The Dangers of Racialized Perceptions and Thinking by Law Enforcement

In DEADLY INJUSTICE: TRAYVON MARTIN, RACE, AND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, Devon Johnson, Patricia Y. Warren, and Amy Farrell, eds., New York University Press, 2015

U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-10

20 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2016

See all articles by David A. Harris

David A. Harris

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Date Written: March 14, 2016

Abstract

The death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, shot by George Zimmerman in a gated Florida community in which Martin's father lived, focused national attention on Florida's Stand Your Ground (SYG) law. That law allows a person to use deadly force in any public place in which the person using force is lawfully present when he or she believes that deadly force is necessary to defend against a threat of death or serious bodily injury, with no retreat necessary. Florida's SYG law had already achieved considerable notoriety before Zimmerman pulled the trigger. But the death of Martin — a young African American man — at the hands of Zimmerman brought out racialized perceptions and reasoning at every step. Public debate centered on the question of racial profiling, and whether Zimmerman had perceived Martin as more threatening than he would have if Martin were a white youth. But largely unnoticed in this discussion was the question of how implicit racial perceptions and biases may have affected not just the actions of Zimmerman, but also the actions of law enforcement. The trial that followed resulted in the acquittal of Zimmerman, but it left unresolved the questions about racialized perceptions and bias that this chapter explores.

Keywords: criminal justice, race, Trayvon Martin, implicit bias, Stand Your Ground laws, SYG, George Zimmerman, racial profiling, racialized perceptions, law enforcement, police, prosecutors, criminal justice system, use of force, deadly force, self-defense, rule of retreat, aggressor, probable cause

Suggested Citation

Harris, David A., The Dangers of Racialized Perceptions and Thinking by Law Enforcement (March 14, 2016). In DEADLY INJUSTICE: TRAYVON MARTIN, RACE, AND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, Devon Johnson, Patricia Y. Warren, and Amy Farrell, eds., New York University Press, 2015, U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-10, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2747527

David A. Harris (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

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