Trayvon Martin: Racial Profiling, Black Male Stigma, and Social Work Practice

Trayvon Martin: Racial Profiling, Black Male Stigma, and Social Work Practice Abstract To address a critical gap in the social work literature, this article examines the deleterious effects of racial profiling as it pertains to police targeting of male African Americans. The authors use the Trayvon Martin court case to exemplify how racial profiling and black male stigma help perpetuate social inequality and injustice for black men. A racism-centered perspective is examined historically and contemporarily as a theoretical approach to understanding the role that race plays in social injustice through racial profiling. Implications for social work research design and practice aimed at increasing the social work knowledge base on racial profiling are discussed. The authors call for attention and advocacy by major social work organizations in the reduction of black male stigma and racial profiling. The August 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman sent shock waves through America, and once again elevated race and racism as major topics for mass media debates in communities. Trayvon was a 17-year-old black high school student at the time of his shooting. While walking down the street after purchasing a bag of Skittles (candy) and a soft drink from a local convenience store, in a Sanford, Florida, neighborhood, he was pursued by an armed neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman. According to police reports, the decision to follow Martin was based on Zimmerman’s notion that Martin was “up to no good.” As a neighborhood watchman, Zimmerman called the local police who advised him to discontinue his pursuit in following Trayvon Martin. Ignoring the instructions from local police, Zimmerman ended up fatally wounding the unarmed Martin and was charged with first degree murder. His acquittal led to local, state, and national protests and became a tipping point in our national dialogue on the racial profiling of black men. Racial profiling is an act of injustice that uses race as the foundation for shaping perceptions and behaviors associated with defining who is and which groups are designated as “criminal” (Moore, 2015). This definitional system can disadvantage individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups, and has been pervasively applied to stigmatize, stereotype, and target young black men (Weatherspoon, 2004). According to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics, in 2014 black male adolescents ages 18 to 19 “were more than 10 times likely to be in state or federal prison than whites” (Carson, 2015, p. 15). For all age groups, black male individuals are arrested and have the highest rate of imprisonment in state and federal facilities. This rate is 3.8 to 10.5 times more than the rate for white men and 1.4 to 3.1 times more than the rate for Hispanic men (Carson, 2015). Many contend that a primary factor explaining this precipitous incarceration rate, known as hyperincarceration, is the practice of racial profiling (Moore, 2015). Although racial profiling of young black men has received much attention in the criminal justice and criminology literature, little attention has been devoted to the topic in social work literature, which diminishes social work’s ability to address this problem in several ways. First, the lack of focus leaves the social work community without a sufficient knowledge base needed to develop, evaluate, and apply evidence-based interventions to alleviate and eliminate the social problem of racial profiling. Thus, although much is written on the racial profiling of black men, the literature could be significantly enhanced by infusing the distinctive yet diverse frameworks that guide social work practice. Second, the social work profession misses the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate problems within the criminal justice system in relation to black men and their overrepresentation. Explaining and preventing the disproportionate arrest and conviction rates of black men should be a primary thrust of contemporary social work research and practice. Finally, a focus on racial profiling can help social work professionals rely more heavily on a racism-centered perspective of understanding and reducing the social problems experienced by black people, other marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and specifically black men. This article examines the social problem of racially profiling black men by discussing how racial profiling is defined and measured, how it evolved, the rationale that supports it, the role stigmatization plays in perpetuating the problem, and implications for social work practice and research. A prominent theme undergirding this text is that racism continues to be a significant factor that too often stigmatizes black men as inherent criminals. Furthermore, a racism-centered framework and critical race theory (CRT) are used as conceptual lenses for understanding the salience and impact of racial oppression in the lives of black male individuals. Disproportionality in Racial Profiling Racial profiling has received considerable attention in the mass media and in academic research (Archbold, Dahle, Fangman, Wentz, & Wood, 2013). However, there is ambiguity regarding what constitutes racial profiling. A widely accepted definition states that racial profiling is any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual or information that leads the police to a particular individual who has been identified as being, or having been, engaged in criminal activity. (Ramirez, McDevitt, & Farrell, 2000, p. 3) The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (2005) defined racial profiling as the practice of stopping and inspecting people who are passing through public places—such as drivers on public highways, pedestrians, travelers in airports or designated localities such as urban areas—when the reason for the stop is a statistical profile of the detainee’s race or ethnicity. Finally, the DOJ (2003) defined racial profiling as the practice of a law enforcement agent relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, or national origin in selecting which individuals to subject to routine investigatory activities, or in deciding on the scope and substance of law enforcement activity following the initial routine investigatory activity. Much of the research on racial profiling uses traffic stops (driving while black) as the primary measurement of this form of profiling. Aggregate data at both the national and the state level have confirmed the existence and prevalence of racial profiling. At the national level, a 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found strong evidence of the existence of racial profiling during traffic stops. The report uncovered that “police actions taken during a traffic stop were not uniform across racial and ethnic categories” (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007, p. 10). For example, black drivers (4.5 percent) were twice as likely as white drivers (2.1 percent) to be arrested during traffic stops, whereas Hispanic drivers (65 percent) were more likely than white (56.2 percent) or black (55.8 percent) drivers to receive a ticket. In addition, white drivers (9.7 percent) were more likely than Hispanic drivers (5.9 percent) to receive a written warning, and white drivers (18.6 percent) were more likely than black drivers (13.7 percent) to be verbally warned by police. When it came to searching minority motorists after a traffic stop, “Black (9.5%) and Hispanic (8.8%) motorists stopped by police were searched at higher rates than Whites (3.6%)” (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007, p. 10). At the state and local levels, numerous studies have confirmed the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement. A report published by the ACLU (2008) regarding racial profiling in Arizona found that during 2006–2007, the state highway patrol was significantly more likely to stop black and Hispanic people than white people on all highways studied. Similarly, Native Americans and people of Middle Eastern descent were more likely to be stopped than white people on nearly all the highways studied. The Arizona Highway Patrol stopped and searched 8.5 percent of black motorists, and 8.3 percent of Hispanic motorists as compared with 2.5 percent of white motorists. However, “contraband was discovered in 3.3% of African American searches and 13.0% of Hispanic searches, as compared to a higher 14.5% for whites” (ACLU, 2008, p. 7). In West Virginia, a study of traffic stops and searches discovered that black motorists were 1.64 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers. Hispanic drivers were 1.48 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers. After the traffic stop, black and Hispanic drivers were more likely than white drivers to be arrested; yet police in West Virginia obtained a significantly higher contraband hit rate for white drivers than minorities (Haas, Turley, & Sterling, 2009). Similarly, a study in the state of Texas by the ACLU (2004) revealed disproportionate traffic stops and searches