Breakdown and Resource Mobilization Theories: Baltimore Riots (Ashley Jackson, Section 2)

In this past section there has been a large focus placed on riots and the reactions they get from city officials, police, and the community. Throughout US history there have been countless riots, but what is defined to be a riot? Riots brings violence to the street and is seen to have no end goal, whereas protests are seen as organized and purposeful to bring change to an ongoing issue. Non-routine events or actions, such as rioting, are seen to be acts of anger and spurred by strong emotions. What pushes people to rioting and is it seen to be an effective way to bring change?

In Breakdown Theories of Collective Action, Useem begin by explaining Breakdown Theory as being the classical sociological explanation of contentious forms of collective action. He claims that rebellions and riots only occur when the system has failed and begins to loose confining power. As time went on Breakdown Theory soon became replaced by a more modern theory, Resource Mobilization. It was replaced because the theory failed to see that the riots were more than just pent up anger and reacting to emotions.  The Resource Mobilization theory accepts that riots will occur when ties are weakened between social structures. These “outbursts” are seen as developing from preexisting societal problems and are deemed as having an achievable goal in mind.

After the death of Freddie Gray, who died on police custody, the city of Baltimore began rioting. But it was not just the anger and grief of Freddie Gray’s death that started the riots, although the Breakdown theory would portray it as that. There had been many preexisting problem that led up to the anger in the Baltimore society. Police brutality has been an ongoing issue for minorities across the country. This is what the Resource Mobilization theory would that the rioters were making efforts to raise awareness for the “Black Lives Matter” campaign and the truth behind police violence.

In From Peaceful Protests To Violent Uprisings, Here’s What History Can Teach Us About The Baltimore Riots by Kristina Marusic the question of whether violence does bring about social change is addressed. Almost all of the successful movements in American History have involved some level of rioting that, at that time, seemed damaging to the community (Marusic, 2015). It also brings attention to the issues that are causing individuals to protest. Without the media coverage of these riots, many of these issues would be ignored—and many still are. These disruptions in communities can either be protests or riots. When all white crowds began to “take to the streets” that is all it is, yet when blacks and other minorities try to show years of anger and oppression the media portrays them as thugs, who are mindlessly creating chaos. The media’s portrayal of the Baltimore riots showed “thugs” burning buildings and cars but nothing of what started this outburst other than one event, Freddie Gray’s death.

This section on rioting and on the two theories definitely show how diverse interpretations of social movements can be. The issues are often ignored in riots and do not focus on why people felt the need to be disruptive in the first place. Although violence isn’t seen as an effective way to bring equality and peace, it can be seen as a normal reaction through the Resource Mobilization theory.


Useem, Bert. “Breakdown Theories of Collective Action.” Annu. Rev. Sociol. Annual Review of Sociology 24.1 (1998): 215-38.

Marusic, Kristina. “From Peaceful Protests To Violent Uprisings, Here’s What History Can Teach Us About The Baltimore Riots”

Respectable Riots for Rights By Janaye Evans(Section 2)


Baltimore Riots

Local officials and law enforcement described how Baltimore handled the riots as a “disaster.”  A failure to confront “thugs” and a failure to prepare despite plenty of warning. (Levs 2015) This nonroutine collective filled with rebellion and violence is not how society is supposed to function both morally and physically (Useem 1998).  Instead the local law enforcement should have intervened at the mention of “purging” by high school students on twitter (Levs 2015).  Clearly they were not ready for these children.

New New York City Riots

The case in NNYC is quite different. Today, November 6, 2015 rioters took advantage of the warm weather to flood the streets with considerate outrage.  This “outrage” was sparked by the death of the beloved Black leader Rev Hal Sharpland.

Rev Hal was killed by an angry attacker who thought his work against police action in Staten Island following Eric Garner was false.

Following the news of his death, black rioters took note of the White Lives Matters criticisms on their riots and decided to try routine collective action.  Meaning peaceful protests and rallies (Useem 1998).

To accomplish this, protesters started with sit-ins outside of local law enforcement offices. However, as soon as more than five black protestors were grouped together they began to be arrested and harassed.

Next, because they were not going to give up hope, they started marching through the streets at night, holding hands, and chanting “Black Lives Matter”.  Yet they were met with tear gas and militarized police.

Finally, the protesters after being gased, arrested, and threatened decided to enlist in the help of their white allies.

When the media was asked for a comment on the white rioters they simply stated “Rioters? Please they were white kids. It’s called a demonstration.”


Levs, Josh. 2015. Baltimore’s handliing of riots slammed as ‘disaster’. April 28. Accessed November 6, 2015.

Useem, Bert. 1998. “Breakdown Theories of Collective Action.” Annual Reviews 215-38.

This Onion article was inspired by


UMW’s Alcohol and Drug Policies A reaction by Sequoi Phipps, Section 2

UMW’s Alcohol and Drug Policies

A reaction by Sequoi Phipps, Section 2

At the University of Mary Washington, like any university, there are policies in place to regulate students’ alcohol and drug possession and use as well as to publicly state the consequences that are enforced for anyone that is found in violation those policies. I would like to discuss some of the aspects of these policies that stand out to me as an undergraduate student. I will address certain elements of the alcohol policy and the lack of an amnesty policy at UMW as well as elements of the UMW drug policy and the scorecard on this policy and who has power to enforce the regulations.

The UMW alcohol policy makes most of the statements that you would expect a university alcohol policy to make. It addresses the laws of the state of Virginia that regulate age, possession, and purchasing alcohol for anyone under the drinking age. The policy clearly defines what the university considers University-controlled public space, private spaces, possession, and intoxication. Then, all of the elements of how the policy is enforced and what violates the policy are explained. A thorough and clear university alcohol policy. However, in UMW’s alcohol policy, emergency services are mentioned once. Section 12 of the policy elements states “Severely intoxicated students will be referred to the University Police. Any student who is unresponsive or otherwise thought to be in danger of serious acute alcohol poisoning will be referred to Fredericksburg Emergency Medical Services or a higher level of care for treatment.” The end of section 12, however, states again that violators of the policy will still be reported, “Violations of the policy against alcohol intoxication are reported to the Director of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility or designee.”

Many universities have a medical amnesty policy in place. This policy allows students subject to a medical emergency due to dangerous or excessive alcohol or drug intake, or students reporting the medical emergency on someone’s behalf, to be excused from any disciplinary action related to the university’s drug and alcohol policy. The one time response to a medical emergency is even mentioned in UMW’s drug policy, it is clear that violations of the policy are still addressed. Often on our campus, things like “if a student’s health is in danger, contact the authorities without worrying about getting in trouble” are communicated to students from people in positions like Resident Assistants, Orientation Leaders, and the like. Coming from students in positions of some power, this sounds like a medical amnesty policy that does not actually exist. Unfortunately this presents some grey area.

In terms of the UMW drug policy, it reflects the alcohol policy in that it states the expected regulations that a university drug policy should state. However, UMW’s drug policy was rated by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), an international organization of students that raise awareness, have discussions, and are focused on the impacts of drug abuse especially in college students. From the SSDP, UMW’s drug policy received an F. They state that the reasons for this grade were the absence of a medical amnesty or “good samaritan” policy and “Strict sanctions focused on punishment with suggestion that students in violation of drug policy risk judicial action from the university in addition to federal/state authorities.” They also mentioned that “marijuana grouped with other illegal drugs in policy”.

The policy states how illegal drugs can be seized by the university and who is allowed to enter a campus residence. But who has power and what happens? Resident Assistants (RA’s) on campus are part of the Residence Life Staff. These RA’s are enrolled undergraduate students. Because of their positions and the training they undergo, they are permitted to report and confiscate illegal drugs or paraphernalia, “Materials in plain view will be confiscated by the staff members…”. But remember, these staff members could also be current students. Meanwhile, the policy states that violations can be reported to University Police and/or UMW Judicial Affairs. That’s a lot of power to place in the hands of students.

