Protesting While Black?: The Differential Policing of American Activism,…
Protesting While Black?: The Differential Policing of American Activism, 1960 to 1990
Davenport, Soule, Armstrong
Research Design, Measurement, and Hypotheses
Data Source: The Dynamics of Collective Action, 1960 to 1990
Unit of Analysis: Protest Event
Protest events measured include rallies, demonstrations, marches, vigils, picketing, civil disobedience, ceremonial events, motorcades, dramaturgical demonstrations, symbolic displays, riots, mob violence, and attacks
Data was drawn from daily editions of the New York Times between 1960 and 1990 (
Dynamics of Collective Action Project)
Data must meet 3 criteria
Participants at an event must articulate a claim, whether it's a grievance against or an expression of support for a target
The event must have happened in the public sphere or have been open to the public
Must be more than one participant at the event
Data was collected in two stages
Content coding each event
Researchers read every page of all daily issues of the NYT
Possible types of bias
Not all protest events will be covered by a given newspaper
How well or poorly a newspaper reporter describes what actually happened at a given event
Police presence at a protest event
Three different strategies of policing
making arrests and using force/violence
using physical force or violence
Independent Variables and Hypotheses
Are African American protest events more likely than other events to be policed?
when protestors employed less confrontational tactics
when protestors damaged property at an event
when protestors used extremely confrontational tactics
tactical variety (number of different protest tactics used by protestors
dummy variable for whether counter-demonstrators were present at an event
protestor use of violence at an event
size of protest event measured by the number of participants
dummy variable used when protestors used physical violence (hitting, shoving, and beating)
dummy variable for when at least some of the participants at an event were African American
1) Examine police presence using binary logistic regression analysis
2) Examine 3 different policing strategies, conditional on police presence
2) using force/violence
3) making arrests and using force/violence together
1) making arrests
In both sets of analysis, investigation of how the effects vary over time was added
Look at the proportion of African American protests that were met with the three main kinds of policing in comparison with the proportion of white events met with these
In nearly all years between 1960 and 1990, a greater proportion of African American protests were met with police presence than were white events
African American protest events were more likely to be policed
Nearly all of the threat factors shown in previous research to increase policing are significant in these models
African American protest events are more likely to draw police presence
Some times, certain tactics are statistically more likely to be used in events where African Americans were present
Once police arrive at an event with African Americans present, they are more likely to make arrests, to use force/violence, and to use force/violence while making arrests
There is a Protesting While Black phenomenon
State Repression: The use of force against an individual or organization within the jurisdiction of the state that violates first amendment rights.
If we move away from state repression and focus on who the protestors are, what they target, and who they threaten and why, it will allow for more peaceful protests.
Types and level of violence used by protestors+Degree of organization+Tactics used by protestors+How police respond to protestors+Police presence at event+Degree of violence police use+Arrests were made=Police are more likely to act when protestors are violent, the presence and challenging of political authorities, and multiple tactics.
African American Threat and Police Response
Systematic Racism Theory
"Hierarchical interaction"--The relationship between oppressed groups and its oppressor (White institutions have a quick reaction time and use coercion to control claims-making efforts.
Police create this code of protection of the political and economic-elites by the enforcement of policies and practices. They protect these elites from individuals and groups of people who are perceived to be "threatening" towards them.
Police officers generally view African Americans as more likely to be engaged in criminal activity and violence, more likely to be carrying weapons, and more likely to show disrespect for police authority.
Police are more likely to treat African Americans coercively and aggressively.
Group position/threat and specifically racial threat and Ethnic competition theory
Examine how the relative size of the African American population affects facets of the criminal justice system (when there's an increase in the size of the black population, there's an increase in the amount of resources provided to the criminal justice system).
Discussion and Conclusion
We find that African American protestors were more likely than white protestors to be met with police action
We find African American protest events police were more likely to use force/violence in conjunction with arrests or to use arrests only prior to the early 1970s
We find that African American protestors were more likely than white protestors to have police monitor their events
Results of this Study Joined with Previous Studies
Literature on the implicit bias of law enforcement agents suggests that protestors' race poses a specific threat to police on the scene
Our results are only sometimes consistent with arguments made in the Driving While Black literature, but we maintain that our examination is more convincing because we were able to control for subject demeanor
Findings align with a recent report about current practices of the NYPD, which shows that NYC police stopped African Americans and Latinos at higher rates that whites
Findings suggest that different racial groups experienced the right to protest freely unevenly across the 1960-1990 period
Areas for Future Research
Literature on black lynching might shed some light on the question of how African American protestors were policed
Future research should examine different forms of state control of African American protestors
Future research may ask if the finding regarding the reduction of protest policing directed against African Americans in the later years in indicative of the success of the civil rights movement, or indicative of a shift in the nature of black political threat
In-depth analysis of specific claims-making of African American protestors might shed light on this question