his police radio. The officers then agreed upon a false story justifying their stop and search of the car and about the circumstances of the defendant's head injury....

Officers' cynicism about the Department's commitment to corruption control is justified. As testimony at the Commission's public and private hearings made clear, supervising officers tip off subordinates about pending investigations or citizen complaints. On some occasions, desk officers reminded officers to add resisting arrest charges for suspects brought to the stationhouse with too many visible bruises. Obviously, a corrupt officer who sees his superiors condone his wrongdoing necessarily takes the message that being caught in the wrong is worse than doing the wrong itself. Officer Otto testified that although his commanding officer knew about corruption in his precinct, his only message to his officers was not to get caught.

-- The City of New York: Commission Report: Commission to Investigate Allegations of Police Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Procedures of the Police Department, by Milton Mollen


One purpose of our research is to explore the various situational aspects that lead up to violent police-citizen encounters.
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Re: Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:51 am

Penalties and Substantiation Rates: An Effective Deterrent?

According to a national advisory commission report (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1973: 72, 93), "Once a finding sustains the allegations of wrongdoing, disciplinary sanctions commensurate with the seriousness of the offense that are imposed fairly, swiftly, and consistently will most clearly reflect the commitment of the department to oppose police misconduct." The report presented various penalties that could be assessed against officers based on the nature of the charge. Verbal reprimands, suspensions, demotions, reassignment, and permanent removal of duty were suggested. The article closed with the statement that "departments that are serious about preventing police misconduct can do something about it."

The commission also stressed the importance of effective controls from within, as opposed to various modes of external controls. In its view officers must be able to effectively control and monitor their own behavior, especially since there is so little criminal and civil prosecution of police malpractice. In addition, Skolnick and Fyfe (1993: 36) have argued that the attitude of police administrators is an important influence on the thinking of the individual officers: "Most excessive force cases that reach the courts show that the questionable conduct either has happened because superiors are so indifferent to the misconduct as to be grossly negligent in the performance of the duties, or occurs in fulfillment of administrative policy." If police officers do not perceive any risk of punishment for engaging in deviant behavior, then the likelihood that they will engage in this type of behavior increases.
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Re: Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:52 am

The Problem of Data

The very few recent studies of serious police malpractice by major governmental agencies have been wrapped in a cloak of secrecy. In the wake of the Rodney King incident, a distinguished citizen panel was appointed by the mayor of Los Angeles. The resulting Christopher Commission, a panel of seven people headed by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, was designed to provide Los Angeles with an independent study of the practices of the LAPD. This was the first comprehensive and impartial review of a major police department to be made available to the public since the 1973 Knapp Commission Report that studied the New York City.

The Christopher Commission found that officers often used excessive force, especially with minority citizens (Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, 1991). Further, the officers who employed violent techniques were rarely disciplined and were often honored or promoted. The Commission concluded that black citizens were the dominant targets of abuse in contacts with police officers, but that Latinos, Asians, and homosexuals were also victims (Kelling, 1991). The Christopher Commission Report concluded that local policing was not applied in a fair and non-discriminatory way for all citizens of Los Angeles. However, some of its important conclusions and subject matter were judged to be too sensitive to be revealed. According to Gil Ray, a spokesperson for commission, "The commission just felt it was material that needed a gestation period before it became public" ("College to be given," 1991). Interestingly, given that this was a public commission, the archives of the Commission’s study were given to the private University of Southern California, with some of the more critical material to be sealed for 20 years.