of black and Hispanic motorists. A report on the state of Maryland found that those searched on the state’s I-95 highway were 45 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, and 9 percent other ethnicities (ACLU, 1999). Finally, the Council on Crime and Justice (2003) investigating racial profiling in Minnesota found that African American, Hispanic, and Native American drivers were all stopped and searched more often than white drivers, yet contraband was found more frequently in searches of white drivers’ cars. Rationale and Evolution of Racial Profiling The presupposition that black male youths are violent, aloof, and dangerous is all too often part of the socialization process and cultural narrative in America (Bonilla-Silva, 2006). With the advent and enforcement of civil rights legislation, open and overt forms of racism and bigotry are not publicly tolerated and are, in most cases, met with immediate and public condemnation. Suffice to say that now the United States is said to have transformed to a “color-blind society,” where methods of maintaining “privilege” cannot overtly appear racially constructed (Bonilla-Silva, 2006). “Color blindness is associated with the liberal 1970s ideal of learning not to see race or color in an attempt to eliminate personal prejudices and to promote a level playing field” (Abrams & Moio, 2009, p. 250). However, as CRT theorists explain, color-blindness as a form of equality forgoes the salience of racism as an ordinary occurrence in American society. Notions of color-blindness do not account for the long-standing radicalized stigma and discriminatory practices that are all too commonplace for black America. To illustrate, in March 2016, a 22-year-old interview with a top President Nixon advisor, John Ehrlichman, was released in which he confesses that the initialization of the 1970s War on Drugs was a diversion tactic designed to camouflage the administration’s efforts to attack its two perceived enemies: the radical antiwar left and black people (Baum, 2016). Ehrlichman stated the following during his 1994 interview: We [the Nixon administration] knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. . . . Did we know we were lying about drugs? Of course we did. (Baum, 2016) The War on Drugs in the 1970s and 1980s contributed significantly to the proliferation of racial profiling in law enforcement. In the early 1970s to combat the illegal drug trade, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) compiled an informal profile of the “typical drug courier.” The profile was based on behavioral characteristics such as the following: Did the person pay for his ticket with cash, did the person depart from a place considered to be the origin of illegal drugs, and so on (Police Executive Research Forum, 2001). Explicitly, the race or ethnicity of the person had very little significance in the profile. However, in the early 1980s, when the crack cocaine market exploded, skin color alone became a major profile component (Fridell, 2008). As a part of the campaign to combat drugs, the DEA implemented Operation Pipeline. The program required DEA agents to train local and state law enforcement personnel around the country to explicitly use race as a basis for highway stops (Drug Reform Coordination Network, 2003). As a result of the training, black and Hispanic individuals became synonymous with the illegal drug trade and blackness became an indicator of criminality, further nurturing the growing stigmatization of black men. Controversy surrounding racial profiling highlights the role of race and racism in the area of social policy (Moore, 2015). A basic assumption from a racism-centered perspective is that a key function of American social policy development and implementation is social control. The policies and practices that emerge from the underlying assumption of social control are understood as having regulatory intentions and results that aim to monitor and change the behavior of those deemed socially deviant or politically threatening (Schiele, 2014). From this viewpoint, social policies are instruments that enforce the cultural norms and mores of dominant groups among those who demonstrate nonconformity. Applying a racism-centered framework to the examination of racial profiling helps to elucidate the institution of law enforcement as a primary avenue through which white racial hegemony is sustained as a form of social control within the United States (Neubeck & Cazenave, 2001). Critical to an understanding of this perspective is the idea that racial regulation is an important focus and thrust of American social policy (Moore, 2015; Schiele, 2014). From this perspective, black male youths are deemed socially deviant and politically threatening and that, if left unchecked, their potential empowerment could upset the stability of the predominantly white power structure in the United States (Blackmon, 2008). Neubeck and Cazenave (2001) contended that when the state becomes racialized it likewise becomes the “political arm of White racial hegemony” (p. 23). From this lens, the state is assumed to protect and promote the political, economic, and cultural interests of white people relative to other racial and ethnic groups. A racism-centered perspective supports the tenets of CRT, which maintains that social and political relations in the United States are augmented by historic and endemic racism. As Abrams and Moio (2009) opined, “Because racism is ordinary and embedded, its structural functions and effect on our ways of thinking are often invisible, particularly to people holding racial privilege” (p. 253). In turn, this “invisibility” “maintains racism.” In reference to racial profiling and the notions of legal justice, in general, proponents of CRT assert that “analysis of the law cannot be neutral and objective and stresses that recognition of and voices from standpoint and race consciousness are essential to radical racial reform” (Abrams & Moio, 2009, p. 250). Black Male Stigma Stigmatization has played a major role in the racial profiling of black men. The stigmatization of black men in America as violent and dangerous, indolent, nonachieving, and criminal has created a context in which many black men, particularly those of low-income status, are viewed as suspicious in a variety of social encounters (Bonilla-Silva, 2006; Wilson, 2012). As a form of social identity, stigma is socially constructed and has been referred to as a virtual social identity whereby one is viewed as deviant, flawed, and having an attribute that deeply discredits the individual. As such, individuals must overcome these attributes to be socially accepted. Black male stigma is a product of implicit racial bias, which is the act of consciously rejecting discrimination and stereotypes while holding unconscious negative associations about other people (Lee, 2014). Given the narrative of color-blindness, many people do not see their views about race as discriminatory or as erroneous assumptions (Bonilla-Silva, 2006; Lee, 2014). To support negative assumptions about black men, people often form opinions based on their ongoing negative portrayal in the American media, where young black men are a target of fear, anger, stereotyping, misunderstanding, and rejection (Losen, 2011; Oliver, 2003). Implicit racial bias related to black male stigma is further promoted by the selective boosting of a host of social science statistics as evidence of black indolence—particularly those surrounding family structure (Abrams & Moio, 2009). However, the general catalyst producing the plight of many urban black communities today started in the 1970s with deindustrialization, white flight, geographic redlining, and divestment in urban communities; this created structural inequalities and the resulting high unemployment and underemployment for black men that continues today (Lipsitz, 2011; Wilson, 2012). Over 50 percent of black male individuals of working age are unemployed in urban dwellings, and over 50 percent of black adolescents are unemployed; many more attend failing public schools that have become part of the school-to-prison pipeline (Losen, 2011). At present, the socialization experience of far too many black male youths is fraught with pervasive poverty and a poor educational experience, leading to reduced opportunities and life in the bottom tier of the socioeconomic ladder (Lipsitz, 2011; Losen, 2011; Wilson, 2012). The clear and present danger of black male stigmatization in America is its day-to-day functioning as an ingrained narrative in the psyche of America (Akbar, 1996). Black male stigma was well at play in the Trayvon Martin narrative, as witnessed by the characterization of Martin by the legal defense team during the trail (Lee, 2014). The presuppositions were set long before his encounter with George Zimmerman. Suspiciously pursued and armed with the sidewalk (a piece of concrete was literally brought into the courtroom by the defense attorney during the trial), Martin was transformed by the embodiment of black male stigma—based on his very existence—from the extended rights of his American citizenship, in simply walking down the street, to a hood-wearing attacker who