Term of Award

Spring 2016

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Social Sciences (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Chair

Eric Silva

Committee Member 1

April Schueths

Committee Member 2

Saba Jallow


The purpose of this qualitative study is to examine the manner in which, police application of lethal force is accounted for in the public sphere. The study examines opinion editorials from the New York Times, Washington Post, Contra Costa Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Salt Lake Tribune. The study applies Altheide’s methodology of ethnographic content analysis to opinion editorials written between July 2014 and September 2015 about three specific cases involving the death of an African American male due to police use of lethal force. Each editorial was loaded into an NVIVO 10 project and coded line by line. This study includes one-hundred and seventy-six (176) opinion editorials. The following three questions are the foundation of the current study, (1) How do editorialists assign meaning to racial disparities in police application of lethal force?, (2) How do public accounts frame the Black Lives Matter movement?, and (3) How do contextual factors shape this meaning making process? The following eight themes emerged: (1) Black lives aren’t valued, (2) racial roots prevent post-racialism, (3) progress has been made (4) a relationship broken, (5) the nightstick and quick-trigger-finger justice , (6) conversation rules the nation, (7) Black lives matter movement is legitimate, and (8) Black lives matter, but the movement is flawed. Sample limitations and implications for future research are discussed.