Candidate in Philosophy



Document Type



Deadly force encounters with black people and law enforcement officials are far too numerous and encounters that result in the death of civilians do not always result in disciplinary actions against officers, many of whom are white. The high-profile killings of black people in America require an in-depth analysis of race, policing, and the origins of tactics used by law enforcement against black people, which is not merely data-driven, but also theory driven. In trying to understand the disparate treatment experienced by black people at the hands of law enforcement officials, and the extent to which many Americans, mostly white Americans, and the social institutions they control, especially the mass media, regard the state-as-god—virtuous, just, and infallible, and policing as religious. The 2016 killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge is an ideal case study for understanding how police are perceived and portrayed, particularly in the media given the local, regional, and national attention the killing received. Through a content analysis of articles published immediately following Sterling’s death and the firing of one of the white officers involved, this study addressed the following research questions: To what extent does media coverage of a black civilian and/or black man reflect the state-as-god perspective as outlined in the work of Finley and Gray and others? To what extent does the general public reflect an adherence to the state-as-god perspective as evidenced in opinion pieces, including letters to the editor, editorials, and op-ed pieces? To what extent does the media use latent or manifest language to vindicate the police officer’s use of deadly force, while also vilifying the alleged black offender? Does the media contribute racial tensions and/or racial discourse when police officers use deadly force against black citizens?

The following themes emerged from the analysis: The police officers involved in the death of Alton Sterling, and police officers more broadly, were viewed in complex ways. The theoretical and methodological implications of the study findings are presented, as are, directions for further research.



Committee Chair

Lori L. Martin