Race, Skin Tone, and Police Contact Among Contemporary Teens

Amanda B. Geller , New York University (NYU)
Ellis Monk, Harvard University

Recent deaths of young minority men in police interactions have highlighted longstanding tensions between police and those they serve. Contemporary urban youth are heavily policed, many as early as pre-adolescence. This policing is characterized by significant racial disparities, with black teens reporting more, and more intrusive experiences. A long history, and growing literature, suggests that police encounters may vary not only by race, but by complexion. We examine skin tone disparities in police contact among a population-based sample of over 1,000 teens from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. We observe a nearly monotonic increase with skin tone darkness in the probability that adolescents report contact with the police. Among those reporting stops, darker-skinned teens also report more intrusive experiences. Preliminary within-race analyses suggest skin-tone gradients in stop prevalence among black and Hispanic teens, but not white or multiracial teens. Subsequent analyses will examine within-race disparities in greater detail.

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 Presented in Session 143. Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Incarceration