lashed out and assaulted citizen George Zimmerman. According to the narrative, Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground with a concealed weapon and the legal right to probe, even after a request by law enforcement to discontinue his pursuit of Martin. At the outset of the trial, race was disavowed as the judge declared that “she intended to run a colorblind trial and did not want either side to call attention to race” (Lee, 2014, p. 9). Consequently, in playing fast and loose with a myriad of negative stereotypes, a local jury, and a national audience, the defense attorney depicted the 17-year-old 158-pound Trayvon Martin as “a violent gangbanger” on the attack, while casting the 200-pound Zimmerman simultaneously as “both victim and protector of the unruly street” (Williams, 2013, p. 21). Clearly, the rub on injustice is not only the not-guilty verdict rendered in the George Zimmerman trial, but the fact that Trayvon Martin was at once classified as a criminal by default, even as he was the victim of unnecessary and lethal violence. According to legal scholar and activist Patricia Williams, the attempt was to “resurrect” Trayvon Martin during the trial “as the active principal in his own death” (Williams, 2013, p. 18). Implications for Social Work Practice Any approach to social work practice with black families experiencing racial profiling must consist of an awareness of the general differences in perceptions between white Americans and black Americans on the very notion of profiling based on race. For example, a 1999 national Gallup poll revealed that 42 percent of black Americans as compared with 6 percent of European Americans “reported having been stopped by police on the basis of skin color” (Glaser, 2006, p. 396). The Zimmerman verdict of not guilty produced similar results. A July 2013 study by the Pew Research Center (PRC) revealed a nearly even 39 percent satisfied and 42 percent dissatisfied opinion on the verdict by white Americans. However, black Americans significantly differed in their reaction to the case and its meaning, with only 5 percent satisfied and an overwhelming 86 percent dissatisfied with “Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin” (Dimock & Doherty, 2013, p. 1). Only 28 percent of white people surveyed viewed the case as an important issue about race, whereas 78 percent of black people viewed the case as an important issue about race. The 1999 Gallup poll and the July 2013 PRC study provide examples of differing perspectives on the salience of racial profiling between white and black Americans. These data further indicate the need for greater public awareness and education on the implications and seriousness that racial profiling inflicts on minority populations. As a response, and based on knowledge of structural inequalities that underlie the plight of many minority communities, institutions that espouse social justice should generate public awareness and attention concerning the reality and impact of racialized practices on minority populations. “Racial profiling, workplace discrimination, health disparity, and daily exposure to microaggressions are factors that affect the emotional well-being of [many] African American men” (Aymer, 2012, p. 20). Continued emphasis should be placed on the need to consider a racism-centered perspective as important to addressing the issue of racial profiling with black male clients. A race-centered perspective provides a more in-depth focus on the role that race plays in social inequality and injustice, and “helps explain why people of color have disproportionately experienced injustices” (Schiele, 2014, p. 126). Take for example the DOJ Civil Rights Division report released in March 2015, generated in the aftermath of the killing of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. The report noted that the city of Ferguson disproportionately ticketed and arrested black people and gave them more citations when stopped compared with white people. As stated within the report, “city and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget” (DOJ Civil Rights Division, 2015, p. 10). Furthermore, the report cites that these discriminatory practices created years of racial animosity between the police and the black community. What social workers should know is that given such experiences, many black men are reluctant to engage in intervention with practitioners who cannot identify with their experiences; therefore, they are less likely to engage in clinical intervention (Aymer, 2010). “Stigma, fear, and distrust are additional barriers that prevent Black men from availing themselves of therapeutic services” (Aymer, 2010, p. 20). The social and psychological deprivation that many black men experience based on profiling and other poor interactions with law enforcement breeds a sense of distrust, making the establishment of rapport difficult—particularly in working with clinicians who do not acknowledge their experiences (Pager, Western, & Sugie, 2009). When black male clients feel marginalized, it presents a challenge to clinicians who must understand and be sensitive to their needs. Although no panacea, Aymer (2010) suggested the need for clinicians of the same ethnic background to work with black male clients who have experienced racial profiling. However, a lack of research by the profession in this area leaves most social work practitioners at a disadvantage when working with black male clients who experience racial profiling and other discriminatory practices. As such, Aymer (2012) warned against the assumption that those from the same cultural group will naturally foster an intraracial therapeutic relationship, and called for an examination of the complexities among class, gender, and race as important elements in therapy to consider between a black male client and a black clinician. Implications for clinical practice with black male clients who experience the challenge of racial profiling are important to consider. First, acknowledging that racial profiling is a clear and present occurrence is important, and that those who experience such an occurrence may experience psychological trauma and other complications. As part of the biopsychosocial assessment process, social work practitioners working with black male clients should have a critical perspective that focuses on the intersection among power, unintended racial bias, “the centrality of race and racism and their intersection with other forms of subordination” (Hernández, 2016, p. 170). A basic tenet of CRT is the “insight that racism is normal, not aberrant, in American society” (Hernández, 2016, p. 169). Thus, clinicians working with black male clients must gain a sense of their lived experience in operating in a society where stigma and implicit bias are commonplace. From a CRT perspective, “the problem is that ignoring racial difference can actually exacerbate the effects of implicit racial bias” (Lee, 2014). Therefore, in the clinical setting, acknowledging that the notion of color-blindness is often to the disadvantage of black male clients may garner greater client rapport and cooperation. The use of relationship, a known factor in therapeutic practice with black clients (Whaley, 2001), is enhanced when practitioners acknowledge the lived experience of black male clients. As a way of engaging in social justice work, social work education programs and universities can work with local agencies and organizations within communities that have histories of racial profiling and poor relationships with local law enforcement personnel. A host of projects are now underway. For example, following the Ferguson Police Department Report by the DOJ Civil Rights Division (2015) citing widespread discrimination in policing tactics, the Clock Tower Accords project was conceptualized and launched as a community outreach project by Saint Louis University (SLU). University stakeholders including trustees, administration, faculty, staff and student organizations, local government, and civic organizations all played a part in the planning and development of the project. Several working groups were developed to plan and tackle local community and neighborhood concerns such as community economic empowerment; recruitment and retention of students of color within the university; and the planning of a national conference on race, poverty, and inequality. SLU has invested in the Clock Tower Accords as a method of progressively addressing issues of diversity, inclusion, race, poverty, and community and university relations. In another example—and developing out of the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement—the Race, Equity, Accountability, and Leadership (REAL) project was launched in Austin, Texas, by a group of local social work activists. In September 2016, this group of young social work professionals successfully petitioned the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Texas chapter to form an equity committee. The goal of this committee is to spread training and education to local social work professionals through Undoing Racism workshops, as formed by the People’s Institute of New York City. Currently, REAL is planning Undoing Racism