In the article “Repression and Crime Control: Why Social Movement Scholars Should Pay Attention to Mass Incarceration as a Form of Repression” Pamela Oliver raises the topic of repression of black Americans in the 60-70s. The author provides statistical data on the number of prisoners in this period, and the ratio of white and black prisoners of American prisons. There is also a comparison of the number of prisoners in America with other countries of the world. Also in this paragraph Oliver reflects the lack of attention of sociological research to the fact of unprecedented repression of black people of that time. Then she lays out the beginning of a reconstructed theory of repression, which recognizes the importance of control and prevention of “ordinary crimes”, in the monitoring and suppression of political insurgency. The Oliver’s study raises the problem of the generally accepted scientific community’s total neglect for “the most oppressed and repressed members of U.S. society” (1). The article concerns the deliberate blurring of the border between the suppression of dissent and punishment of criminal activity.
specifically for you
for only $16.05 $11/page
Since the mid-1990s, the United States has had the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, five to eight times higher than in most countries. Even the majority of the white population has a very high incarceration rate by international standards.
- The escalation of imprisonment hit both races, but it hit Black Americans especially hard.
- Black Americans are seven times more likely to go to prison than white Americans.
- Social movement scholars and political sociologists have more broadly ignored these trends because they do not correspond to their perceptions of repression. The “science of repression” movement focused mainly on maintaining the order of protests and other ways of forming and deterring the anti-reform movement. Scientists have focused on open reactions or restrictions on specific acts of dissent, rather than on the suppression of dissenters.
- Racial riots are a long-standing feature of U.S. history, but riots until the 1960s were usually initiated by Whites and often included one-sided attacks on Black communities. The riots of the 1960s, by contrast, were mostly related to robberies and the burning of property by black people.
- The Watts 1965 riot in Los Angeles lasted several days and was fully covered on television, and included rooftop snipers shooting at firefighters and crowds chanting “burn baby, burn.” This was called the entry of the Black working class into the fight for their rights.
- Most Whites have defined riots as meaningless violence, Communist or Black conspiracy to overthrow the United States. Still, many sociologists argued that riots were not just uncontrolled or senseless crimes, but they should be seen as extreme expressions of political resentment. Sociologists provided evidence that rebels rarely killed people – most of those killed in the riots were shot by police or traders.
- The author provides diagrams showing the dynamics of various protests in the period from the mid-60s to the late ’70s, using data from statistical sources. She also talks about the possibility of determining the line between a crime and the expression of will and concludes that in each case, the response is influenced by many social, political, and economic factors.
- Theoretical blindness was not noticed due to the fact that the majority of movement researchers were focused on understanding the movements they could see and developing concepts that would help explain them. The movements they could see were predominantly White middle-class movements.
Pamela Oliver believes that people who noticed and wrote about the mass policing of Black people were mostly criminologists or race scientists. They often were concerned about the repression of Black Americans but were hampered by a lack of connection with how these repressions affected their ability to mobilize politically. Both quantitative research that validates the hypothesis on the relationship between imprisonment and political mobilization, and a qualitative study examining the nature of the political reactions in the besieged communities are needed. The main thought of the article is that protests and social movements are closely linked to structures of social inequality.
Oliver, Pamela. “Repression and Crime Control: Why Social Movement Scholars Should Pay Attention to Mass Incarceration as a Form of Repression.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1-24.