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Police and Public Discourse on "Black on Black" Violence

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2015
24 pages

One in a series of papers to be published from Harvard's Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety, this paper discusses news media coverage of urban violent crime that sometimes distorts racial issues, presents a more analytical analysis of violent crime in urban communities, and considers how misconceptions of "Black-on-Black" violence can lead to over- and/or under-policing of urban neighborhoods of predominantly Black residents, further eroding citizen confidence in the police.


The paper criticizes news media, politicians, and police executives who persist in linking crime in disadvantaged urban communities with the race of the majority of residents. It is argued that the media and policymakers should refrain from using overly simplistic descriptions of violent crime in urban communities as "Black-on-Black" violence just because both perpetrators and victims are Black-Americans. It argues that the analysis of violence in urban neighborhoods should focus on the features and dynamics of the neighborhoods that influence and promote violent behavior without regard to the race of the residents. The discussion promotes the building of "community efficacy," which involves the development of resident-based community-wide efforts to address the causes of prevalent violent behavior. The emphasis should be on how community residents can work with the police and other appropriate agencies to build features of informal social control by residents, with police intervention where needed.. A policing style that ignores the importance of community-based resources and cooperation can undermine police legitimacy in the community and foment views among residents that police are an occupying force rather than an important resource for improving public safety. 62 references

Date Published: May 1, 2015