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Recognition gaps and economies of worth in police encounters

Ron Levi, Holly Campeau & Todd Foglesong (2020)

American Journal of Cultural Sociology, Online first

Abstract. This paper examines what arrested individuals expect from the police, and the moral grammars they rely on to evaluate police behavior. Drawing on interviews with recently arrested suspects in the Cleveland city jail, we analyze the moral grammars, or common worlds, that residents invoke to reflect on interactions with law enforcement. We find that respondents care about two different moral dimensions in policing. At one level, they want police to treat them with civility and politeness, and to respect their rights—thereby treating them equally with other residents in the city. Yet at a second level, they want police to show care and empathy for their local situation, and to recognize that policing the neighborhoods in which they live is different than policing other parts of the city. As a result, we find that residents who are arrested by the police deploy two orders of worth: a civic order, grounded in fairness, legal rules, equality, and civic belonging in the polity; and a domestic order, based on a politics of community and difference, emphasizing empathy, local knowledge, and personal experience. We demonstrate how individuals assess and test the moral promise of institutions to offer moral recognition, redress, and repair.

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