Political Behavior, Vol. 26, No. 1, March 2004 ( 2004)
BLACK CITIES/WHITE CITIES:
Evaluating the Police
Susan E. Howell, Huey L. Perry, and Matthew Vile
It is well known that African Americans and whites hold different views of the police,
but nearly all of the previous research has been conducted in majority white settings.
This research examines the relationship between race and evaluations of the police in
majority black versus majority white contexts. Social dominance theory and the re-
search on racial threat predict that when the racial majority changes, the relationship
between race and attitudes toward police will change. We find that, in majority black
contexts, the traditional relationship between being black and having negative evalua-
tions of the police disappears, and it disappears because whites’ evaluations of the
police become more negative. Black evaluations of the police are relatively consistent
across racial contexts. Also, white racial attitudes affect police evaluations in majority
black contexts, but not in white contexts, while African American racial attitudes are
inconsequential in both contexts. Furthermore, if a white citizen is victimized by crime
in a black city, it has greater ramifications for evaluations of the police than if the
victimization had occurred in a white city. All of this suggests that whites’ views of the
police may be more racialized than the views of African Americans.
Key words: attitudes toward police; race and police; racial context.
It is well known that African Americans and whites hold different views of
the police. The underpinnings of these differences are both historical and
current, having their basis in both the role of the police in maintaining social
order and the position of African Americans as a minority group. Historically,
the relationship between blacks and the police has been problematic, fluctuating
from being mildly strained to openly confrontational. For more than half of the
twentieth century, the police enforced Jim Crow laws in the South, and they
did so in ways that ranged from being simply disrespectful of blacks to being
Susan E. Howell, Professor of Political Science, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA
70148 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Huey L. Perry, Chancellor’s Professor of Political Science, Southern
University, Baton Rouge, LA. (email@example.com). Matthew Vile, Senior Research Analyst,
Goodwill International, Inc. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
0190-9320/04/0300-0045/0 2004 Plenum Publishing Corporation