Ultimately, these policies do present and cover necessary information and regulations to promote a healthy and safe living and learning environment for students. Could some of these policies be changed to better serve the community? Could policies like a medical amnesty policy benefit the UMW community? Would more students view health and safety as a priority if disciplinary action would be waived? All of these questions, I think, are important for the University to examine. Maybe it is time for some policy updates or clarifications.


UMW Alcohol Policy:

UMW Drug Policy:

University of Florida Medical Amnesty Policy:

SSDP Drug Policy Score Card:

Neighborhood Zoning In My Hometown

Lauren Wood

Community Power

Reaction Paper 2

Dr. Martin

November 6, 2015


Neighborhood Zoning In Williamsburg James City County


After living in Williamsburg James City County for almost all of my life I’ve been aware of neighborhood zoning because I would overhear adults talking about it but I never fully understood what neighborhood zoning actually meant in Williamsburg until taking a deeper look into the zoning plan for the county. After doing some research on the neighborhood-zoning plan in Williamsburg James City County I have a better understanding of how the board decides to zone neighborhoods. The plan has many strengths and weaknesses, for example, the people in charge of this job did not do a good job zoning the neighborhoods so that the public schools had an equal balance of upper-class, middle – class, and lower class population. A strength of this neighborhood zoning plan is that it is very organized and well planned out.

James City County has nineteen different zoning designations in the ordinance but only fifteen have been applied currently. Each district contains a set of by- right uses and most of the districts have a set of specially permitted uses. To figure out whether a parcel is zoned appropriately for a given use one can locate the address on the zoning map or use the Property Information System found on the planning and zoning homepage for Williamsburg James City County. You can find the list of by- right and specially permitted uses in the Zoning Ordinance.

The Zoning Administrator (the person in charge) is empowered to administer and enforce the requirements of the zoning ordinance. If one has complaints such as excessive trash, uncut grass/ uncared for yards, and excessive trash, they report it to the zoning Office where they take care of violations like these.

The neighborhood-zoning plan in Williamsburg James City County plan has many strengths, as it changes very often some positive things stay the same like how organized the plan is. There are several chapters in the zoning ordinance plan that keeps everything organized and in place. The plan lists all rules and regulations that apply to the neighborhood-zoning plan.

A weakness of this zoning plan in James City County is that schools are very unbalanced. The balance between upper class, middle class, and lower class is not well spread out between the school systems. All of the upper class and middle class population children are zoned to go to one school while the rest of the population (the lower class) is zoned. Another weakness is that the upper class neighborhoods are zoned to the newer and nicer schools while the lower class population is stuck with the older, not as nice schools in Williamsburg. This is a very known problem and something needs to be done about it.

Williamsburg James City County neighborhood zoning plan is well written and very organized. Although it has some weaknesses, it has many strengths that out way the negatives. Williamsburg James city county’s neighborhood zoning system continues to better itself and make improvements.

Breakdown Theory and Resource Mobilization Theory Applied

Rabib Hasan

Reaction Paper #2

Community Power Section 01

Dr. Martin

This reaction paper will focus on the motivation and source of political protests by looking at two prevalent sociological theories: breakdown and resource mobilization.  In order to analyze these two theories, I am going to specifically analyze the protests that came out of the UMW protests. By looking at the source unrest in the student body and the actions of the school’s administration, we can see how these instances of momentum played out in the political atmosphere of the campus.

Breakdown theory explains protests and riots in a way that contrasts disorganization at the top with organization at the bottom, the top being the governing body and the bottom being those who live underneath the governing body and are directly affected by their laws and orders, or lack of. When the current structure fails to reciprocate the needs of its constituents, then the bottom uses alternative means of political action to get what they want. From the point of view that this theory presents, social movements are only effective if they are organically created through this process.  