workshops in collaboration with local universities, recruiting social work professionals and others who are committed to undoing racism; in addition, they are coordinating a regional think tank dedicated to this project. Implications for Social Work Research The dearth of research by the social work profession regarding the impact of racial profiling on minorities is further complicated by a lack of theoretical approaches to understanding the plight of young black men who feel a sense of social marginalization (Aymer, 2012). According to Bernard and Ritti (1990), research that is not guided with theory has the potential to be sloppy, may fail to include crucial variables, can be misleading, and can lead to meaningless conclusions. Based on this analysis, social work researchers have to invest their intellectual capital in establishing solid frameworks that facilitate understanding of the plight of young black men, particularly those in urban settings. Because “negative social constructs regarding Black males are ubiquitous to American life” (Love, 2014, p. 294), the development or application of unbiased theoretical approaches, and their refinement through scientific rigor, is of high importance. Black male stigma not only creates a hostile social environment for many black men, it likewise facilitates a hostile conceptual environment that often taints research objectivity (Love, 2014). Outside of past research on black families by social work scholars, the challenge of unpacking and understanding the effects of structural inequalities and their impact on black male development, socialization, and opportunities has received scant attention in recent years by social work scholars (Aymer, 2010, 2012). Greater attention in the form of qualitative and quantitative studies is needed. Given the unique attributes of the black male experience, the development of theoretical approaches in crafting a framework derived from evidence-based findings within social science research literature is a starting point. As an applied practice profession, social work should be at the forefront of research and critical engagement in attempts to better understand the long-standing challenges that many black men experience in society, and how these challenges affect the therapeutic process. Case studies, single-subject designs, mixed methods, and other types of approaches to research methodology using a racism-centered perspective and CRT can facilitate understanding. Each of these designs produces a narrative as part of the analysis. In particular, single-subject designs can be instrumental in building clinical expertise; findings from clinical practice can be studied as a component of professional development and further documented through publications within peer-reviewed journals and other publication outlets. Thus, a central challenge for research and advocacy on the issue of racial profiling is for the social work profession to generate meaningful attention within the practice domain on the increasing concern and the social and economic cost that racial profiling has on black men compared with other groups. There are ongoing examples of approaches to advocacy for ameliorating racial profiling as a practice. For example, in 2015 the Schott Foundation for Public Education produced a 50-state report on the status of public education and the black male population to draw attention to the plight of black men and their educational outcomes. Finally, professional social work organizations such as the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), NASW, the Society for Social Work and Research, the National Association for Deans and Directors, and others should all call for an end to racial profiling and the War on Drugs as a paramount social justice issue. There is enough evidence to support the abandonment of harmful practices such as racial profiling. To illustrate, the DOJ’s (2015),Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department report determined that the practice of racial profiling has resulted in deep distrust between the African American community and local police. “Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans” (DOJ Civil Rights Division, 2015, p. 2). Furthermore, studies demonstrate that racial profiling does not reduce crime (Glaser, 2006); it serves as a form of systematic discrimination, reduces employment opportunities for black men, creates stress among family members, and causes tension and distrust between local law enforcement and African American community residents (Fridell, 2008; Henderson & Lawson, 2011; Jones-Brown, Jaspreet, & Trone, 2010; Pager et al., 2009; Weatherspoon, 2004). Although the practice of racial profiling has been found to be unlawful by state courts, and federal legislation has been introduced to make a national law prohibiting the practice, it continues, and many black men are subject to racial profiling regardless of income, class, or status (Henderson & Lawson, 2011; Jones-Brown et al., 2010). As a social justice issue, it is imperative that the social work profession becomes more involved in facilitating the elimination of black male stigma and racial profiling. One possible vehicle is the use of the Grand Challenges Initiative developed by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. Launched in January 2016, this undertaking entails the development of innovative, groundbreaking initiatives aimed at championing progress on social problems with accompanying social science evidence that the problems can be reduced. Significant progress on projects should be made within an approximate 10-year period. The category of achieving equal opportunity and justice provides an avenue for social work scholars and organizations to use existing evidence-based methods to tackle the problem of racial bias and racial profiling. An example of existing evidence in this area is documented within research findings by the Office of Justice Programs, through the publication of the text Multicultural Law Enforcement: Strategies for Peacekeeping in a Diverse Society (Shusta, Levine, Wong, & Harris, 2002). This book provides information on a host of community policing challenges within multicultural communities. Many of the strategies cited within the text are uniquely suited for the social work knowledge base and skill set. Strategies include responding to community demographic diversity with changes in the ethnic and racial makeup and cultural background of law enforcement agencies; the need for increased numbers of women and homosexual police officers; the need for flexible policing leadership styles; and successfully addressing the challenge of recruitment, retention, and promotion of a diverse community police force. In collaboration with local and state law enforcement, taking on community policing challenges through the design and implementation of grand challenge initiatives and local projects can help reduce associated stigma and bias found in community policing, and the pernicious impact of racial profiling. NASW state and local chapters can be instrumental in partnering with social work programs at research universities and with faith-based organizations within black communities in support of existing efforts and the development of new projects aimed at reducing racial profiling; this should include collaboration with CSWE and its policy advocacy efforts. The social work profession can galvanize social welfare organizations and policymakers in a concerted effort to end the scourge of racial profiling through local and national projects. Conclusion The killing of Trayvon Martin as an unarmed black youth is one of many recent high-profile cases in which questions of social justice are central to the analysis. As stewards of social justice, social workers should be highly concerned about racial profiling and its impacts on the lived experience of minority populations. Yet there is little in the way of scholarship that derives theoretical pursuits addressing the impact of racial profiling for the social work profession. Both practitioners and researchers should be concerned and work to rectify this situation. Black men, especially young black men, experience much of the brunt of the social problems that concern social work professional practice; yet they garner little attention. It will take a sustained effort based on research and practice advocacy to reduce the social injustice, marginalization, and problematic outcomes that this group experiences. Such efforts should include the identification of evidence-based methods and the development of new knowledge facilitated by public policy, clinical practice, client empowerment, and future research. References Abrams, J. A., & Moio, L. S. ( 2009). Critical race theory and the cultural competence dilemma in social work education. Journal of Social Work Education,  45, 245– 259. 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Retrieved from http://www.thenation.com/article/175547/monsterization-trayvon-martin Wilson, W. J. ( 2012). The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy . Chicago: University of Chicago Press. © 2017 National Association of Social Workers http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Social Work Oxford University Press

