Understanding Social Unrest


Social unrest has become a major topic in the United States. At MPC we are bringing together American University scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds to address riot determinants and their consequences. We must better understand the comprehensive set of historic and contemporary circumstances fueling modern-day frustrations so that pragmatic policy solutions can be crafted to minimize discontent and promote democracy.

Michael Bader

The Consequences of Urban Crisis

Riots in the United States have transformed the urban landscape. The “second ghetto” hypothesis argues that urban renewal policies of 1940s to the 1960s created the structural conditions of inequality that would continue to plague cities for decades later. Taking that idea a step further, Thomas Sugrue’s Origins of Urban Crisis argues that those policies, and the inequality they produced, led to intense anger that boiled over into the riots of the 1960s. Bader's current research focuses on the influence that the 1960s riots had on patterns of neighborhood racial change in the post-Civil Rights era. He also considers whether other factors, economic and political, overrode the long-term riot influence.

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Bradley Hardy

The Evolution of Black Neighborhoods Since Kerner

Hardy's research studies the evolution of African American neighborhoods since the Kerner Commission issued their groundbreaking report on the causes of the rioting and social unrest that marked the 1960s. He first examines how black neighborhoods evolved in four representative cities —Detroit, Newark, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC — that experienced severe rioting during this period. Neighborhoods directly affected by rioting saw substantial population declines and stagnation of several key neighborhood amenities relative to those that were not directly affected.

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Derek Hyra

Roots of the Riots

While we have experienced much stability in urban America since the 1960s, in 2014, 2015, and 2016 three major riots occurred in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; and Charlotte, North Carolina respectively. Several recent studies argue aggressive police practices are primarily underpinning today’s urban unrest; however, riots are rarely driven by a single cause. We need to comprehensively understand how other 21st century dynamics including public housing demolition, the gentrification of African American communities, and widening racial inequality, undergird modern political instability. Hyra’s critical comparative research advances understandings of the linkages among urban policy, social inequality, and democracy.

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Cathy Scheidner

When Does Police Violence Cause Urban Unrest?

In the summer of 2014, police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. Both men were black and unarmed. Both their deaths sparked national outrage. And both cases were turned over to a grand jury whose members failed to indict. But while the first case provoked weeks of violent police–community confrontation, the second initiated constructive political action. Drawing on interviews with people close to both men, Schneider argues that the difference amounts to the presence or absence of rooted civic organizations whose members hold authorities accountable for racialized police aggression.

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