The Police and Public Discourse on “Black-on-Black” Violence

New Perspectives in Policing

May 27, 2015
Authors: Anthony A. Braga and Rod K. Brunson

In a new report released today by Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety (2008-2014) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the authors explain how news media coverage sometimes distorts racial issues, and then strive to present a more cool-headed analysis of black-on-black violence when measured as a homicide problem. Also addressed is how misconceptions of black-on-black violence coupled with over- and/or under-policing of black neighborhoods can further erode citizen confidence in the police.

Research has long documented that most violence occurs within racial groups and that black Americans - often victimized by black offenders - experience disproportionately high levels of violent crime. The term “black-on-black” violence, while statistically correct, is a simplistic and emotionally-charged definition of urban violence that can be problematic when used by political commentators, politicians, and police executives. Because the police represent the most visible face of government and have primary responsibility for maintaining public safety in all neighborhoods, police executives in particular should avoid framing urban violence problems in this way. Inappropriate use of such phrases can inadvertently promote inappropriate policing activities in black neighborhoods, which in turn erode the community’s trust and confidence in the police and inhibit co-operation with them.

In The Police and Public Discourse on “Black-on-Black” Violence, Braga and Brunson argue that careful analysis can lead to clarity in describing urban violence patterns, and can thus improve police-minority community relations in at least two important ways. First, police executives can better frame and communicate to constituents the true nature of serious violent crime problems. Second, careful analysis can lead to the development and implementation of effective and appropriately focused crime reduction strategies.

  • 'Anthony Braga and Rod Brunson have done a masterful job in their Executive Session paper on “Black on Black Violence.” Given the enormous challenges police are facing today with racial tension and declining public confidence, this is a timely piece that reminds all of us that the term black on black violence may be statistically correct but it is complex phenomenon that casts a shadow on an entire community. By improving our understanding of this issue, this paper will make an important contribution to helping police do the hard work of improving public confidence.' – Darrel Stephens, Director of the Major Cities Chiefs Assoc. and former Chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Dept (retired)

This New Perspectives in Policing report was written by Anthony Braga, Senior Research Fellow, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, Harvard Kennedy School and Don M. Gottfredson Professor of Evidence-Based Criminology, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University; and Rod K. Brunson, Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, PhD Program Director, and Associate Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University. 

The Police and Public Discourse on “Black-on-Black” Violence was published as part of the New Perspectives in Policing Series from the Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety (2008-2014) and was funded by the OJP National Institute of Justice (NIJ).



Findings and conclusions in these publications are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice