JJ Today - Reducing the Social Distance Between Minority Teens and Police

October 07, 2013 Written by Everett B. Penn, Ph.D.

Emory Bogardus developed in the 1920s the “social distance scale,” which has been used extensively to measure attitudes among racial groups. Bogardus’ research found that as contact and familiarity increase, social distance decreases. Put another way, as we spend more time around people of or from a different race, ethnicity, age, geographic location, or sexual orientation the stereotypes and damaging preconceived notions we hold about them decrease or are eliminated. Thus when social distance is reduced the characteristics of the person, rather than the image of the group, become most dominant. We learn to appreciate the similarities rather than the differences. Such practices are the foundation of international programs, State Department initiatives and cultural enrichment sessions.

Research clearly indicates that minority teens demonstrate the least trust for the police. These feelings develop out of negative (involuntary and voluntary) police contacts. Additionally, when these contacts occur they are shared with family and friends, often to lighten the burden because regular channels of regress are thought to be blocked or inaccessible. These shared experiences create a domino effect of anguish and anger toward the police, often existing in and expanding out to the entire group. Thus, others within the group who may not have had any contact with the police, or perhaps no positive contact, assume vicarious experiences that become their own, thus creating minority group hostility and distrust for the police...

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