Police Use of Force

L. Song Richardson

Interim Dean and Professor of Law,
University of California, Irvine
Reforming Criminal Justice Vol. 2

Racial disparities in police uses of force persist. Two competing explanations are often given for these disparities. One is that these disparities are justified because police are simply responding to objectively threatening conduct. The other is that these disparities are the result of police racism. While both accounts are accurate some of the time, this chapter illuminates how “racial anxiety” can also enable racial disparities in police uses of force even in the absence of racial animus and even when people of color are acting identically to their white counterparts. The term racial anxiety references how concerns about police racism can influence the behaviors and perceptions of officers and people of color in ways that increase the potential for violence. Consideration of racial anxiety highlights the necessity of transforming policing in order to build community-police trust. Policymakers can aid in this endeavor by supporting programs, initiatives and legislation that will facilitate this transformation.