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6 Criminology & Pub. Pol'y 103 (2007)
Forever the Symbolic Assailant: The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

handle is hein.journals/crpp6 and id is 105 raw text is: REACTION ESSAY
FOREVER THE SYMBOLIC ASSAILANT: THE
MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE
THEY REMAIN THE SAME
DELORES JONES-BROWN
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
In 1904 Ivan Pavlov was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology and
Medicine. His most famous and well-known experiment was one in which
he coupled the giving of food with the ringing of a bell and eventually
trained dogs to salivate at the ringing of the bell even in the absence of
the food.
An analysis of the comments made by the young men interviewed by
Rod Brunson (2007) in this issue, along with other, earlier studies, suggest
that, when it comes to race, policing in the United States is Pavlovian in
nature. That is, the police are conditioned to suspect blacks. and black
males in particular, of wrong-doing even in the absence of actual
criminality. And, to complicate matters further, police are likely to view
black males as dangerous when engaged in noncriminal or minimally
criminal activity.
In the field of criminology/criminal justice, empirical support for the
Pavlovian thesis is found in the early work of Skolnick (1966). His
observations of police work in 'Westville led him to conclude that (pp. 45
and 49, emphasis added):
The policeman. . . . develops a perceptual shorthand to identify cer-
tain kinds of people as SYMBOLIC ASSAILANTS. that is. as persons who
use gesture, language, and attire that the policeman has come to rec-
ognize as a prelude to violence.. . The patrolman in Westville, AND
PROBABLY MOST COMiMUNTIEs, has come to identify the black man
with danger.
Forty years and many policing innovations later, evidence continues to
mount that, in the minds of police agents and civilians, being black and
male is inextricably coupled with beliefs about criminality and dangerous-
ness producing a conditioned reflex of suspicion and fear that then leads to
over-policing. Although Brunson (2007) sees adjustments in police over-
sight policies as a potential means of improving the image of police in
minority communities- and as a means for positively impacting citizen
trust of and satisfaction with the police, this reaction essay considers why
such efforts continuously fail.

NUMBER 1    2007

VOLUME 6

PP 103-122

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