November 5, 2021

Ethnic Violence


  • Race and Policing
  • Forms of discrimination
  • Evidence of discrimination

Race and Policing

Race and Policing in the US

Historically and today…

  • racial bias has shaped criminal code
  • concerns about bias in who is policed, how they are policed, consequences of police encounters.

In recent years, focus has been on police shootings.

Race and Policing in the US

Race and Policing in the US

  • How would you characterize the pattern of violence?

  • Is police violence ethnic violence?
    • Does motive matter?
    • Was police violence ethnic even before BLM framed it as such?

A hot take

What do you take this point to be?

Racial Bias

statistical discrimination:

inequality that exists between demographic groups even though economic agents (consumers, workers, employers, etc.) are rational and non-prejudiced.

  • Discrimination can be “rational” if individual attributes are hard to observe (e.g. propensity toward crime) while group membership is observable and different groups have different behaviors on average.
  • Discrimination is “rational” if relevant considerations (threat, criminal activity) objectively correlate with group membership

Racial Bias

taste-based discrimination:

inequality that exists in treatment demographic groups due to some gain/utility that agents gain by discriminating.

  • racial hatred, SIT/in-group preference leads people to value discrimination

Fryer (2019)

Fryer (2019)


  • Incidents involving police where suspect was subject to lethal use of force or arrested (could have been shot) from Houston PD
  • Details on race of suspect, suspect behavior, context, and officer attributes from police reports


Comparing police-suspect interactions with similar suspect behavior, context, officer attributes:

Police less likely to use lethal force against black suspects vs. whites.

Two questions

  1. If police violence follows a pattern of statistical discrimination, does that mean it is not racial violence? (if Mr. Johnson is correct, if Fryer’s estimates are correct\(^*\))

Ethnic Violence

Another perspective on ethnic violence is to ask:

How does violence relate to ethnic boundaries?

  1. Violence that transforms ethnic boundaries:
    • altering status, access to resources/power, along ethnic categories
  2. Violence that defends/polices ethnic boundaries:
    • violence that punishes or deters transgressions/changes of an ethnic boundary
  3. Violence that is constitutive of an ethnic boundary:
    • routine violence that disproportionately targets/affects members of specific ethnic categories

Two questions:

  1. If police violence follows a pattern of statistical discrimination, does that mean it is not racial violence?

  2. Are these estimates of racial bias in police violence even right?

  • serious problems underestimating racial disparities in violence.

Knox et al

If we compare racial discrimination in police use of force among those who have been stopped by the police we are almost certainly going to underrepresent racial disparities:


  1. Think about possible kinds of police stops by race (board)
  2. These types of stops are likely to be different (always-stops likely reflect more serious threats; black-only-stops less serious threats)
  3. If those differences are hard to measure, we undercount racial bias.

Knox et al


  1. Police discrimination likely worse than it appears

  2. Even if this was statistical discrimination (doesn’t look like it), likely should be seen as ethnic violence

  3. But useful to distinguish most police shootings from boundary-changing/boundary-policing violence.