Alex Smith; Section 2; Reaction 3: “University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change” vs. Race Riots

Alex Smith

Reaction Paper #3: Case Study

November 10, 2015

Dr. Leslie Martin

“University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change” vs. Race Riots

            For the past few weeks in class, we have talked a great amount about riots and theories as to how those riots develop.  Specifically, we have constantly attempted to classify riots into either breakdown theory or resource mobilization theory.  Although, no full scale riot has transpired (yet), the protests that have recently been occurring over racial issues at the University of Missouri match perfectly with what we have been discussing in class lately.  Additionally, it appears as though the protests could mostly be attributed to resource mobilization theory.  However, we cannot entirely rule out breakdown theory as a potential cause.

It has been several months since Michael Brown, an unarmed black male, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which sparked huge protests throughout Missouri. Since then, however, tension over racial issues have continued to be strongly felt throughout Missouri and especially at the University of Missouri. Tension reached a boiling point when racial epithets were thrown at the student body president, who just so happens to be black, but the university administration did nothing in response. After these racial threats were not taken seriously enough, protestors began to spread all over the campus, demanding that the president of the school, Tim Wolfe, be forced to leave.  Pressure from the protests especially started to pick up when one graduate student vowed that he would not eat until Wolfe was gone. A week later, the football team, with full support of the head coach, announced on November 7 that they would not play as long as Wolfe was still there.  With that final blow, President Wolfe announced on November 9 that he is resigning as president.

As I have stated earlier, although these Missouri protests do not qualify as a full-scale riot, they still relate to our discussion of riots simply by the fact that they involve ordinary people getting things done. Students, faculty, and members of the surrounding community came together to voice their opinion, and were actually successful at reaching their goals. So what is it that separates riots from protests such as the ones at Mizzou (colloquial term for “University of Missouri”)?  The simple answer to this question is that these protests do not qualify as a riot because they are nonviolent.  The race riots of Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles were extremely violent and involved looting, arson, death, etc.  The race protests at Mizzou simply involve a large body of people peacefully voicing their opinions.

Despite not actually qualifying as a riot, I believe that the causes of the Mizzou protests can still be analyzed through the resource mobilization and breakdown theories, which are the two leading theories as to how riots begin.  According to resource mobilization theory, riots are just another form of political action.  Groups have a certain goal in mind and with the resources that they have, riots are often the most effective method for achieving their goal.  In complete contrast to this, breakdown theory argues that goals have nothing to do with riots; riots begin simply because people get angry.  When people are angered and that anger gradually builds up, eventually some spark will cause their anger to reach a boiling point, which is when the riot begins.

When analyzing the situation with the view that protesters solely wanted President Wolfe out, the Mizzou protests were hands-down resource mobilization theory.  The protests were peaceful, and, more importantly, they were goal-oriented.  People wanted President Wolfe out of office, so they took whatever actions were necessary to make that one specific thing happen.  However, I strongly believe that breakdown theory played a major role as well.  It has been several months since the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, but since then, tension has only built.  That being said, I feel that the recent protests are simply a sign of those tensions boiling over. Since the Ferguson case, nothing was resolved and racial injustice continued. Therefore, when the president of the student body was threatened and nothing was being done to solve anything, that served as the spark that caused “breakdown” to occur and protests to begin.

In conclusion, the causes of the Mizzou riots can mostly be attributed to resource mobilization theory, but the case is not entirely black and white.  There is definitely a gray area in which resource mobilization theory and breakdown theory are blending together as the causes of the protests.  Whichever theory applies, I just want to add one last point: I absolutely love the fact that these protests were successful. It’s been about 50 years now since the Civil Rights movement, yet we still struggle over the same issues of racism, and it drives me insane.  Although I hate that the Mizzou protests had happen in the first place, I love how the community responded and I love that the outcome was different than that of the race riots we discussed in class.  Rather than tons of damage, injuries, and grief to no avail, the Mizzou protests were peaceful and actually accomplished something.  Racial issues are never going to completely disappear, but at least this is a sign that we are moving in the right direction.

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