Are the protests important?

Newswise – Washington, DC – Recent protests in the United States against police brutality have garnered a lot of attention around the world, but many researchers have found that protests alone are not enough to bring about policy change. Others have found that the protests have a limited impact, for example on media attention or the influence of congressional hearings. So, can protest really bring the desired results? A recent study by Susan Olzak, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Stanford University, published in the December 2021 issue of American sociological journal seeks to answer this question.

Research has shown that changes in policing since the 1980s may have resulted in racial minorities being more likely to be arrested, questioned or arrested by police and more likely to experience police violence. , thus contributing to the deterioration of relations between the police and minorities. . Historically, one of the main demands to end police violence has included calls for increased police accountability by establishing Civilian Review Boards (CRBs). The authority of these boards varies greatly from city to city – from making recommendations to the chief of police to firing officers – and calls for more independent and authoritative CRBs to help improve the accountability of the police. police have been endorsed by political analysts, activists, and ordinary citizens currently engaging in protests across the United States, including Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero.

To find out what real impact the protest is having on policy change and police behavior, Olzak used information on racial makeup, household income, violent crime, residential segregation, and other factors characterizing 170 cities. (with populations greater than 100,000). She first designed a historical event data set to examine the effect of past events on the rate of creation of a BRC, focusing on the years 1990-2018. The author’s data sources also included police brutality protest reports from thousands of local newspapers, which enabled the author to determine whether a given protest focused on a local event or issue, a national or general problem, or an event taking place in another city. . In addition to examining whether the protest led to the creation of a CRB, the author compared the effects of the protest and the presence of the CRB on the number of deaths involving officers by race and ethnicity, controlling a number of possible confounding factors.

The author argued that there are three key mechanisms through which protest facilitates change: signage, community empowerment, and threats against ruling elites. First, protest demonstrates the importance of a movement’s problem and broadens the awareness that a problem is a social problem in need of a solution. Second, the protest empowers residents of disadvantaged communities and creates a sense of community cohesion. Together, these two outcomes increase costs and put pressure on elites to make concessions in the form of establishing a CRB and / or restricting the use of force by the police. Olzak writes:

“Because protest threatens to increase political and material costs for elites, protest increases the chances that elites will make concessions to protesters’ demands. In addition, a high volume of protests increases the visibility and recognition of protesters’ demands, amplifying these costs. This implies that elite concessions to protesters’ demands will be more likely during peak protest cycles. The author analyzed whether the protest is systematically linked to two types of concessions: the establishment of a CRB and the reduction in the number of deaths of minorities.

So, is protesting important? The author eventually found that the protests prompted cities to establish more powerful citizen watch councils and reduced the number of deaths in minority communities. In addition, activism targeted at local concerns is more likely to be successful in reducing minority deaths.

But Olzak’s research reminds us that CRBs and other police reforms are not a panacea. Less than half of the 170 cities studied had a CRB at the end of 2018, and most have limited powers. The author suggests that these programs are “under institutionalized, lacking police support and elite leadership in many cities.” Examining whether the implementation of these reforms has had a noticeable effect on other measures of minority-police relations is a natural next step for future research and may help to increase legitimacy and, therefore, adoption of such programs and reforms.

The author concludes that “if the adoption of more effective policies restricting the use of force by the police were more widespread, the public (and perhaps also the police) might approve of these programs in their own communities. . Such acceptance could potentially lessen the high levels of conflict and mistrust that currently exist between minority populations and the police. “

For more information and to obtain a copy of the study, contact [email protected].


About the American Sociological Association and the American sociological journal

The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a nonprofit association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions and use of sociology by the Society. The American sociological journal is the flagship journal of the ASA.

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