Resource mobilization theory describes protests as more intentional, emphasizing the actions of movement members acquiring resources as well as mobilizing people towards goals the set political goals. This theory doesn’t take into account timing and circumstances that allow openings for direct action to occur, but just focuses on the structural side of the movement and how much capacity it has.

For this reason, I don’t think that one theory is enough to describe the situation on campus; a mix of both is needed. There were strong elements of a “breakdown” situation on campus that year. Multiple other issues were surfacing on campus. Students who were bringing up concerns about rape culture in the community to the administration were met with responses they deemed inadequate. There was outrage over a “mexican” themed party off campus which consisted of racist costumes and slurs, and again, students felt that the administration was not addressing the issue. All of these issues came together to create collective anger amongst students, and students practiced various forms of political engagement, such as marches against rape culture or writing op-eds against existing racist social institutions.

The sit-in was organized in a fashion that represents resource mobilization theory. Students used their campus friendships and connections to recruit other students. They also used their time to do social media blasts and get articles across in traditional media. The time that is accessible to students was a huge resource and factor in getting the message out, and the social capital was necessary to get that initial energy and momentum into the action.

As days started to accumulate for the sit-in, the rest of the community began to question the Rector’s lack of response. Sharing frustration, or just becoming more curious, the number of participants soared to almost 150 community members. DivestUMW created a situation which incited a breakdown atmosphere. They showed the unresponsiveness of the situation by symbolically occupying the space on the premise that if the school represented the students and faculty than it would negotiate a deal for divestment and pass the sub-committee.  With and social capital time as a resource, the movement in that time could have been seen through a resource mobilization theory. But they were using their resources in order to put a lense on the aspects of the school’s government system that were in “breakdown” which further agitated the situation.

This agitation lead to the assembly of 150 students outside of the Board of Visitors following came with little organizing effort. A facebook event page was made and there was little effort for recruitment. This stage of the movement was almost completely organic, which is inline with the breakdown theory definition. But this came from being intentional with strategy and resources in order to create that situation.

To conclude, resource mobilization and breakdown go hand in hand because they capture different aspects of a movement. Campaigns and movements consist of structures as well as random and unpredictable momentum. Breakdown theory can be used to assess the timing of political unrest, while resource mobilization can be used to assess the structures and intentional efforts of forwarding the movement.


Useem, Bert. “Breakdown Theories of Collective Action.” (1998).


Estes, Lindley. “After arrests, Divest UMW group vows to demonstrate.” ( April 17, 2015)
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Collective Action in Baltimore: Student’s Voices

In an article written about the responses to the upcoming Freddie Gray trial, Karen Houppert follows a group of students participating in the public discussion about police brutality. As she describes, Baltimore’s high schools and colleges have formed multiple debate teams in order to learn how to eloquently speak out against these injustices. In light of the upcoming trial and in anticipation of heavy volume of protests, rallies, and rioting that may occur, a group of students from some of these debate teams called for an agreement with local police officers. They requested that police clearly show their badges, that they do not force protestors onto the streets which could lead to arrest for blocking traffic, and that they do not display militant weapons unless absolutely necessary in the case of a riot. They planned to present these points at a City Council meeting to Police Commissioners Kevin Davis and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. However, despite Davis’ claims just hours before the meeting that engaging with peaceful demonstrators was a vital part of his mission, the students’ request was ignored.