Further, in the wake of the Rodney King incident, the United States Justice Department conducted a review of nation-wide allegations of police brutality to investigate regional patterns of abuse and to determine if certain departments had high rates of complaints. Over a six-year period, the Justice department received 48,000 complaints against officers, of which 15,000 were formally investigated. Only 2 percent of the cases judged to merit further investigation resulted in criminal charges against the officers (Bishop, 1991; Campbell and Lopez, 1991; Lewis, 1991). This document, while it was completed in 1991, is not available to researchers or the public despite pressure from the black members of Congress for its release. According to John Conyers (DMI), the intentional withholding of the findings of the report has increased black suspicions about the insensitivity of the governmental response to police brutality at the national level (Bishop, 1991).
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Re: Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:52 am

The Research Project

Our research mainly addresses three major policing issues. First, are African Americans and other minority citizens more likely to find themselves victims of police brutality than white citizens? Second, are there certain situations that seem to have a greater likelihood of a violent police-citizen encounter? Third, are police departments taking allegations of violent police misconduct seriously?

Since there are no national statistics concerning police brutality available from any governmental source, we have used data derived from accounts of police misconduct in major newspapers for the period January 1, 1990 to May 31, 1992. We made use of one major Nexis database prepared by Mead Data Central. This database includes fifteen major newspapers updated on a daily basis and made available for computerized searches. These leading newspapers were selected by the Nexis service because of the size of their circulation and their major regional or national importance.

Using the keywords "police brutality," the following major national and regional newspapers were systematically searched for accounts of police malpractice in our time period: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Hartford Courant, The Los Angeles Times, The Minneapolis Star and Tribune, The New York Times, Newsday, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, and The Washington Times.

Out of the database of tens of thousands of articles, a total of 4,770 newspaper stories were retrieved that had at least a brief mention of "police brutality" in them. Due to the general nature of the phrase, not all of these stories dealt with a specific account of police brutality. Some of the articles dealt with "rap" songs that discussed the phenomenon, while others were based on political platforms of reform for candidates running for office. Many of the articles dealt specifically with the Rodney King incident and its aftermath. The King incident prompted many papers to broadly analyze and discuss their own local departments’ practices, while not discussing any specific case of alleged police brutality in any detail. Some of the retrieved articles dealt with the same incident, analyzing the encounter in greater depth or, in some cases, multiple newspapers reported on the same event. Combing through these 4,770 stories we found 130 distinct cases of police violence against civilians with enough detail for analysis.

We must note a few things about these data. For the purposes of this research we have accepted the designation of these incidents reported in these major newspaper accounts as cases of excessive police force, or "police brutality." It should be noted that newspapers use court, police, and community sources and there is a skew in the data toward the larger cities. Incidents of excessive police force were reported for cities in fifteen different states, with the greatest number in the largest states, New York and California. Five newspapers are located in the Midwest, and two are national digest papers that gave modest coverage to the problem of police violence. At the time of the data search, these fifteen media sources were the only newspapers available through the Lexis/Nexis service and no screening or selection process was used by the authors. [1]

The accounts of the acts of brutality varied in richness and depth. The more serious cases in which the officers were charged and tried were greatly detailed, while some other accounts of single police-citizen incidents presented only some basic details, thereby limiting the number of dimensions we can analyze in this paper.

The possibility of media bias in the major newspaper coverage of police brutality should be noted. In essence, the data is representative of the prevalence of news coverage of claims of police brutality and the level of media interest in these allegations. Why have these incidents found their way into the mass media, while many others have been ignored? In today’s racially charged climate, are violent police-citizen encounters with racial overtones more likely to garner the attention of the media than those with all white participants? Given the nature of the data source, these questions are impossible to answer. Conclusions based on this data should be evaluated with these limitations in mind.

Some white readers of our work have suggested that it is only the black and other minority cases that get into the mass media. However, it seems unlikely that an incident where white citizens were beaten up badly by police officers would not make its way into newspapers, especially if the victims were middle or upper class, as is sometimes the case for minority Americans. The opposite problem seems more likely. Martindale (1986: 133), in a discussion of the media and black Americans, has offered the following:

A vivid illustration of the black community’s concern with this problem was provided in the University of Washington seminar report, which noted that although the meeting was set up to consider media-black relations, a considerable amount of time was spent discussing police-black relations. While the black participants were willing to discuss the media, the report stated, they felt such a strong animosity toward the police that the presence of newsmen was sufficient to unleash a flood of criticism against the police. The participants apparently were eager to inform reporters about their grievances concerning police behavior in the black community because they felt that if journalists became aware of this situation and exposed it to the reading public, some corrective measures might be taken.... The media, however, continue to ignore this problem. They also seem prone to present the police only as upholders of law and order, black victims as possibly deserving of their fate, and black witnesses as probably unreliable.


