The Black Wall of Silence?: Examining the Attitudes and Experiences of African-American Police Officers

Sandra Bass, University of Maryland at College Park

One of the enduring and perennial characterstics of police organizations is the closed and clannish nature of the police culture -- what is often colloquially referred to as the "Blue Wall of Silence". There has been a great deal of research on the experiences, attitudes, and beliefs of police officers more generally, however, there has been virtually no research on African-American officers specifically. Is the lived experience of African-American officers qualitatively different than that of white officers? Do black officers hold different attitudes and beliefs than white offiers? To what extend do attitudes, beliefs, and experiences affect the behavioral choices black officers make? Do black officers believe their voices are silenced in an effort to retain the impression of a united and uniform police experience? This paper will begin with a brief overview of the history of blacks in policing, and will argue that discrimination against black police officers within police organizations has deep historical roots in the U.S. The, drawing on qualitatibe data sources, the discussion will turn to examining the lived experiences of African American officers and assess the interaction between attitudes, beliefs, experiences and behavior.

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Updated 05/20/2006