'All Cops are Bastards?' The Effect of the Killing of George Floyd on Police Identity Meanings

Protests against police brutality, such as those that followed the murder of George Floyd in the spring of 2020, can affect public opinion of police. By acting as a form of identity threat, they may also affect police officers’ meanings of their own occupational identities. In this work, I explore the relationship between George Floyd’s murder and police understandings of the affective meanings of their occupation. I use data from a nationally representative, longitudinal survey of police officers conducted before and after the murder of George Floyd. I show that police officers saw themselves as substantially less good, less powerful, and less active after Floyd’s death. They also perceived substantial declines in the public’s views of police. The decline on officers’ perceptions of the goodness of their occupations was largely a national phenomenon that cut across departments and law enforcement officers, regardless of local factors. Rather than driving meaning change through direct interaction with police, protests appear to drive change in evaluative meanings via broader cultural effects that touch officers across the country. Changes on perceptions of occupational power, however, were heterogenous on the department level, suggesting that local factors have more of an effect on perceptions of occupational power than occupational goodness.