White newspaper editors may feel pressure to affirm the integrity of the local police department and the desirability of the current societal organization. As phrased by Martindale (1986: 134), "Perhaps the media have failed to inquire deeply into this area because the truths that would emerge might prove uncomfortable to white middle-class society."
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Re: Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major

Postby admin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 3:55 am

Findings

The Racial Characteristics of Officers and Citizens


Examining the 130 relatively detailed cases of encounters reported as police brutality in these major newspapers, we found that the overwhelming majority of the civilian victims of police brutality were African-American. Interestingly, 113 of the victims (86.9 percent) were African American, 13 (10.0 percent) were Latino, and only 5 (3.5 percent) of the victims were non-Latino whites. Additionally, three of the five white victims were in the company of a black person at the time of the police encounter.

In contrast to the citizen data, the data on the officers involved showed a different racial background: 92.8 percent (N=104) were white, 2.7 percent (N=3) were of Latino origin, and 4.4 percent (N=5) of the officers were black (See Table 1). The racial makeup of the officers involved in violent assaults is whiter than the racial composition of larger city police departments. For example, in the city of Chicago, blacks represent 23 percent of the force (Jackson et al., 1991), while in New York City only 8 percent of the officers are black (Mydans et al., 1991). Overall, the Justice Department reports that whites constitute 85 percent of police officers, while blacks and Latinos account for 9 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

As we have noted, police departments were developed to control the poor and "dangerous classes" of urban society (Jacobs, 1979), and selective enforcement of the law by white police officers has been found to be common, with blacks and other minorities bearing a greater number of formal sanctions than whites. The cases reviewed in this analysis lend support to this contention. Almost 97 percent of the victims of police misconduct were minorities, and the vast majority (86.9 percent) of the victims were African American. Furthermore, in three of the five cases in which the victims were white, a black individual was also present. All but one of the altercations that resulted in death involved minority citizens, with black males accounting for the majority of the deaths.

It is significant that there is not a single case of white citizens being targeted for excessive force by black or Latino officers. In the cases involving Latino victims, the officers involved were either white or Latino. There were no cases of brutality involving a Latino victim and a black officer. In the two cases involving allegations of misconduct against Latino officers, the victims were either black or Latino. And in the cases in which the actions of a black police officer came under scrutiny, the victims were in all cases black citizens.

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Table 1. Racial Classification of Officers and Victims

The data seem to suggest the existence of a hierarchy of racial or ethnic groups, what Feagin (1989) calls the "ladder of racial dominance." Some groups are positioned higher than others on the ladder, which results in greater power and privileges than lower groups. White citizens were rarely victims of abuse, and if they were, it was at the hands of white officers. Minority officers did not cross the line and assault those of a higher social position. In addition, white officers targeted minority group members for harsh treatment. Latinos seemed to be positioned below whites, but above blacks, in this hierarchy of force. While the low number of cases involving Latino officers suggests caution here, they show that Latino officers seemed to target members of their own group or blacks. These findings are consistent with Carter (1986) who found that Latino officers were more likely to discriminate against Latino citizens than white citizens. In the cases reviewed for this analysis, whites were not targeted by the Latino officers. Black officers were involved in brutality cases only with members of their racial group. There were no cases in which a black officer was involved in an altercation involving a white or Latino victim. Blacks seemed to occupy the lowest position on the ladder of dominance.
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