This article addresses the debate over the disproportionate representation of black people in the criminal justice system, with particular reference to the link between a person’s race and the process of being stopped on the street by the police. On the basis of a participant observation study of routine police patrol in inner city London, the article explores the influence of race in relation to citizen and officer demeanour, and on the actions taken by police in initiating, processing and terminating a stop. Demeanour and process variables are derived from quantified observational data recorded on codified observation schedules from 213 police stops involving 319 members of the public. Among the findings reported, blacks prove over two and a half times more likely to be stopped than their presence in the local population would suggest, with a higher disproportion in the case of young black men. However, blacks and whites prove equally likely to be calm and civil to police at contact and during processing, and there are scant differences in police demeanour and action toward the two groups.
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