Bystanders' Perceptions of Police-Civilian Conflict


Nearly every human being automatically notices and remembers the race of each individual they encounter (Cosmides et al., 2003). Not only is race something that humans are often very attentive to, but it is also something that can affect perceptions of conflict, particularly between police and civilians (Weitzer & Tuch, 1999). Yet, very little research has been done specifically on bystanders’ perceptions of nonviolent conflicts with regard to race. The current study intended to partially fill the gap in the current literature by exploring bystanders’ perceptions of police-civilian nonviolent conflict. Specifically, how does the race of the police officer and race of the civilian impact bystanders’ perceptions of the conflict? In this study, race of the police officer and civilian were manipulated by giving participants slightly different variations of vignettes. The storyline of the vignettes was the same; the only difference between vignettes were the races (Black, White or race not mentioned) of the parties involved. We hypothesized that both changing the race of the police officer and changing the race of the civilian involved in the conflict would affect bystanders’ perceptions of the conflict; however, it is unclear how bystanders’ perceptions may change, based on some discrepancies in current literature (Orbe & Warren, 2000; Weitzer, 1999). We found that participants tended to rate conflicts involving a Black police officer as being more the civilian’s fault, as compared to when the police officer was either White or of unmentioned race, which provides important novel information as to how race can affect perceptions of conflict.