Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal


Cynthia Lee


While widespread consensus exists that racial minorities are disproportionately represented as victims of police shootings, the reason for this disproportion is hotly disputed. This paper argues that in claimed self-defense cases, race norms or racial stereotypes often operate at a subconscious level to alter police officers' perceptions of threat and corresponding decisions to use deadly force. Nevertheless, society can help encourage police officers to overcome the inevitable influence of racial stereotypes on their decisions to use deadly force in the field. Internally, police departments can work on at least three fronts to control the use of force: recruitment, training, and discipline. External mechanisms of control include criminal prosecution at the federal and state levels, civil lawsuits, civilian review, and federal pattern and practice investigations. Additionally, many jurisdictions have adopted community policing, increasing the level of community involvement in directing police resources and the interaction between officers and community residents. Lee suggests an additional remedy (in the form of a race-switching jury instruction) for cases that make their way into the criminal courtroom. When a police officer has used deadly force against a victim of color, the judge can give a jury instruction that encourages jurors to think about whether they would feel the use of force was justifiable if the victim were white.

Included in

Law and Race Commons