Recent deadly police incidents have marked a significant social and legal issue in the American law-enforcement system. In particular, the occurrences of police shootings of unarmed Black men have become more frequent, which has triggered public concerns related to race-based bias of the police workers. While diverse populations become victims of police shootings of unarmed individuals, the representatives of the African-American community are exposed to this risk disproportionately frequently. Such incidents raise racial controversies and ignite public improvement of racism in the policing system., which justifies the relevance and urgency of the researched issue.
Indeed, the statistical data on the number of people shot by the police reported by the Statista Research Department demonstrates the racial bias in the affected population. In particular, “the rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans was much higher than that for any other ethnicity, standing at 40 fatal shootings per million of the population as of August 2022” (“Number of people shot to death by the police,” 2022, para. 1). A recently reported incident with the killing of a 20-year-old Black man by a police officer illustrates the persistence of the issue (Musa et al., 2022). This paper is designed to explain the behavior of the police officer responsible for the deadly event within the context of critical race theory, implying that the cause of racial bias is inherent in institutional racism.
Facts of the Case
The deadly policy incident case selected for this analysis is a recent event in Columbus, Ohio. On August 30, 2022, a police officer named Ricky Anderson shot dead a 20-year-old Black man named Donovan Lewis (Musa et al., 2022). The police were serving a felony warrant on Lewis, which is why they were trying to enter his apartment at 2:00 am (Musa et al., 2022). After knocking on the doors of the apartment where Lewis lived, the police were let into the apartment and detained the two male occupants inside. After that, the police allowed the dog into the apartment to complete the search for other possible inhabitants.
The body camera worn by one of the police officers shows that Anderson opened the bedroom door, saw a man sitting on a bed, and shot him within several moments. The lawyer of the Lewis family reported that there was no ground for the officer to fire the gun. Indeed, “Donovan was unarmed, and he was abiding by police commands to come out of his room when he was shot in cold blood by Officer Anderson” (Musa et al., 2022, para. 4). The officer stated that he had seen Lewis holding something in his hands before he shot the man. The observation later showed that the object Lewis was possibly holding was a vape pen (Musa et al., 2022). Moreover, after the man was shot, he was handcuffed and delivered to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:19 a.m. (Musa et al., 2022). This incident’s facts demonstrate that the killing might have been avoided due to the lack of a clear justification for the officer’s shooting. Given the race of the killed, social disapproval of the police’s actions has intensified, which necessitates a thorough theoretical analysis of the core reasons for such occurrences.
Using a theoretical perspective in analyzing the problem of police shootings on Black men allows for structuring the discussion and using identifiable concepts to explain the issue. In this regard, the theory selected for the case analysis is the critical race theory, which integrates social, political, legal, and other spheres and disciplines into one framework investigating racism as an institutional issue. This theory’s main conceptual perspectives and application to the case are presented in this section.
Critical Race Theory Overview
Critical race theory is a widely used theoretical framework to research discrimination in different spheres of life. According to Ladson-Billings (2021), critical race theory is an interdisciplinary framework aimed at criticizing the institutionalization of racism in American education, law enforcement, social policies, and other fields. Scholars argue that the critical race theory’s “commitment to anti-racism goes well beyond civil rights, integration, affirmative action, and other liberal measures” (Butcher & Gonzalez, 2020, p. 8). In particular, being built on the critical legal and the radical feminist theories, critical race theory employs the groundbreaking ideas of both these perspectives and approaches racism as an institutionalized negative social issue (Butcher & Gonzalez, 2020). In other words, this approach allows for investigating racism as a systematic discriminatory practice that exists as a norm in the social and legal systems of the United States of America.
