Weaponized Racial Fear

Article by Shawn E. Fields

Scholars have written passionately and convincingly about the ways in which these long-held explicit and implicit racial biases corrupt official actors within the criminal justice system—the legislators, police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and juries.  This Article explores the impact of racial fear on a critical but little-examined “unofficial” actor in the criminal justice system: the civilian complainant.  In particular, it considers how bias-motivated civilians weaponize law enforcement to respond to their irrational racial fears through misuse and abuse of 911 and other emergency response systems.         

At its core, this Article challenges the popular notion that improving the quality of police interactions with people of color can sufficiently lessen this epidemic of racial fear.  While community policing efforts and implicit bias awareness training are laudable, they represent a drop of water in the ocean of explicit and unconscious racial bias permeating all aspects of society.  Instead, recognizing the sheer number of unnecessary police contacts initiated by frivolous 911 calls and the role pervasive racial fear plays in many of these civilian complaints, this Article advocates for a reduction in the quantity of police contacts with people of color by suggesting legislative reforms designed to inject much-needed discretion into the emergency response system and to provide enforceable deterrence mechanisms against racially motivated calls.

About the Author

Shawn E. Fields: Assistant Professor of Law, Campbell University School of Law.


93 Tul. L. Rev. 931 (2019)