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Cynical Streets: Neighborhood Social Processes And Perceptions Of Criminal Injustice*

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Published online on


Studies have found that African Americans are more likely to perceive racial biases in the criminal justice system than are those from other racial groups. There is a limited understanding of how neighborhood social processes affect variation in these perceptions. This study formulates a series of hypotheses focused on whether perceived racial biases in the criminal justice system or perceptions of injustice vary as a function of levels of moral and legal cynicism as well as of adverse police–citizen encounters. These hypotheses are tested with multilevel regression models applied to data from a sample of 689 African Americans located in 39 neighborhoods. Findings from the regression models indicate that the positive association between structural disadvantage and perceptions of injustice is accounted for by moral and legal cynicism. Furthermore, adverse police encounters significantly increase perceptions of injustice; controlling for these encounters reduces the strength of the association between cynicism and injustice perceptions. Finally, the findings reveal that cynicism intensifies the association between adverse police encounters and perceptions of criminal injustice. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for research regarding perceived biases in the criminal justice system and neighborhood social processes.