Sociologists and criminologists have a longstanding interest in race and its effects on police behavior. Based on a range of data sources (including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, citizen complaints, local police agency records and social observation), research suggests that police use of force, including the use of rearms, is applied more frequently and more severely to suspects who are young, male, and either Black or Latino (Geller, 1982; DOJ, 2001). Researchers like Terrill and Reisig (2003) have begun to explore how police shootings relate to the neighborhood in which an encounter occurs, and their initial results perfectly match the data reported here: a potentially dangerous and disadvantaged neighborhood may prompt more extreme use of force regardless of the suspect's race.
Clearly, racial cues can and do signal threat. Young Black male targets prompt a defensive orientation. But racial threat perception may be one manifestation of a more comprehensive threat-detection process — a process that monitors the environment for a variety of threats.