In response, sixteen of these students chose to occupy City Hall, staging a peaceful sit-in in protest of the lack of attention granted to their cause. After a few hours of this, one hundred police officers arrived to arrest them, escorting the teenagers out of the building in handcuffs. The students expressed frustration at the Commissioners’ blatant disregard for their opinions; one student claiming that it was clear that Davis “truly does not care about the voices of youth.” Many other residents also shared similar emotions, pointing out that if Davis is unwilling to listen to the voices of college-bound, highly educated students, where does that leave the more marginalized members of the community who want to voice their opinions on the trial? In summary, it is a commonly held understanding that through these debate programs, students are empowered, instilling in them the belief that their voices matter and deserve to be heard. For community members, the students, and those who are closely following the case, the treatment of these students is a blatant disregard for their right to actively participate in public discussions about issues they are passionate about.

According to a Resource Mobilization theory, collective action is defined by groups fighting for political advantages through organization and solidarity. As is asserted by Bert Useem, this theory arose in response to Social Breakdown theory, which claims that non-routine collective action is a response to marginalization and is characterized by chaos and the rejection of social norms, laws, and expectations. However, this instance of collective action can be categorized as routine based on the fact that it was highly organized, peaceful, and goal-oriented. Contrary to social breakdown theory, while this action occurred in response to the marginalization of a people, the students involved used planning and communication skills as well as a strong knowledge of governmental structure and function. While this theory offers some degree of perspective into the motivations underlying causes of this student led sit-in, it cannot fully explains the complexities of this instance. The students participating in the protest came from inner-city Baltimore, many of them growing up in impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods. As one student’s mother states, her daughter was “…born into struggle,” and “picked up that fighting in utero.” The girl’s mother goes on to describe how most of the family has been in jail, making the circumstances for her daughter’s success difficult to overcome. Social Breakdown theory, in this case, fails to recognize the ability of marginalized people to respond to oppression in a well-organized, peaceful manner despite their positions in society.

Resource Mobilization theory provides a more comprehensive explanation for the student-led protest. As multiple students point out, the connections they formed through debate have been powerful tools in allowing them to mobilize around issues like police brutality in their city. After graduating high school and college, many of these students have gone on to become influential figures in Baltimore’s Black Lives Matter movement as well as other smaller-scale protest movements centered around racial issues and police brutality. The partnering of educated, well-trained youth with various stakeholders and members of the community has led to a powerful collective movement which, as Useem points out in his discussion of resource mobilization theory, is characterized by solidarity and cooperation. However, despite their peaceful actions, the students continued to be marginalized by authorities who exercised their power by ignoring and then arresting the protestors. The power relations at play in this situation also offer some perspective into how these tensions could eventually escalate, resulting in more rioting, or non-traditional collective action.

Houppert, Karen. “Opening Arguments: High school students take their debate skills to the streets—and occupy City Hall.” City Paper. N.p., 21 Oct. 2015. Web. <>.

Useem, Bert. “Breakdown Theories of Collective Action.” (1998).

Reaction Paper #2- Kam Tavarez Section 1

Over the course of this semester we have talked about many different non-profit and NIMBY organizations. My interest for my second reaction paper initiated after reading Hickey’s “The Geography of Pornography”. Before reading this article I never considered the significant impact that these frisky types of businesses have on local residents. When I think about what affects residents of an area I don’t necessarily think storefronts, I think about the tearing down of homes or empty lots within the neighborhood. Due to the fact that I never put any thought into those types of businesses, primarily because we don’t see any in this area, I decided to research other communities affected by frisky businesses in their neighborhoods.

In the article written by Hickey, residents of Minneapolis formed neighborhood organizations in effort for the removal of an adult business within a residential community. The article focused primarily on the feminist movement and on the fact that they thought pornography violated women’s rights. During my research I came across many states and communities whom also crossed paths with similar situations of unwanted businesses. Many of these states and communities had initiated NIMBY movements in order to accomplish the removal of unwanted businesses within residential communities. While doing this research one particular event stuck out to me, the NIMS (Not In My State) movement initiated by the state of New Jersey.

