Policing disorderly campus protests and convivial gatherings: The interaction of threat, social organization, and first amendment guarantees

John D. McCarthy, Andrew Martin, Clark McPhail

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations

Abstract

Expectations about police responses to disorderly campus gatherings are explored here using details about nearly 400 disorderly convivial gatherings and confrontational protests that occurred during recent decades. Past work suggests that protests may represent threats to authorities, but protests also are privileged by the First Amendment, yielding conflicting expectations about the forcefulness of police responses. In contrast, convivial gatherings, even those that breach the public order, may be less threatening to authorities, while at the same time more difficult to police because of their comparative lack of social organization. Analyzing details of the gatherings, we find that while police frequently attempt to disperse disturbances of both kinds, they use force in only a small minority of them. However, police are substantially more likely to use force when protest participants also use force than when convivial participants do, suggesting that the relationship between threat and police response is heavily contingent upon the nature of the event as well as the behavior of participants. The findings highlight the interplay between the internal dynamics of gatherings and the way they are perceived by authorities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)274-296
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Problems
Volume54
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

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