Public Expressions of Empathy and Sympathy by U.S. Criminal Justice Officials After Controversial Police Killings of African-Americans

Edward R. Maguire, Howard Giles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Police use of force against minorities, particularly African-Americans, has become a prominent national issue in the United States. In a number of controversial instances, such as the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, African-Americans have died under questionable circumstances due to police use of force. These incidents have fueled the growth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and have often resulted in large-scale protests and riots. In this paper, we examine statements made by four types of criminal justice officials – police executives, police department spokespersons, police union representatives, and prosecutors – in the immediate aftermath of 30 such incidents that occurred in 2020. We examine the language used by these officials in social media postings, news releases, and press conferences, focusing specifically on the extent to which they express empathy or sympathy toward the decedent or his or her loved ones, as well as the community at large. Our analysis reveals that criminal justice officials rarely express empathy or sympathy in the aftermath of these incidents, though there are noteworthy differences between different types of officials. Our findings are helpful for understanding how the language used by these officials, particularly the public expression of empathy and sympathy, fits into broader debates about race and criminal justice in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-75
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
Volume41
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Keywords

  • African-Americans
  • emotion
  • empathy
  • language
  • minorities
  • police
  • sympathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language

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