Black Police Officers in the South Still Face Racism, Researcher Says
A “blue curtain” has descended within police departments in the South, bringing to a standstill the progress made by Black officers, University of Florida research has found.
The gains of the 1970s and ’80s, when large numbers of Southern law enforcement agencies were desegregated, has been replaced by work environments in which Black officers are often treated unfairly in promotions, salaries, discipline and training, and are frequently subject to racist jokes from White co-workers, said Dr. Joe Feagin, a UF graduate research professor in sociology.
Traditionally, police officers have created within their departments strong informal groups with a distinctive police subculture, known as the “blue curtain,” said Feagin, co-author of a new book detailing the findings.
But Black officers in the study often reported being isolated by White officers whose “old boy networks” have become operating centers for racism, he said.
“Racial discrimination is a routine, recurring and everyday reality for Black police officers,” he said. “Many lament how White officers continually underestimate their abilities, treating them as less intelligent and less able to perform their policing duties.”
The book, Black in Blue: African-American Police Officers and Racism, published last month by Routledge, is based on personal interviews with 50 Black officers — 38 men and 12 women — in 16 law enforcement agencies in the South, from Texas to Virginia, at city, county and federal levels.
It is an outgrowth of doctoral research Feagin supervised that was done by Kenneth Bolton Jr., the book’s co-author and now a criminal studies professor at Southeastern Louisiana University.
Bolton contacted the Afro-American Police League and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, two national associations, for help in generating a list of officers who wished to participate in the interviews, which were conducted in the late 1990s and lasted 60 to 90 minutes each.
Although a few studies of Black police officers have been done in large northern cities, including New York and Detroit, none have focused on the South, which historically has been a major center of racial conflict, Feagin said.
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