Trayvon Martin: Racial Profiling, Black Male Stigma, and Social Work Practice

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© 2017 National Association of Social Workers
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Abstract

Abstract To address a critical gap in the social work literature, this article examines the deleterious effects of racial profiling as it pertains to police targeting of male African Americans. The authors use the Trayvon Martin court case to exemplify how racial profiling and black male stigma help perpetuate social inequality and injustice for black men. A racism-centered perspective is examined historically and contemporarily as a theoretical approach to understanding the role that race plays in social injustice through racial profiling. Implications for social work research design and practice aimed at increasing the social work knowledge base on racial profiling are discussed. The authors call for attention and advocacy by major social work organizations in the reduction of black male stigma and racial profiling. The August 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman sent shock waves through America, and once again elevated race and racism as major topics for mass media debates in communities. Trayvon was a 17-year-old black high school student at the time of his shooting. While walking down the street after purchasing a bag of Skittles (candy) and a soft drink from a local convenience store, in a Sanford, Florida, neighborhood, he was pursued by an armed neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman. According to police reports, the decision to follow Martin was based on Zimmerman’s notion that Martin was “up to no good.” As a neighborhood watchman, Zimmerman called the local police who advised him to discontinue his pursuit in following Trayvon Martin. Ignoring the instructions from local police, Zimmerman ended up fatally wounding the unarmed Martin and was charged with first degree murder. His acquittal led to local, state, and national protests and became a tipping point in our national dialogue on the racial profiling of black men. Racial profiling is an act of injustice that uses race as the foundation for shaping perceptions and behaviors associated with defining who is and which groups are designated as “criminal” (Moore, 2015). This definitional system can disadvantage individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups, and has been pervasively applied to stigmatize, stereotype, and target young black men (Weatherspoon, 2004). According to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics, in 2014 black male adolescents ages 18 to 19 “were more than 10 times likely to be in state or federal prison than whites” (Carson, 2015, p. 15). For all age groups, black male individuals are arrested and have the highest rate of imprisonment in state and federal facilities. This rate is 3.8 to 10.5 times more than the rate for white men and 1.4 to 3.1 times more than the rate for Hispanic men (Carson, 2015). Many contend that a primary factor explaining this precipitous incarceration rate, known as hyperincarceration, is the practice of racial profiling (Moore, 2015). Although racial profiling of young black men has received much attention in the criminal justice and criminology literature, little attention has been devoted to the topic in social work literature, which diminishes social work’s ability to address this problem in several ways. First, the lack of focus leaves the social work community without a sufficient knowledge base needed to develop, evaluate, and apply evidence-based interventions to alleviate and eliminate the social problem of racial profiling. Thus, although much is written on the racial profiling of black men, the literature could be significantly enhanced by infusing the distinctive yet diverse frameworks that guide social work practice. Second, the social work profession misses the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate problems within the criminal justice system in relation to black men and their overrepresentation. Explaining and preventing the disproportionate arrest and conviction rates of black men should be a primary thrust of contemporary social work research and practice. Finally, a focus on racial profiling can help social work professionals rely more heavily on a racism-centered perspective of understanding and reducing the social problems experienced by black people, other marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and specifically black men. This article examines the social problem of racially profiling black men by discussing how racial profiling is defined and measured, how it evolved, the rationale that supports it, the role stigmatization plays in perpetuating the problem, and implications for social work practice and research. A prominent theme undergirding this text is that racism continues to be a significant factor that too often stigmatizes black men as inherent criminals. Furthermore, a racism-centered framework and critical race theory (CRT) are used as conceptual lenses for understanding the salience and impact of racial oppression in the lives of black male individuals. Disproportionality in Racial Profiling Racial profiling has received considerable attention in the mass media and in academic research (Archbold, Dahle, Fangman, Wentz, & Wood, 2013). However, there is ambiguity regarding what constitutes racial profiling. A widely accepted definition states that racial profiling is any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual or information that leads the police to a particular individual who has been identified as being, or having been, engaged in criminal activity. (Ramirez, McDevitt, & Farrell, 2000, p. 3) The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (2005) defined racial profiling as the practice of stopping and inspecting people who are passing through public places—such as drivers on public highways, pedestrians, travelers in airports or designated localities such as urban areas—when the reason for the stop is a statistical profile of the detainee’s race or ethnicity. Finally, the DOJ (2003) defined racial profiling as the practice of a law enforcement agent relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, or national origin in selecting which individuals to subject to routine investigatory activities, or in deciding on the scope and substance of law enforcement activity following the initial routine investigatory activity. Much of the research on racial profiling uses traffic stops (driving while black) as the primary measurement of this form of profiling. Aggregate data at both the national and the state level have confirmed the existence and prevalence of racial profiling. At the national level, a 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found strong evidence of the existence of racial profiling during traffic stops. The report uncovered that “police actions taken during a traffic stop were not uniform across racial and ethnic categories” (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007, p. 10). For example, black drivers (4.5 percent) were twice as likely as white drivers (2.1 percent) to be arrested during traffic stops, whereas Hispanic drivers (65 percent) were more likely than white (56.2 percent) or black (55.8 percent) drivers to receive a ticket. In addition, white drivers (9.7 percent) were more likely than Hispanic drivers (5.9 percent) to receive a written warning, and white drivers (18.6 percent) were more likely than black drivers (13.7 percent) to be verbally warned by police. When it came to searching minority motorists after a traffic stop, “Black (9.5%) and Hispanic (8.8%) motorists stopped by police were searched at higher rates than Whites (3.6%)” (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007, p. 10). At the state and local levels, numerous studies have confirmed the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement. A report published by the ACLU (2008) regarding racial profiling in Arizona found that during 2006–2007, the state highway patrol was significantly more likely to stop black and Hispanic people than white people on all highways studied. Similarly, Native Americans and people of Middle Eastern descent were more likely to be stopped than white people on nearly all the highways studied. The Arizona Highway Patrol stopped and searched 8.5 percent of black motorists, and 8.3 percent of Hispanic motorists as compared with 2.5 percent of white motorists. However, “contraband was discovered in 3.3% of African American searches and 13.0% of Hispanic searches, as compared to a higher 14.5% for whites” (ACLU, 2008, p. 7). In West Virginia, a study of traffic stops and searches discovered that black motorists were 1.64 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers. Hispanic drivers were 1.48 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers. After the traffic stop, black and Hispanic drivers were more likely than white drivers to be arrested; yet police in West Virginia obtained a significantly higher contraband hit rate for white drivers than minorities (Haas, Turley, & Sterling, 2009). Similarly, a study in the state of Texas by the ACLU (2004) revealed disproportionate traffic stops and searches of black and Hispanic motorists. A report on the state of Maryland found that those searched on the state’s I-95 highway were 45 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, and 9 percent other ethnicities (ACLU, 1999). Finally, the Council on Crime and Justice (2003) investigating racial profiling in Minnesota found that African American, Hispanic, and Native American drivers were all stopped and searched more often than white drivers, yet contraband was found more frequently in searches of white drivers’ cars. Rationale and Evolution of Racial Profiling The presupposition that black male youths are violent, aloof, and dangerous is all too often part of the socialization process and cultural narrative in America (Bonilla-Silva, 2006). With the advent and enforcement of civil rights legislation, open and overt forms of racism and bigotry are not publicly tolerated and are, in most cases, met with immediate and public condemnation. Suffice to say that now the United States is said to have transformed to a “color-blind society,” where methods of maintaining “privilege” cannot overtly appear racially constructed (Bonilla-Silva, 2006). “Color blindness is associated with the liberal 1970s ideal of learning not to see race or color in an attempt to eliminate personal prejudices and to promote a level playing field” (Abrams & Moio, 2009, p. 250). However, as CRT theorists explain, color-blindness as a form of equality forgoes the salience of racism as an ordinary occurrence in American society. Notions of color-blindness do not account for the long-standing radicalized stigma and discriminatory practices that are all too commonplace for black America. To illustrate, in March 2016, a 22-year-old interview with a top President Nixon advisor, John Ehrlichman, was released in which he confesses that the initialization of the 1970s War on Drugs was a diversion tactic designed to camouflage the administration’s efforts to attack its two perceived enemies: the radical antiwar left and black people (Baum, 2016). Ehrlichman stated the following during his 1994 interview: We [the Nixon administration] knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. . . . Did we know we were lying about drugs? Of course we did. (Baum, 2016) The War on Drugs in the 1970s and 1980s contributed significantly to the proliferation of racial profiling in law enforcement. In the early 1970s to combat the illegal drug trade, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) compiled an informal profile of the “typical drug courier.” The profile was based on behavioral characteristics such as the following: Did the person pay for his ticket with cash, did the person depart from a place considered to be the origin of illegal drugs, and so on (Police Executive Research Forum, 2001). Explicitly, the race or ethnicity of the person had very little significance in the profile. However, in the early 1980s, when the crack cocaine market exploded, skin color alone became a major profile component (Fridell, 2008). As a part of the campaign to combat drugs, the DEA implemented Operation Pipeline. The program required DEA agents to train local and state law enforcement personnel around the country to explicitly use race as a basis for highway stops (Drug Reform Coordination Network, 2003). As a result of the training, black and Hispanic individuals became synonymous with the illegal drug trade and blackness became an indicator of criminality, further nurturing the growing stigmatization of black men. Controversy surrounding racial profiling highlights the role of race and racism in the area of social policy (Moore, 2015). A basic assumption from a racism-centered perspective is that a key function of American social policy development and implementation is social control. The policies and practices that emerge from the underlying assumption of social control are understood as having regulatory intentions and results that aim to monitor and change the behavior of those deemed socially deviant or politically threatening (Schiele, 2014). From this viewpoint, social policies are instruments that enforce the cultural norms and mores of dominant groups among those who demonstrate nonconformity. Applying a racism-centered framework to the examination of racial profiling helps to elucidate the institution of law enforcement as a primary avenue through which white racial hegemony is sustained as a form of social control within the United States (Neubeck & Cazenave, 2001). Critical to an understanding of this perspective is the idea that racial regulation is an important focus and thrust of American social policy (Moore, 2015; Schiele, 2014). From this perspective, black male youths are deemed socially deviant and politically threatening and that, if left unchecked, their potential empowerment could upset the stability of the predominantly white power structure in the United States (Blackmon, 2008). Neubeck and Cazenave (2001) contended that when the state becomes racialized it likewise becomes the “political arm of White racial hegemony” (p. 23). From this lens, the state is assumed to protect and promote the political, economic, and cultural interests of white people relative to other racial and ethnic groups. A racism-centered perspective supports the tenets of CRT, which maintains that social and political relations in the United States are augmented by historic and endemic racism. As Abrams and Moio (2009) opined, “Because racism is ordinary and embedded, its structural functions and effect on our ways of thinking are often invisible, particularly to people holding racial privilege” (p. 253). In turn, this “invisibility” “maintains racism.” In reference to racial profiling and the notions of legal justice, in general, proponents of CRT assert that “analysis of the law cannot be neutral and objective and stresses that recognition of and voices from standpoint and race consciousness are essential to radical racial reform” (Abrams & Moio, 2009, p. 250). Black Male Stigma Stigmatization has played a major role in the racial profiling of black men. The stigmatization of black men in America as violent and dangerous, indolent, nonachieving, and criminal has created a context in which many black men, particularly those of low-income status, are viewed as suspicious in a variety of social encounters (Bonilla-Silva, 2006; Wilson, 2012). As a form of social identity, stigma is socially constructed and has been referred to as a virtual social identity whereby one is viewed as deviant, flawed, and having an attribute that deeply discredits the individual. As such, individuals must overcome these attributes to be socially accepted. Black male stigma is a product of implicit racial bias, which is the act of consciously rejecting discrimination and stereotypes while holding unconscious negative associations about other people (Lee, 2014). Given the narrative of color-blindness, many people do not see their views about race as discriminatory or as erroneous assumptions (Bonilla-Silva, 2006; Lee, 2014). To support negative assumptions about black men, people often form opinions based on their ongoing negative portrayal in the American media, where young black men are a target of fear, anger, stereotyping, misunderstanding, and rejection (Losen, 2011; Oliver, 2003). Implicit racial bias related to black male stigma is further promoted by the selective boosting of a host of social science statistics as evidence of black indolence—particularly those surrounding family structure (Abrams & Moio, 2009). However, the general catalyst producing the plight of many urban black communities today started in the 1970s with deindustrialization, white flight, geographic redlining, and divestment in urban communities; this created structural inequalities and the resulting high unemployment and underemployment for black men that continues today (Lipsitz, 2011; Wilson, 2012). Over 50 percent of black male individuals of working age are unemployed in urban dwellings, and over 50 percent of black adolescents are unemployed; many more attend failing public schools that have become part of the school-to-prison pipeline (Losen, 2011). At present, the socialization experience of far too many black male youths is fraught with pervasive poverty and a poor educational experience, leading to reduced opportunities and life in the bottom tier of the socioeconomic ladder (Lipsitz, 2011; Losen, 2011; Wilson, 2012). The clear and present danger of black male stigmatization in America is its day-to-day functioning as an ingrained narrative in the psyche of America (Akbar, 1996). Black male stigma was well at play in the Trayvon Martin narrative, as witnessed by the characterization of Martin by the legal defense team during the trail (Lee, 2014). The presuppositions were set long before his encounter with George Zimmerman. Suspiciously pursued and armed with the sidewalk (a piece of concrete was literally brought into the courtroom by the defense attorney during the trial), Martin was transformed by the embodiment of black male stigma—based