Wednesday, August 10, 2016
This Article offers a theoretical model that explains the persistence of what I will call “blue-on-black violence.” Six features comprise the model: (1) A variety of social forces converge to make African-Americans vulnerable to ongoing police surveillance and contact. (2) The frequency of this surveillance and contact exposes African-Americans to the possibility of police violence. (3) Police culture and training encourage that violence (mostly implicitly). (4) When violence occurs, a range of legal actors in the civil and criminal process translate that violence into justifiable force. (5) The doctrine of qualified immunity makes it difficult for plaintiffs to win cases against police officers, and when plaintiffs win such cases, police officers rarely suffer financial consequences because their local government indemnifies them. (6) The conversion of violence into justifiable force, the qualified immunity barrier to suing police officers, and the frequency with which cities and municipalities indemnify police officers reduce the risk of legal sanction police officers assume when they employ excessive force. This reduction in the risk of legal liability diminishes the incentive for police officers to exercise care with respect to when and how they deploy violent force. Although the foregoing factors are not exhaustive of the causes of police violence against African-Americans, they suggest that the problem is structural and transcends the conduct of particular officers engaging in particular acts of violence against particular African-Americans.