Contemporary “Tipping Points” in Racial Criminal Justice

For my group paper we have been working on an analysis of race relations in contemporary America and what “tipping points” have caused and invoked change within our society. For my section of the paper I was looking at the current situation with the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown cases and if these are the newest “tipping point” for our society with the civil rights and what it will mean for the society as a whole. After presenting our paper to the class today, Dr. Pool started to discuss the points of the newest case that has just arose in Baltimore with the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. The point that really struck me was the fact that six of the officers that had handled the situation were arrested just like many other civil rights cases in the past, and have been charged with crimes from manslaughter to murder. Dr. Pool stated that she believes that these six officers may be let go at some point and will be found not guilty of their crimes. If this is the case, then I believe that my piece of the paper about the Trayvon Martin case being the contemporary “tipping point” may be invalid and this new case would be the “tipping point” for what it would mean to our society and criminal justice system. To me it would set a new set of standards for police officers across the nation that no matter what happens during an arrest they will be found not guilty because the American people will see the police force as group of people who are above the law and if we convict them of such heinous crimes then who is to police the police force? The two other contemporary cases of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were between one member of the security/police force and a young boy, in the case of Freddie Gray it was six police members who each could have chosen to use different means of restraining Mr. Gray in the back of the van to prevent him from harm while driving. Although the two previous cases may have started the fire that is blazing through all of America with the police brutality and the targeting of minorities in crimes, they both may have just been the kindling to the much larger fire that will be when the decision is decided of these six officers. Either way that the jury decides the fate of these six police officers I believe that it will be groundbreaking change that will become something that is looked upon for future references of police brutality and how situations between police officers and those arrested.


7 thoughts on “Contemporary “Tipping Points” in Racial Criminal Justice

  1. I must submit a scruple I have with the tipping point model and, if my presumptions are well-founded, its possible limitations. I think I mostly agree with your design, though I’ll try to give plenty of places for you and the world to check my understanding. I believe what you’re analyzing is public sentiment towards institutions, in this case American police forces. I perceive the logic of the tipping point model to be as follows: A set of circumstances contribute towards to positive feedback in the system; the system reaches a critical point at which point the trend dramatically reverses to pre-circumstances or below pre-circumstances levels. The flaw in the logic, I believe, is that the institution and the unit of analysis are not one and the same. My belief is that the law is not changed in concurrence with the public’s sentiment, and the change of the law is what your study perceives as recognition that the tipping point has been reached.

    If at this point you tl;dr, its coherent if you skip to the final paragraph.

    I would like to emphasis my dearth of understanding of how shit gets done in this country. From my political organizations in the united states class, and from the two articles I read ( ; ), which don’t explicitly say how prosecution is conducted, but do hint that a certain collection of people have an exaggerated say in what is codified: Police lobbies. I tried really hard to find the lobbying activity on hb (house bill, Maryland government, see: 112, a bill about who has the right to prosecute police officers when charged with a felony, which would be more definite and hella relevant. Since I can’t find it, theory!

    Equality of policing is a public good. The public has little incentive to expend individuals resources on changing the policy, especially if they aren’t substantially negatively effected, because they benefit even if someone else changes it and therefore can save their resources (Olson 1965). Furthermore, the individuals may lack resources in the avenues where reform happen, such as in congressional testimonies. People especially susceptible to not having legal education or money to buy them are pretty much the same people targeted by the police. Police lobbies, on the other hand, are repeat players. How often does a police brutality victim file a second charge? How often does a police union get charged? One is probably pretty knowledgeable about the laws, and one probably has a lot more money set aside for a long, costly legal battle. As described by Michelle Alexander in “The New Jim Crow,” police indite a lot of people are laden with resources gained from a federal rewards system and seizures. And there are tons of institutions dependent on the incarceration system. They would also lobby against such changes, for they have interest in having more prisoners and therefore less checks on police officers.

    Further support of this theory comes from the I think fact that lobbyists are most active during the committee stage of a bill, and bills promoting oversight on police haven’t made it out of committee in states such as CA.

    Thus, the legal tipping point is inhibited by the influence of largely invisible actors.

    I digressed. Sorry. I think the logical flaw is that you’re study is that it looks at public sentiment, which has arguably hit the majority tipping point on the issues of oversight with police conduct and perhaps other areas of the judiciary institutions, but measures if the public’s tipping point has been met through legal and institutional change.


