In the wake of protests responding to the killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, sociologists began building a large body of resources to explain how these events fit into a broader pattern of racial bias in the United States’ criminal justice system. Sociologists for Justice has both a public statement on the matter and a syllabus on source material related to racialized policing. Sociology Toolbox has recent data on racial disparities and militarized police departments in Ferguson and nationwide. In addition to the conversation about racial injustice, Ferguson also calls into question our assumptions about how to maintain public safety.
Policing in communities of color presents a paradox. The state offers very little attention for social services, but also embeds itself in residents’ everyday lives through strong policing practices.
- Victor M Rios. 2011. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys. New York: NYU Press
While there isn’t much research on the effectiveness of policing tactics, we do know that a militaristic approach which maximizes coercion does little to make a community feel safer. In fact, this approach may actually increase future crime and conflict as community members start to resist coercion.
- David Weisburd and John E. Eck. 2004. “What Can Police Do to Reduce Crime, Disorder, and Fear?” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 593(1): 42-65
- Peter B. Kraska and Victor E. Kappeler. 1997. “Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units.” Social Problems. 44(1): 1-18.
- Lawrence W. Sherman. 1993. “Defiance, Deterrence, and Irrelevance: A Theory of the Criminal Sanction.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. 30(4): 445-473
In addition to racial bias in policing, there is also a gendered dimension to military tactics. Precincts develop a sense of male solidarity through military scorn of feminine traits, and even manufacturers of nonlethal police weapons appeal to these masculine sensibilities to sell their products.
- Peter B. Kraska. 1996. “Enjoying Militarism: Political/personal dilemmas in studying U.S. police paramilitary units.” Justice Quarterly, 13(3): 405-429
- Jesse Wozniak and Christopher Uggen. 2009. “Real Men Use Nonlethals: Appeals to Masculinity in Marketing Police Weaponry.” Feminist Criminology, 4(3): 275-293