St. Lawrence University
Chyron Brown-Wallace

War with the African American community?

             In the past decade there has been an increase in the awareness of racial differences in America. Whether it is a difference in education, economic welfare, or occupation people have begun to notice the inequality between races. One difference that has been getting attention is the treatment received by police toward Caucasian Americans and African Americans. Law enforcement is observed to be more aggressive towards African Americans than white Americans. This is due to African Americans being seen as more aggressive by society (Duncan, 1976). Police are known to be over policing the African American community (Sewell et al., 2016). As a result a high number of arrests and deaths by law enforcement are direct consequences of over policing (Sewell et al., 2016). Police brutality has increased in the African American community within the last couple of years and it is affecting the relationship between the police and the community. My investigation of how law enforcement portrayed by the Black community in media, who the most influential activists were, and if there was a positive or negative relationship between the police and Black community has come from past research.

Literature Review

            African Americans are more likely to be charged and convicted of a felony offense, which results in jail or prison confinement (Sewell et al., 2016). There are sources beneficial to the project because they provide information on why there is hostility, psychological effects of discriminating practices in the African American community, and how the use of media helps expand news and conversations on different national topics.

            In his article ‘The Police as Amplifiers’ Jeb Middlebrook proposes the control theory. This theory states that people refrain from deviant behavior because diverse factors control their impulses to break social norms. This was seen in Ferguson when the police would work to stop people from protesting in different areas of the city. When halting the protest they would work to silence the crowd, by silencing the crowd this leads to the crowd not having a voice to fight for their belief for social change.

            Research from the Center for Constitutional Rights shows how practices for example stop and frisk impact humans and abuse their rights. Stop and frisk is the practice by police of temporarily detaining people on the street, questioning them, and possibly frisking or searching them without a warrant (Zamani, 2012). The Center for Constitutional Rights traveled to different neighborhoods in New York City where they interviewed people on their feelings of police and their actions in the neighborhood. They found that the effects of stop and frisk were causing harm emotionally, psychologically. The practice of stop and frisk in communities of color have residents feeling they are living under siege. The practice of stop and frisk have created growth between the NYPD and communities they police (Zamani, 2012). The practices have become so common in the community they have conformed within everyday life in the community (Zamani, 2012). Black people prepare to encounter the police by having their ID on them for the proof of their identity (Zamani, 2012).

            A Harlem resident stated “The NYPD is seen as an occupying army whose primary objective was to make the streets of New York safe for business and commerce”. He continued by stating “They have borrowed from military tactics, because when they patrol the streets, they don’t patrol in a community friendly way. They do it like they’re on a search-and-destroy mission.”(Zamani, 2012). This quote shows the feeling of residents in New York: the police are there to protect businesses and the money and not the people. Police use aggressive tactics on the people in minority neighborhoods, which are not seen as friendly by the community, aggravating and makes them unwanted. African American youth interaction with police in urban neighborhoods show that aggressive policing of urban youth correlates with their having low trust of adults in authoritative roles, negative relations with police, and feeling unwelcomed in public spaces (Upton Patton, 2016). The average black person in the neighborhood looks at a policeman as “being the enemy”. They do not look at them for protection. (Zamani, 2012). This shows there is a lack of trust in police. Without the trust there is little respect for them, and therefore people are not depending on them for their safety. This is relevant to the research because it proves that there is a negative relationship between police and the African American community, due to African Americans having little dependence on police when handling situations in their neighborhood.

           More than 3 million African American adults are arrested each year (Sewell et al., 2016). This stat shows there is a large amount of police presence in African American communities and African Americans being arrested is a common trend. The arrest of these African American youth and adolescents is largely due to police hyper-surveillance (Sewell et al., 2016). African American youth interact with police at a higher rate than whites, in Philadelphia, African American on average had 18 law enforcement contacts before the age of 18; by age 24, and they had nearly nine times the number of encounters with law enforcement (Sewell et al., 2016). This shows the average African American youth encounter the police more often than the White counterpart. Though this can be due to many different factors, this shows there is a higher presence of police in African American communities. These stats show that hyper-surveillance with frequent arrest disrupts any communities capacity to build wealth and develop human capital, and perpetuate generational poverty (Sewell et al., 2016). Arresting African American youth is putting them at a disadvantage socially and destroying their communities. With police presence disrupting the community by imprisoning the people in the community, and terrorizing the community it never gets a chance to grow.

