The Conditions of Racial Violence in American Cities: A Developmental Synthesis

The Conditions of Racial Violence in American Cities: A Developmental Synthesis*

By Joel A. Lieske, University of Cincinnati

This article analyzes the social and political conditions associated with the incidence of racial violence in a sample of 119 American cities. Data on the incidence of racial disorders are drawn from newspaper accounts compiled by the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence during the period 1967–1969. A total of 334 disorders are analyzed.

Two alternative hypotheses are examined. The first assumes that the causes of the black urban riots are rooted largely in the disorganized environment of socially marginal individuals. The second attempts to locate the outbreak of rioting primarily within a closed and unresponsive political system. Paradoxically, the results tend to provide empirical support for both theoretical perspectives. At the same time, the data suggest the need to reformulate and revise conventional interpretations of the black urban riots. This is done by synthesizing and testing a developmental model which implies a curvilinear relationship between the incidence of racial violence on the one hand, and black political development on the other.