Policing and Communities of Color: a Multilevel Intersectional Examination of Police Fatal Force Encounters



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Police brutality is a multifaceted issue, and it has to be understood at multiple levels. The murder of George Floyd has re-fueled conversations surrounding police brutality and the death of unarmed Black men. However, little attention has been shown to how Black women are also disproportionately subject to police violence, in addition to the neighborhood- and agency-level factors that also facilitate police brutality as a whole. My dissertation contributes to the scholarly discussion on police brutality by answering the following questions: how do individual characteristics, neighborhood-level factors, and between policy agency factors shape lethal police force encounters? Building on intersectional theories, I examine the differential likelihood of experiencing a lethal encounter with police for Black and Latinx women and men relative to white women and men, and situate those experiences in neighborhoods and in the local police agencies in which law enforcement officers operate. This study utilized multivariate regression modeling for male (N = 6,428) and female (N = 400) fatal victims separately to examine how individual characteristics of alleged perpetrators, the neighborhood in which they live, and the formal organization in which the police serve shape the likelihood of lethal police force encounters with people of color. Data were drawn from the Mapping Police Violence dataset (2013-2018), the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year sample, and the 2013 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS). The results indicated that individual characteristics, neighborhood-level factors, and between-agency factors all impact the likelihood of lethal police encounters with people of color relative to whites. Of these factors, the majority of the explanation for both male and female fatalities was accounted for by neighborhood-level factors in the multivariate analysis. To triangulate these results, a six-city case study was also performed, further examining cities in the top quartile of police killings: Baltimore, Maryland; San Antonio, Texas; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Houston, Texas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Bakersfield. California. The case study further explored neighborhood-level and agency factors, emphasizing the negative impact of neighborhood disadvantage and segregation, while also demonstrating a culture of unaccountability and lack of transparency among the agencies in each of the six cities. Therefore, this dissertation demonstrates that understandings of police brutality need to move beyond a unilateral conceptualization to one that is both intersectional and multi-layered to effectively address this complex and concerning social issue.