            Research shows social media provides an outlet for individuals who live in marginalized communities to express their pains, frustrations, and contempt of negative relationships with police in their neighborhoods (Upton Patton, 2016). 22% of African American youth and young adults online use Twitter versus 16% of online Whites (Upton Patton, 2016). African American youth and young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are active on twitter with 40% using the site versus 28% of white users in the same age (Upton Patton, 2016). Social media is more commonly used by African Americans compared to White Americans (Upton Patton, 2016). The use of social media provides an outlet for them to explain things they have experienced, and feelings of not belonging in a certain area. This can be seen in African American communities in the past and today. When Mike Brown was killed by police many activists took to twitter and began tweeting about the differences of treatment African Americans get as opposed to their White counterparts. Social media became a new community where people who were aggravated with police were able to share their feelings towards not only that specific situation in Ferguson, but their daily life experience in society as well.

            This same effect was shown in the death of Trayvon Martin, though Trayvon was not killed by police, he was killed by neighborhood watch, whose job is to act as police, by surveilling the neighborhood but are not supposed to pursue. This event became well-known on social media in national conversations. Activists have learned how to influence people by changing the dynamics to the news cycle (Graeff, 2014), activating people to observe blogospheres which are personal websites and blogs all collected together and put on the internet so others can read them in order to get news (Graeff, 2014). This is a primary reason social movements such as the #Blacklivesmatter movement have grown on social media. Activists use the hashtag in order to spread news to the people which influence public opinion on a national topic of discussion. During the decision grand jury decision of the killing of Mike Brown social media showed many different opinions on the situation and the topic of police brutality and continues today with the topic of police brutality across the nation.


           The research for this project was found by going through different library resources. All of the collected research showed how police is perceived in the black community, or how the black community views, or responds to the presence of law enforcement. The research from readings were used as evidence to support the claim that the relationship between police and the African American community is negative. The process for the acquisition of the tweets was exploring the pulsar database and looking for tweets including the keywords “police,” “cops,” or “law enforcement”. The tweets will then be used to test the claim that there are negative perceptions of law enforcement in the African American community due to oppression from the officers. I used a qualitative approach and collect a sample of 100 tweets that were original post of text and photographs from twitter featuring all original post from activists. The tweets from the activists were used to represent the African American community. The date ranges that were analyzed for the sample was August 9th (0:00 am)-November 27th (23:59 pm). The sample starts at August 9th because this was the day Mike Brown was killed. The range of dates proceeded to November 27th because this was three days after the Grand Jury decision to not indict Darren Wilson on charges for Mike Browns death. The tags I used to categorize the tweets were Chy-Objective, and Chy-Affective. Objective tweets are classified as factual reported tweets that avoid opinion, emotion or loaded language. Affective tweets are tweets that are emotional and reactive, and they offer a stream of consciousness opinion using natural language.


            After analyzing the sample of tweets by tagging them either as affective or objective it seemed the longer law enforcement stayed the angrier the people were as seen through the activist’s tweets. The results of the analyzation showed that there were 2,040 tweets by activists which included one of the three keywords “police,” “cops,” or “law enforcement”. The majority of the tweets that were included in the sample were objective tweets. This was a surprise to me because I predicted the tweets would be classified as affective because I implied the activists would be opinionated. Instead data showed activists were acting as journalists because they were reporting on police movements, locations, and how they were reacting to different protest throughout Ferguson. One activists who seemed to be a large influence in the data sample was Johnetta Elzie, her twitter handle was the most productive when it came to tweeting about the different events in Ferguson. Whether it was a protest, or a memorial gathering, or even the town hall press meeting she was involved and reporting on them.


