When police stop Black men, the effects reach into their homes and families

While much of the world was sheltering in place in the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans’ undivided attention was focused squarely on Minneapolis, Minnesota, where George Floyd was killed at the hands – and knees – of the police.

Floyd’s murder evoked memories of other murders by the police, including those of Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and Samuel DuBose. Most recently, another unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

We are a sociologist and a social worker who study racism, inequality and families, including a focus on Black men and their interactions with law enforcement. Each of these killings serves as confirmation that concerns about those interactions are warranted.

The problem isn’t just that Black men get killed – it’s that Black families are stressed and strained by Black men’s daily encounters with police.

Studies show Black and Hispanic drivers, compared to white drivers, experience a disproportionate number of police stops and that officers show less respect to Black drivers.

Racial inequality in contact with the police may influence the lack of trust in police among Black Americans. In a recent Gallup survey, one in four Black men ages 18 to 34 reported they have been treated unfairly by police within the last month.

In our research on these interactions, we found that they have far-reaching implications for Black families. Law enforcement encounters for Black Americans stretch beyond the streets of our cities and into Black Americans’ homes, where they have a negative effect on family life.

A man helping a woman during a street protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The shooting of another Black man, Jacob Blake, by police on August 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, led to days of street protests. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Families suffer

Studies show that one in nine Black children has had a parent in prison. Having an incarcerated parent is associated with a host of social problems for children, including behavioral problems and academic failure.

Former inmates have to navigate many barriers to reintegrate and reconnect with their communities and families. A recent study shows that if fathers were previously incarcerated, they were more likely to report having a strained and unsupportive relationship with their child’s mother, a major factor which negatively impacts fathers’ involvement and harms their connection and relationship with their children.

Although a growing number of studies focus on incarceration and families, there is less empirical research that includes whether police stops experienced by Black fathers affect family life.

In our research, we have found the obstacles that come with economic hardship, mental illness, parenting stress and incarceration can hurt how well parents work together and the well-being of their children.

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