Protecting Whiteness: White Phenotypic Racial Stereotypicality Reduces Police Use of Force

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Social Psychological and Personality Science

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Focusing on intergroup anti-non-White bias in the criminal justice system, little attention is given to how Whites may additionally be protected from negative police treatment. This study examines intragroup bias via perceived suspect phenotypic racial stereotypicality (e.g., how strongly members possess physical features typical of their racial group) on severity of police use of force. It is hypothesized that the Whiter one appears, the more the suspect will be protected from police force. Internal use of force case files from a large police department were coded for severity of police force, and suspects’ booking photographs were scored for phenotypic racial stereotypicality. Regression analyses confirmed that police used less force with highly stereotypical Whites, and this protective effect was stronger than the effect for non-Whites. Results suggest that intragroup bias is a protective factor for Whites, but not for non-Whites, providing an additional route through which racial disparities in policing operate.



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