NIMBY is a recognized movement; prior to this I would have never even considered a NIMS movement due to the grand scale of it. This movement initiated in Sayreville, New Jersey after the opening of a nude juice bar known as “35 Club”. This nude bar was actually a gentleman’s club, which sold only non-alcoholic beverages so that their employees could work fully nude. The opening of this bar created an abundance of uneasiness and anger among residents of the community. The residents of this community fought for the 35 Club to be shut down by using the argument that its customers could take the short trip to Staten Island and enjoy the strip joints already established there. Another argument proposed by the residents was that this club went against a state law that stated that sexually oriented businesses must not be within 1,000 feet of a residential area or park.

This movement reminded me of Hickey’s article due to the fact that residents were arguing that the adult business was too close to residential areas and at a place where families had to walk by and women would get harassed. Like Hickeys article, change eventually did come but it did not happen overnight. It took the residents of Sayreville, New Jersey approximately 5 years to officially remove the 35 Club. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the availability of strip clubs in neighboring states was enough to keep these businesses out of local communities. “Today, this court becomes the first in the nation to suggest that a state can geographically restrict constitutionally permissive expression within its borders by offering a neighboring state as an alternative forum,” (Epstein 2012). The Mayor of Sayreville at the time, Mayor Kennedy O’Brian, was pleased with the final ruling of the Supreme Court. Mayor O’Brian stated that Sayreville is a community of families and agreed that these types of businesses should be kept out.

One thing I found interesting about the case in New Jersey was that adult bookstores were also included in the ruling. I found the similarities between Minneapolis and New Jersey to be very astounding seeing how they both had different outcomes. It amazed me that the coming together of the community of Sayreville had such a huge impact on the entire state. Unlike many cases we’ve looked at over the course of the semester, the case of New Jersey is one in which the residents voices were finally heard.

Vy Tran SOCG 471M Sect 1: Editorial-Routine is the Promising Choice

Protests, social movements, and riots have been methods for people not in power to project their voice and opinion. Although not all of these events yield positive results, people continue to find ways to gather in numbers in order to make a change in society. One of the biggest current issues is police brutality against blacks. According to Bert Useem, breakdown theory explains the forms of the collective actions in riots and rebellious civil violence. The two types of collective action are routine and non-routine. Routine collective actions follow established patterns of organization in structural societies. This typically consists of groups of people who bind together in order to non-violently protest their opinions and desire for change. Non-routine includes violent acts seen in riots or lynch mobs. These may still be organized, but the behavior is unacceptable and harmful to the community.

In a society where racism, poverty, discrimination, and several other social issues exist, there will be those who yearn to see a change and are determined to take action in making a positive impact on society. Routine collective action is clearly the most efficient and non-harmful way to voice the people’s opinions. When it is nonviolent through petitions, campaigns or other social movements, it promotes a specific goal with good intentions. Although both routine and non-routine collective actions may be organized, routine is more structured with definite tasks and clear-cut objectives. It is also not meant to be harmful, but beneficial for the betterment of society.

In reference to the Baltimore riots, Freddie Gray was severely injured while in Baltimore police custody and resulted in his death. Instead of taking a stand by peaceful protest, Baltimore broke out in riots. It is understandable how angered and disappointed people would be with our police force, especially due to other instances of white police brutality against blacks. However, do the riots change what happened? Do they assist in correcting this poor act of our law enforcement? If anything, rioting only increases the racial tension and is a step toward repeating the negative parts of history. Police officials continue to risk their lives to bring the riots to a halt and innocent people and their businesses or homes suffer as a result. After the rioting, Baltimore was left with major destruction to the city and neighborhoods and the initial issue still exists. Non-routine collective action includes irrational chaotic violence and it is never the answer to resolving these occurrences. Not only does it fail to make a positive impact on the community, but it delivers a major setback to the city.

Any time the people need to make a stand for what is right, our historical civil rights movement leaders would encourage routine collective action to make a change. Even if it may not persuade the people in power to consider modification to the system, it is always more promising than non-routine collective action.

Works Cited: