Looking for the Driving While Black Phenomena: Conceptualizing Racial Bias Processes and Their Associated Distributions

Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, North Carolina State University

This paper establishes four central racially biased mechanisms which might produce the Driving While Black phenomena. Two of the mechanisms are about the decision making of individual officers. On the one hand some officers, mostly majority one would assume, may be racially prejudiced and so consciously target minority drivers. It may also be the case that many officers, both majority and minority, have access to cultural stereotypes and their associated cognitive biases and that this produces a diffuse tendency to stop minorities at higher rates than majority drivers. There are two organizational mechanisms as well. Racial profiling, the practice of stopping individuals because they "fit" the profile will produce racial bias in stops at very high rates among both majority and minority officers. This is an example of institutional racism. Finally, if the police are deployed more heavily in minority communities this will also produce racial bias in outcomes, although it need not reflect any bias in officer or organizational intent. A major contribution of this paper is to produce descriptions of the expected distributions across officers if these four processes are at work. A distribution of the joint occurance of cognitive bias and bad apples is also presented, since this seems a highly likely combination.

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Updated 05/20/2006