Racialized differences in perceptions of and emotional responses to police killings of unarmed African Americans




Widespread attention to, and mobilization against, police killings of unarmed African Americans shatter any lingering myths of a post-racial America. We argue that the entrenched racial divide in the lived experiences and perceptions of whites and African Americans is mediated by emotions. Continuing research about the perceptions of and emotions attached to political events by people of different races, we draw on an embedded experiment. We contend that stories about police killings will elicit distinct emotions from whites and African Americans. The experiment varies the race of a victim of a police-involved shooting as well as whether the victim was suspected of criminality. We find that the majority of respondents express disappointment without regard to condition and that African Americans are more likely than whites to express anger as an emotional response. We see in-group/out-group psychological tendencies, with whites who read about a white victim (regardless of criminality) more likely to recommend criminal charges for the officer versus those who received a black victim. The findings highlight how identity moderates the connection between emotions and politics while also contributing to our understanding of race relations today.

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DOI: doi.org/10.1080/21565503.2020.1757805