Race, Racism, and Police Use of Force in 21st Century Criminology: An Empirical Examination


Race scholars have voiced concerns about the field of criminology and how it examines issues pertaining to race, racism, and racial difference. Various critiques have been made, from the field’s overly positivist approach that privileges “white logics” that obscure the nuance of race relations to methodological critiques on how the field understands the significance of race in its models. While scholars have repeated these concerns over the years in a manner that is largely based on their intuitions and experiences, there is little systematic understanding of how criminologists have treated race in their recent scholarship. Moreover, as the public continues to seek more information on how race shapes and impacts the use of force by law enforcement, questions about the scholarly treatment of race and racism within criminology have become more urgent.

This Article provides an initial assessment of how the field of criminology has approached issues regarding race and racism in relation to police use of force by conducting an empirical examination of publications in top criminology journals over the past two decades. We find that this research has largely failed to seriously engage or explore how race and racism shape the use of force by police and the impact this violence has on particular communities. These findings, along with existing critiques of the field, give rise to significant questions regarding the relevance and utility of contemporary criminological research in understanding modern policing and its human toll.

About the Author

Osagie K. Obasogie is the Haas Distinguished Chair and Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (joint appointment with the Joint Medical Program and School of Public Health). Peyton Provenzano is a J.D./Ph.D. Student at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.