            Another result from the sample was many of the tweets included either #Ferguson or #MikeBrown. This was important because hashtags help create specific communities on twitter. This makes the tweets relevant to the topic but also help the hashtag grow because it circulates through media and more people become involved with it. Another result was tweets with photos more influential than original text. Tweets with photos are better because they give an image, and make the tweet more effective by displaying an emotion. Compared to qualitative it would be difficult to form an emotion because it would be hard to visualize the situation using words. Finally, majority of tweets showed negativity towards police. There was one tweet by @AliceSperi which proclaimed the police were violent. The tweet states” Police gotta understand that we are not violent with those that are not violent with us #Ferguson”. This tweets portrays there is a negative relationship between the police and African American community due to violence being used.  




            There were some implications to this study, the first is I was a lone researcher. With the help of other researchers there could have been data found that had different reactions either positively or negatively portray the relationship between the police and the African American community. Another implication is the date range being too wide, due to the wide date range there was a large amount of tweets which were difficult to cover with just one researcher. Due to the heavy amount of data, the use of a smaller sample size was persuaded. Another implication was attempting to sort which account was a bot and which account was real. This is important because collecting tweets from a fake account make the tweets irrelevant since they were not from a real credible tweeter. There were also a large amount of journalist tweets showing up in the large sample which made the analyzation process more difficult because pulsar did not correctly process the request I made to have only activist tweets. Finally, there were retweeted tweets in the large data sample. This made the analyzation process longer as well because retweets are not relevant due to the fact that they are tweets that come from other accounts, therefore they are not primary sources.

Conclusion/ Future

            Research and tweets show there is perceived negative relationship between police and the African community. The cause of the negative relationship is the aggressiveness and violence the police displays towards the community. Urban youth (teenagers) are usually the targets of police brutality (Upton Patton, 2016). The police are seen as untrustworthy, leads to lower confidence in the police by the community (Newport, 2014). People in the community will try to find ways to deal with situations in their community before calling the police for support. The actions by the police aggravate the people of the community and make them hostile towards the police. With the hostility, there is a negative relationship built between both the police and the community. As a result, the police have trouble working with the community they are patrolling because the people who live in the community would not be compliant with them, ergo they will have trouble communicating with each other about different problems in the community and rebuilding a substantial relationship. The tweet below helps portray that it is negative for the police to not have a bond with the communities they patrol. For future preferences it is proposed to include the use of quantitative data in the methods of the search. Quantitative data can be more relevant than qualitative in this study due to numbers being better at showing an impact than words. People will be more influenced by something when they see a number percentage. Another future suggestion is the use of a larger sample size. The use of a larger sample size is important to the study because it gives a larger range of data to analyze and can have a possible impact on the findings. There could have been tweets that were significant to the study but they were not included due to the sample size being too small.















Graeff, Erhardt, Matt Stempeck, and Ethan Zuckerman. “The Battle for ‘Trayvon Martin’: Mapping a Media Controversy Online and off-Line.” First Monday 19, no. 2 (January 28, 2014).

Middlebrook, Jeb. 2014. “‘The Police as Amplifiers’: Noise, the State, and Policing the Crisis”

Newport, F. (2014, August 20). Gallup Review: Black and White Attitudes toward Police. Retrieved May 04, 2016, from

Patton, D. U., Leonard, P., Cahill, L., Macbeth, J., Crosby, S., & Brunton, D. (2016). “Police took my homie I dedicate my life 2 his revenge”: Twitter tensions between gang-involved youth and police in Chicago. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 26(3/4), 310-324. doi:10.1080/10911359.2015.1127738

Sewell, W., Horsford, C. E., Coleman, K., & Watkins, C. S. (2016). Vile vigilance: An integrated theoretical framework for understanding the state of Black surveillance. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 26(3/4), 287-302. doi:10.1080/10911359.2015.1127735

Zamani, N. (2012). Stop and Frisk: The Human Impact. Center for Constitutional Rights.