The critical race theory is built on five core ideas that inform the existence of racial discrimination on an ongoing and recurring basis. In particular, these five ideas include the notions that racism is ordinary, material determinism, race as a social construct, intersectionality, and counter-narrative (Ladson-Billings, 2021). The normalization of racism is considered a core characteristic of US society. The material determinism or interest convergence implies the ineffectiveness of the anti-racial measures. In addition, this theory views racism as an artificially introduced notion that exists only as an antecedent of social interactions. Intersectionality explains the multifaceted nature of racism as a phenomenon resulting from a combination of factors. Finally, the existence of counter-narrative in the form of story-telling helps critical race theorists give a voice to the oppressed in their strive toward justice (Ladson-Billings, 2021). This theory applies to the case of Lewis. It might help explain the actions of Officer Anderson from the perspective of institutional racism as a normalized issue in US society.
When applying the critical race theory to the analyzed case, one might refer to the first idea, which is the belief that racism is normal. Indeed, according to Moore et al. (2018). “the dehumanization and killing of Black males are key features of a racialized America, a society that has institutionalized and thus normalized such patterns” (p. 34). Since White Americans are referred to as the default population, their interests are prioritized across the systems, including law enforcement. Therefore, discriminatory treatment of ethnic minorities is frequent, including deadly police incidents. Thus, the officer shot at Lewis instantaneously based on the 20-year-old’s race and not because of the danger he might have posed.
Secondly, the interest convergence explains the possible motivation for the officer to fire a gun at a Black man. Indeed, an example of this idea’s application to the case might be the examination of the justification of the officer’s actions. Being in service, Anderson protected the police and the general public from potential criminals; therefore, his validation of his actions is that Lewis was holding some object in his hands (Musa et al., 2022). Supposedly, that object might have been a firearm, which proves the preventative shooting of the officer. However, such treatment of an individual by a police officer does not demonstrate equality as it should; instead, it fails to identify the racial particularities of the minority population (Moore et al., 2018). Thus, the lack of recognition of racial differences is another manifestation of racism.
Thirdly, the notion that racism is a social construct helps explain the hasty decision-making of the police officer. Indeed, “the disproportionate police shootings of Black people is […] a natural consequence of the racially unfair way in which we have constructed our neighborhoods and communities” (Siegel, 2020, p. 1077). Since the statistics commonly indicate that young Black men are prone to criminal behavior more than any other ethnicity, they are perceived as dangerous, which explains Anderson’s discriminatory behavior (Moore et al., 2018). Fourthly, intersectionality holds that individuals from poor neighborhoods with a prior criminal history and problematic education or employment belonging to a particular race share the same characteristics (Siegel, 2020). Anderson’s bias in judging Lewis as a dangerous person stems from such intersectionality of racism. Finally, discussing the story in the media allows for promoting counter-narrative to raise awareness about the issue and criticize institutionalized racism.
In summation, the prevalence of deadly police shootings of unarmed African American men implies a far-reaching devastating social and legal issue. Institutional racism has been refuted by the critical race theory, which aims at unfolding social and intersectional premises of racism as a normalized phenomenon in US society. The analysis of Lewis’ case demonstrated that the critical race theory explains inherent institutional discrimination against Black men in America, contributing to their disproportionate killings in police incidents.
Butcher, J., & Gonzalez, M. (2020). Critical race theory, the new intolerance, and its grip on America. Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, 3567, 1-42.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2021). Critical race theory – What it is not! In Handbook of critical race theory in education (pp. 32-43). Routledge.
Moore, S. E., Robinson, M. A., Clayton, D. M., Adedoyin, A. C., Boamah, D. A., Kyere, E., & Harmon, D. K. (2018). A critical race perspective of police shooting of unarmed black males in the United States: Implications for social work. Urban Social Work, 2(1), 33-47.
Musa, A., Andone, D., & Watson, M. (2022). Body camera video shows a Columbus, Ohio, police officer fatally shooting an unarmed 20-year-old Black man in bed. CNN. Web.
Number of people shot to death by the police in the United States from 2017 to 2022, by race. Statista Research Department. Web.
Siegel, M. (2020). Racial disparities in fatal police shootings: An empirical analysis informed by critical race theory. Boston University Law Review, 100, 1069-1092.