Young, Black, and endangered: Examining the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown using a psychological lens

Dukes, Kristin; Gaither, Sarah

The deaths of unarmed racial minorities across the United States have garnered
widespread attention and speculation, yet the discussions surrounding why these events
keep occurring remain limited. In this chapter, we apply a psychological lens to three
notable cases. The shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice
sparked a national debate surrounding race relations and racially biased shootings of
unarmed minorities. Using psychological theory and findings, we identify and analyze
factors that may have contributed to these deaths. Specifically, we consider the roles that
physical appearance and shooter bias may have played in all three cases. We also
examine the biased media depictions that negatively portrayed Martin and Brown and
influenced reactions to their deaths. Taken together, we contend that this evidence
provides a probable narrative for the decisions to shoot Martin, Brown, and Rice while
also starting a crucial discussion surrounding racial stereotyping, biased media
representations, Stand Your Ground statutes, and needed police training paradigms. We
conclude with recommendations for reform in each of these domains as a way to mitigate
both future wrongful shootings and to reduce the overall bias experienced by racial