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  2. I was just as intrigued as you were about Dr. Pool’s comment! Mostly because of the affect it would have on the big claim at the end of the paper haha.
    Anyway, what blew my mind was the insanely specific charge that the prosecutor will now have to prove to a jury: that the driver was basically driving with malicious intent in order to kill Freddie Gray. I’M SORRY WHAT.
    What about everything that happened before? What about the recorded videos? What about the way the police treated him? This to me sheds light on the idea we talked about a way long time ago at the beginning of class–that law is a game only some people know how to play and thus the players decide what happens not the victims. It’s a frustrating feeling for me when law seems to function in such an unjust way…like isn’t the law there to create justice?

    Sorry that was mostly just an emotional post there probably wasn’t much helpful information haha


  3. Thanks for your comments, Nick and Leah. It might be that I’m cynical – that’s a real possibility. Here’s a recent article that addresses the statutes under which the police officers were charged:

    While Dershowitz is perhaps not my favorite lawyer-pundit, he does have quite the bully pulpit, and he might be right that the second-degree murder/’depraved heart’ charge will be impossible to make stick. In some ways, this goes to what Mr. Petros as well as Alexander pointed out about discretion and its pitfalls. Overcharging may, in fact, lead to acquittal here, while in other (often drug cases), it leads to conviction via a plea. There might be some really interesting things to think about in terms of publicity: that huge publicity like what has happened in B’more leads to outcomes that may actually harm the pursuit of justice by acquitting on more serious charges rather than convicting on less serious charges, because the prosecutor so keenly feels the eyes of the public upon her.

    It might also be that when race enters the conversation, the question of a ‘tipping point’ becomes MUUUUCH harder to locate. Why? The example of the perception and rapid legal change around drunk driving that Alexander describes might help explain it a bit. But I think it’s more complex than that. There’s something about the way (white) Americans move through the world that makes seeing these events as EVENTS rather than as NEW really hard. Let me explain that a bit. Dewey argues that the news industry constantly tells us the same story with different players. That’s what news often comes to be: the same story with a different date. So police brutality begins to lose it’s awfulness: we become inured to the injustice of it. But when/if the media embeds these “new/s” events as part of a larger story, then we are able to imagine how to change institutions so that we can address the root causes. In order to do that, though, we need a good historical grounding in race relations in the US. I would argue that we have a pretty awful grounding in that, and so most (white) Americans have no idea how little has changed or even become worse in African American communities in the last 40 years. So these events (embedded in history and a result of history) became unlinked from that history by the news as single moments of catastrophe. As a result, the public becomes confused, overwhelmed, and eventually apathetic. It might be that this helps explain why many Americans stop paying attention. And thus why tipping points around race are very, very tricky.

    Then again, I love the hopefulness of your paper’s general argument, so don’t worry about that. 🙂


  4. Well Dr. Pool’s comments now question my entire final paper and wish that we may have taken our paper in a different direction all together. But I would like to resort back to the point that Dr. Pool made in the latest comment: “There might be some really interesting things to think about in terms of publicity: that huge publicity like what has happened in B’more leads to outcomes that may actually harm the pursuit of justice by acquitting on more serious charges rather than convicting on less serious charges, because the prosecutor so keenly feels the eyes of the public upon her.” When thinking about this point I agree fully and see how someone would feel the need to bring up these officers on more serious charges because of the eyes of the public are scrutinizing every move that she makes during the process. However, at the same time though I feel as though what is occurring in Baltimore at this time is actually hindering the court case that may come about in the following weeks because of the amount of crime that is taking place on the streets now. When the media only shows the “rioting” and the destroying of property on the news people think that the entire time this has been occurring since the start. However this is not the case and this began as a peaceful protest days prior to the crimes happening on the streets. This plays into the case because if and when this case does go to trial, the jury will have a hard time not thinking about what happened in the days and weeks following the death of Mr. Gray. They may take this into account and think that the repercussions by the public on the streets is already enough damage to the city and the police force that reprimanding these six individuals for their “crimes” is enough. It is sad to think that a jury could in fact let each of these police officers walk free just because of the protesting and see that one event could cancel out another but it is reality and in fact a possibility. So even though the charges brought on these six officers may be harsh and too serious to ever get a conviction for, it ultimately could be because of the events that followed the death rather than the death itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am with MC5 on this, regarding my wish to just here well though-out rebuttals to this because I know that will not occur on APBRmetrics board. Just to clarify, Dberri, your main problem with the presentation by Rosenbaum and Lewin is that the detvisnee-adjusfments are not the same and they do not let their defensive adjustments for other metrics be known?


  6. Hey there Christy, thanks for your kind words. It turns out that people quite like the graphs, it breaks up the list nicely in my opinion – although they give no real insight as I picked all the posts myself. I guess next year I could get a panel of experts invd&veol#8230;


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