Sonia Neela Das

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

New York U.

Grant number

Gr. 9695

Approve Date

October 5, 2018

Project Title

Das, Dr. Sonia N., New York U., New York, NY - To aid research on Fighting Words or Speech Rights? A Linguistic Ethnography of Police Discretion in the U.S. South'

SONIA N. DAS, New York University, New York, New York, was awarded funding in October 2018 to aid research on ‘Fighting Words or Speech Rights? A Linguistic Ethnography of Police Discretion in the U.S. South.’ Research was conducted between June and August 2019 and July and August 2021. This project investigated how police discretion might lead to the violation of free speech rights in police-civilian encounters in Richland County, South Carolina. Also examined were the interactional achievements of escalation and de-escalation, training protocols that teach police officers which verbal or gestural practices count as evidence of the intent to incite harm, and audio and video recordings impacting the determination of guilt and attributions of what counts as unprotected speech. The methodologies followed during this research were participant-observation, interviews, and media analysis. Evidence collected included personal narratives from officers in the Columbia Police Department, fieldnotes of traffic stops during ‘ride-alongs’ with officers, video recordings of training sessions in de-escalation at the South Carolina Justice Academy, interviews with judges, attorneys, and criminal defendants involved in DUI and other criminal cases, and newspaper articles discussing bodycams. Research findings indicate that officers and civilians predict aggression against themselves based on their social identities and language ideologies; also, officers rely extensively on their discretion to determine what speech, gestures, and movement count as escalation.