on his very existence—from the extended rights of his American citizenship, in simply walking down the street, to a hood-wearing attacker who lashed out and assaulted citizen George Zimmerman. According to the narrative, Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground with a concealed weapon and the legal right to probe, even after a request by law enforcement to discontinue his pursuit of Martin. At the outset of the trial, race was disavowed as the judge declared that “she intended to run a colorblind trial and did not want either side to call attention to race” (Lee, 2014, p. 9). Consequently, in playing fast and loose with a myriad of negative stereotypes, a local jury, and a national audience, the defense attorney depicted the 17-year-old 158-pound Trayvon Martin as “a violent gangbanger” on the attack, while casting the 200-pound Zimmerman simultaneously as “both victim and protector of the unruly street” (Williams, 2013, p. 21). Clearly, the rub on injustice is not only the not-guilty verdict rendered in the George Zimmerman trial, but the fact that Trayvon Martin was at once classified as a criminal by default, even as he was the victim of unnecessary and lethal violence. According to legal scholar and activist Patricia Williams, the attempt was to “resurrect” Trayvon Martin during the trial “as the active principal in his own death” (Williams, 2013, p. 18). Implications for Social Work Practice Any approach to social work practice with black families experiencing racial profiling must consist of an awareness of the general differences in perceptions between white Americans and black Americans on the very notion of profiling based on race. For example, a 1999 national Gallup poll revealed that 42 percent of black Americans as compared with 6 percent of European Americans “reported having been stopped by police on the basis of skin color” (Glaser, 2006, p. 396). The Zimmerman verdict of not guilty produced similar results. A July 2013 study by the Pew Research Center (PRC) revealed a nearly even 39 percent satisfied and 42 percent dissatisfied opinion on the verdict by white Americans. However, black Americans significantly differed in their reaction to the case and its meaning, with only 5 percent satisfied and an overwhelming 86 percent dissatisfied with “Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin” (Dimock & Doherty, 2013, p. 1). Only 28 percent of white people surveyed viewed the case as an important issue about race, whereas 78 percent of black people viewed the case as an important issue about race. The 1999 Gallup poll and the July 2013 PRC study provide examples of differing perspectives on the salience of racial profiling between white and black Americans. These data further indicate the need for greater public awareness and education on the implications and seriousness that racial profiling inflicts on minority populations. As a response, and based on knowledge of structural inequalities that underlie the plight of many minority communities, institutions that espouse social justice should generate public awareness and attention concerning the reality and impact of racialized practices on minority populations. “Racial profiling, workplace discrimination, health disparity, and daily exposure to microaggressions are factors that affect the emotional well-being of [many] African American men” (Aymer, 2012, p. 20). Continued emphasis should be placed on the need to consider a racism-centered perspective as important to addressing the issue of racial profiling with black male clients. A race-centered perspective provides a more in-depth focus on the role that race plays in social inequality and injustice, and “helps explain why people of color have disproportionately experienced injustices” (Schiele, 2014, p. 126). Take for example the DOJ Civil Rights Division report released in March 2015, generated in the aftermath of the killing of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. The report noted that the city of Ferguson disproportionately ticketed and arrested black people and gave them more citations when stopped compared with white people. As stated within the report, “city and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget” (DOJ Civil Rights Division, 2015, p. 10). Furthermore, the report cites that these discriminatory practices created years of racial animosity between the police and the black community. What social workers should know is that given such experiences, many black men are reluctant to engage in intervention with practitioners who cannot identify with their experiences; therefore, they are less likely to engage in clinical intervention (Aymer, 2010). “Stigma, fear, and distrust are additional barriers that prevent Black men from availing themselves of therapeutic services” (Aymer, 2010, p. 20). The social and psychological deprivation that many black men experience based on profiling and other poor interactions with law enforcement breeds a sense of distrust, making the establishment of rapport difficult—particularly in working with clinicians who do not acknowledge their experiences (Pager, Western, & Sugie, 2009). When black male clients feel marginalized, it presents a challenge to clinicians who must understand and be sensitive to their needs. Although no panacea, Aymer (2010) suggested the need for clinicians of the same ethnic background to work with black male clients who have experienced racial profiling. However, a lack of research by the profession in this area leaves most social work practitioners at a disadvantage when working with black male clients who experience racial profiling and other discriminatory practices. As such, Aymer (2012) warned against the assumption that those from the same cultural group will naturally foster an intraracial therapeutic relationship, and called for an examination of the complexities among class, gender, and race as important elements in therapy to consider between a black male client and a black clinician. Implications for clinical practice with black male clients who experience the challenge of racial profiling are important to consider. First, acknowledging that racial profiling is a clear and present occurrence is important, and that those who experience such an occurrence may experience psychological trauma and other complications. As part of the biopsychosocial assessment process, social work practitioners working with black male clients should have a critical perspective that focuses on the intersection among power, unintended racial bias, “the centrality of race and racism and their intersection with other forms of subordination” (Hernández, 2016, p. 170). A basic tenet of CRT is the “insight that racism is normal, not aberrant, in American society” (Hernández, 2016, p. 169). Thus, clinicians working with black male clients must gain a sense of their lived experience in operating in a society where stigma and implicit bias are commonplace. From a CRT perspective, “the problem is that ignoring racial difference can actually exacerbate the effects of implicit racial bias” (Lee, 2014). Therefore, in the clinical setting, acknowledging that the notion of color-blindness is often to the disadvantage of black male clients may garner greater client rapport and cooperation. The use of relationship, a known factor in therapeutic practice with black clients (Whaley, 2001), is enhanced when practitioners acknowledge the lived experience of black male clients. As a way of engaging in social justice work, social work education programs and universities can work with local agencies and organizations within communities that have histories of racial profiling and poor relationships with local law enforcement personnel. A host of projects are now underway. For example, following the Ferguson Police Department Report by the DOJ Civil Rights Division (2015) citing widespread discrimination in policing tactics, the Clock Tower Accords project was conceptualized and launched as a community outreach project by Saint Louis University (SLU). University stakeholders including trustees, administration, faculty, staff and student organizations, local government, and civic organizations all played a part in the planning and development of the project. Several working groups were developed to plan and tackle local community and neighborhood concerns such as community economic empowerment; recruitment and retention of students of color within the university; and the planning of a national conference on race, poverty, and inequality. SLU has invested in the Clock Tower Accords as a method of progressively addressing issues of diversity, inclusion, race, poverty, and community and university relations. In another example—and developing out of the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement—the Race, Equity, Accountability, and Leadership (REAL) project was launched in Austin, Texas, by a group of local social work activists. In September 2016, this group of young social work professionals successfully petitioned the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Texas chapter to form an equity committee. The goal of this committee is to spread training and education to local social work