ABSTRACT

Police officers who shoot unarmed or unthreatening civilians (most frequently Black men) often attempt to defend themselves by claiming to have feared for their lives, and such fear excuses are frequently successful. In many cases, this fear is greatly out of proportion with the officer's evidence about the actual risk of harm and is not epistemically justified. The most obvious and important wrong that results from inappropriate acceptance of the fear excuse is that victims of police shootings do not receive justice. Less obvious are the pervasive epistemic harms that stem from acceptance of the fear excuse, and I explore how the fear excuse leads to epistemic injustices of multiple sorts. In particular, I illustrate how widespread acceptance of the fear excuse enables and encourages the dominant group to maintain false beliefs, which harms them as knowers by making it harder for them to learn the truth; I argue that this is an instance of a particular kind of epistemic injustice against dominant groups that I call ignorance bolstering. I then investigate the ways in which ignorance bolstering and other forms of epistemic injustice are likely to undermine the preconditions for social trust between Black people and the police and between Black people and the White majority.