Loyola University Chicago

Department of Psychology


Cynthia Onyeka

Cynthia Onyeka
Training Track: Clinical
Lab: Risk and Resilience Lab
Advisor: Maryse Richards, Ph.D.
Office: Coffey Hall 442


Factors that promote resilience as related to people of color, psychosocial moderators toward community violence exposure in adolescents, participatory action research strategies, and youth/police relations

Masters Thesis Title

Police Beats and City Streets: Examining Black American and Latinx Youth Interactions with and Perceptions of Police

Masters Thesis Abstract

Existing research on issues of race and police suggest that Black Americans and Latinx youth tend to have more negative experiences with, and views of, police than individuals from other ethnoracial groups (Brunson, 2007; Schafer, Huebner, & Bynum, 2003; Hurst & Frank, 2000; Sindall, McCarthy, & Brunton-Smith, 2016; Webb & Marshall, 1995; Weitzer, 2000; Weitzer, 2014). This finding is even more robust among Black American and Latinx youth, notably those living in low-income and high crime communities (Brunson, Rod, & Miller, 2006; Carr, Napolitano, & Keating, 2007; Desmond & Papachristos, 2016). Literature suggests that such youth have more adverse attitudes toward the police than their white counterparts (Geller, Fegan, Tyler, & Link, 2014; Taylor, Esbensen, & Winfree, 2001). These attitudes are validated by the fact that Black American and Latinx youth from disadvantaged communities are more likely to experience direct and indirect negative contacts with police (e.g., unwarranted stops, racially discriminatory policing, verbal abuse) (Cao, Fran, & Cullen, 1996; Carr et al., 2007; Jackson, James, Owens, & Bryan, 2017; McGregor, 2015). The victimization and constant burden such perceptions of police and police interactions have on Black American youth can potentially cause psychological damage (Futterman, Hunt, & Kalven, 2016; Geller et al., 2014). When coupled with repeated exposure to social, economic, and racially-related stressors, the former may result in greater adverse psychological outcomes (McGregor, 2016; Jackson, James, Owens, & Bryan, 2017; Weitzer & Tuch, 2004). However, resilience factors such as neighborhood context and ethnic identity may buffer the relationship. This thesis aimed to qualitatively and quantitative identify the impact perceptions of police and police interactions may pose on Black American and Latinx youth living in low income high crime urban communities. The current study utilized a multi-method quasi-experimental longitudinal research design to examine the nature of youth perceptions/encounters with police and the potential impact on internalizing symptoms for 81 Black American and Latinx youth. Unexpectedly, results displayed the opposite relationship. Neutral to positive experiences with police significantly predicted higher levels of internalizing symptoms than neutral to negative experiences with police. Relatedly, perceptions of neighborhood, ethnic identity membership, and gender failed to significantly moderate the relationship. However, qualitative results offered a more nuanced view into this relationship, revealing diverse negative, neutral, and positive encounters with police at varying frequencies across different environments.

Masters Thesis Committee

Maryse Richards, PhD, Noni Gaylord-Harden, PhD