professionals through Undoing Racism workshops, as formed by the People’s Institute of New York City. Currently, REAL is planning Undoing Racism workshops in collaboration with local universities, recruiting social work professionals and others who are committed to undoing racism; in addition, they are coordinating a regional think tank dedicated to this project. Implications for Social Work Research The dearth of research by the social work profession regarding the impact of racial profiling on minorities is further complicated by a lack of theoretical approaches to understanding the plight of young black men who feel a sense of social marginalization (Aymer, 2012). According to Bernard and Ritti (1990), research that is not guided with theory has the potential to be sloppy, may fail to include crucial variables, can be misleading, and can lead to meaningless conclusions. Based on this analysis, social work researchers have to invest their intellectual capital in establishing solid frameworks that facilitate understanding of the plight of young black men, particularly those in urban settings. Because “negative social constructs regarding Black males are ubiquitous to American life” (Love, 2014, p. 294), the development or application of unbiased theoretical approaches, and their refinement through scientific rigor, is of high importance. Black male stigma not only creates a hostile social environment for many black men, it likewise facilitates a hostile conceptual environment that often taints research objectivity (Love, 2014). Outside of past research on black families by social work scholars, the challenge of unpacking and understanding the effects of structural inequalities and their impact on black male development, socialization, and opportunities has received scant attention in recent years by social work scholars (Aymer, 2010, 2012). Greater attention in the form of qualitative and quantitative studies is needed. Given the unique attributes of the black male experience, the development of theoretical approaches in crafting a framework derived from evidence-based findings within social science research literature is a starting point. As an applied practice profession, social work should be at the forefront of research and critical engagement in attempts to better understand the long-standing challenges that many black men experience in society, and how these challenges affect the therapeutic process. Case studies, single-subject designs, mixed methods, and other types of approaches to research methodology using a racism-centered perspective and CRT can facilitate understanding. Each of these designs produces a narrative as part of the analysis. In particular, single-subject designs can be instrumental in building clinical expertise; findings from clinical practice can be studied as a component of professional development and further documented through publications within peer-reviewed journals and other publication outlets. Thus, a central challenge for research and advocacy on the issue of racial profiling is for the social work profession to generate meaningful attention within the practice domain on the increasing concern and the social and economic cost that racial profiling has on black men compared with other groups. There are ongoing examples of approaches to advocacy for ameliorating racial profiling as a practice. For example, in 2015 the Schott Foundation for Public Education produced a 50-state report on the status of public education and the black male population to draw attention to the plight of black men and their educational outcomes. Finally, professional social work organizations such as the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), NASW, the Society for Social Work and Research, the National Association for Deans and Directors, and others should all call for an end to racial profiling and the War on Drugs as a paramount social justice issue. There is enough evidence to support the abandonment of harmful practices such as racial profiling. To illustrate, the DOJ’s (2015),Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department report determined that the practice of racial profiling has resulted in deep distrust between the African American community and local police. “Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans” (DOJ Civil Rights Division, 2015, p. 2). Furthermore, studies demonstrate that racial profiling does not reduce crime (Glaser, 2006); it serves as a form of systematic discrimination, reduces employment opportunities for black men, creates stress among family members, and causes tension and distrust between local law enforcement and African American community residents (Fridell, 2008; Henderson & Lawson, 2011; Jones-Brown, Jaspreet, & Trone, 2010; Pager et al., 2009; Weatherspoon, 2004). Although the practice of racial profiling has been found to be unlawful by state courts, and federal legislation has been introduced to make a national law prohibiting the practice, it continues, and many black men are subject to racial profiling regardless of income, class, or status (Henderson & Lawson, 2011; Jones-Brown et al., 2010). As a social justice issue, it is imperative that the social work profession becomes more involved in facilitating the elimination of black male stigma and racial profiling. One possible vehicle is the use of the Grand Challenges Initiative developed by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. Launched in January 2016, this undertaking entails the development of innovative, groundbreaking initiatives aimed at championing progress on social problems with accompanying social science evidence that the problems can be reduced. Significant progress on projects should be made within an approximate 10-year period. The category of achieving equal opportunity and justice provides an avenue for social work scholars and organizations to use existing evidence-based methods to tackle the problem of racial bias and racial profiling. An example of existing evidence in this area is documented within research findings by the Office of Justice Programs, through the publication of the text Multicultural Law Enforcement: Strategies for Peacekeeping in a Diverse Society (Shusta, Levine, Wong, & Harris, 2002). This book provides information on a host of community policing challenges within multicultural communities. Many of the strategies cited within the text are uniquely suited for the social work knowledge base and skill set. Strategies include responding to community demographic diversity with changes in the ethnic and racial makeup and cultural background of law enforcement agencies; the need for increased numbers of women and homosexual police officers; the need for flexible policing leadership styles; and successfully addressing the challenge of recruitment, retention, and promotion of a diverse community police force. In collaboration with local and state law enforcement, taking on community policing challenges through the design and implementation of grand challenge initiatives and local projects can help reduce associated stigma and bias found in community policing, and the pernicious impact of racial profiling. NASW state and local chapters can be instrumental in partnering with social work programs at research universities and with faith-based organizations within black communities in support of existing efforts and the development of new projects aimed at reducing racial profiling; this should include collaboration with CSWE and its policy advocacy efforts. The social work profession can galvanize social welfare organizations and policymakers in a concerted effort to end the scourge of racial profiling through local and national projects. Conclusion The killing of Trayvon Martin as an unarmed black youth is one of many recent high-profile cases in which questions of social justice are central to the analysis. As stewards of social justice, social workers should be highly concerned about racial profiling and its impacts on the lived experience of minority populations. Yet there is little in the way of scholarship that derives theoretical pursuits addressing the impact of racial profiling for the social work profession. Both practitioners and researchers should be concerned and work to rectify this situation. Black men, especially young black men, experience much of the brunt of the social problems that concern social work professional practice; yet they garner little attention. It will take a sustained effort based on research and practice advocacy to reduce the social injustice, marginalization, and problematic outcomes that this group experiences. Such efforts should include the identification of evidence-based methods and the development of new knowledge facilitated by public policy, clinical practice, client empowerment, and future research. References Abrams, J. A., & Moio, L. S. ( 2009). Critical race theory and the cultural competence dilemma in social work education. Journal of Social Work Education,  45, 245– 259. 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Social WorkOxford University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2018

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