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Exploring Minority Youths’ Police Encounters: A Qualitative Interpretive Meta-synthesis

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Abstract

Recent deaths by police of unarmed minority youth have raised important questions about the nature and outcomes of involuntary minority youth-police encounters. Youth are the most surveilled group of Americans and minority youth frequently live in neighborhoods disproportionately targeted for proactive policing (i.e., using broad police discretion to “target” those most likely to be engaged in criminal activity before criminal acts become apparent). Understanding the experiences of minority youth who encounter police officers is of critical concern for social workers in many practice and research areas. Social workers must examine how a minority person’s perceptions are formed through repeated, frequent, involuntary encounters with the police. The purpose of this qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis was to capture these experiences through the voices of minority youth in recounting their contacts with the police. Four themes were identified: dangerous, controlling, prejudiced, and ineffective. Further reduction of these themes resulted in an overarching theme that captures the essences of these youth’s experiences: dehumanization. These results enhance understanding of minority youth experience with police officers and, thus, inform social work advocacy efforts around this issue in both practice and research arenas.

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Notes

  1. 1982 marked the publication of the “broken windows” theory (Kelling & Wilson, 1982) which led to changes in policing including stop-and-frisks in New York City and beyond; Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, and by the end of the 1980s the deliberate militarization of the police was underway (Balko, 2006).

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Nordberg, A., Crawford, M.R., Praetorius, R.T. et al. Exploring Minority Youths’ Police Encounters: A Qualitative Interpretive Meta-synthesis. Child Adolesc Soc Work J 33, 137–149 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10560-015-0415-3

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