Seeing Blue in Black and White: Race and Perceptions of Officer-Involved Shootings
By Hakeem Jefferson, Stanford University, Fabian G. Neuner, Arizona State University and Josh Pasek, University of Michigan
Following racially charged events, individuals often diverge in perceptions of what happened and how justice should be served. Examining data gathered shortly after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri alongside reactions to a novel officer-involved shooting, we unpack the processes by which racial divisions emerge. Even in a controlled information environment, white Americans preferred information that supported claims of a justified shooting. Conversely, Black Americans preferred information that implied that the officer behaved inappropriately. These differences stemmed from two distinct processes: we find some evidence for a form of race-based motivated reasoning and strong evidence for belief updating based on racially distinct priors. Differences in summary judgments were larger when individuals identified strongly with their racial group or when expectations about the typical behaviors of Black Americans and police diverged. The findings elucidate processes whereby individuals in different social groups come to accept differing narratives about contentious events.