Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Quick Note on Race and Riots

Some folks on twitter have argued that the expectation of riots after the Martin/Zimmerman verdict is racist.  No, it is just basic social science.  While much of what I learned about riots is from Donald Horowitz's Deadly Ethnic Riot book, my understanding here is informed by my observing the Rodney King riots as a grad student in nearby San Diego and the implications of IR theory.*
* It is not an accident I started thinking about security dilemmas and ethnic conflict just as other folks were thinking of the same thing elsewhere. 

The basic idea is that when groups are sent signals that the justice system does not work, that the state is a combatant rather than an adjudicator of disputes, then domestic society starts to look a lot like international relations with arms races (people stealing guns) and strange alliances (rival gangs working together against the police).  One reason why the riots in this case have been far less intense than the LA rights after the King verdict is that the person who got off was not a cop.  In the King case, cops who clearly beat a guy were acquitted, basically telling the African-Americans of LA, who were already familiar with other problems with the LA cops (The Shield was almost a documentary) with the Rampart division, that there was no law in LA, just rival gangs with some wearing blue.

In this case, which I have not followed very closely, there is a lot in play, so it may be harder to mobilize.  Also, police have gotten far more organized and equipped* for dealing with large scale dissent and near riots.  We need to also appreciate that there has been much peaceful dissent, which speaks well of the folks organizing and participating in these protests.
*  There is, of course, the ongoing debate about the militarization of the police, which is something else I have not followed too closely but perhaps a topic for another time.
Anyhow, this is not over yet, of course, with violence last night in Oakland and large protests in LA and elsewhere.  All I wanted to point out that it is not racist to think that members of an ethnic group that has repeatedly faced unequal justice (the story about the woman getting twenty years for firing a gun in the air is pretty striking) might engage in some violence in response to a disappointing verdict. 

I have otherwise stayed out of this because I did not follow the trial and do not understand the legal stuff involved.  So, this is all I am going to say about this for now.

No comments: