This paper documents the impact of popular media on racial hate by examining the first American blockbuster: 1915’s The Birth of a Nation, a fictional portrayal of the KKK’s founding rife with racist stereotypes. Exploiting the film’s five-year "roadshow", I find a sharp spike in lynchings and race riots coinciding with its arrival in a county. Instrumenting for roadshow destinations using the location of theaters prior to the movie's release, I show that the film significantly increased local Klan support in the 1920s. Roadshow counties continue to experience higher rates of hate crimes and hate groups a century later.
Roughly a thousand people are killed by American law enforcement officers each year, accounting for more than 5% of all homicides. We estimate the causal impact of these events on civic engagement. Exploiting hyper-local variation in how close residents live to a killing, we find that exposure to police violence leads to signicant increases in registrations and votes. These effects are driven entirely by Blacks and Hispanics and are largest for killings of unarmed individuals. We find corresponding increases in support for criminal justice reforms, suggesting that police violence may cause voters to politically mobilize against perceived injustice.
How do high-profile acts of police brutality affect public trust and cooperation with law enforcement? To investigate this question, we develop a new measure of civilian crime reporting that isolates changes in community engagement with police from underlying changes in crime: the ratio of police-related 911 calls to gunshots detected by ShotSpotter technology. Examining detailed data from eight major American cities, we show a sharp drop in both the call-to-shot ratio and 911 call volume immediately after the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Notably, reporting rates decreased significantly in both non-white and white neighborhoods across the country. These effects persist for several months, and we find little evidence that they were reversed by the conviction of Floyd’s murderer. Together, the results illustrate how acts of police violence may destroy a key input into effective law enforcement and public safety: civilian engagement and reporting.
Nearly a thousand officer-involved killings occur each year in the United States. This paper documents the large, racially-disparate impacts of these events on the educational and psychological well-being of Los Angeles public high school students. Exploiting hyperlocal variation in how close students live to a killing, I find that exposure to police violence leads to persistent decreases in GPA, increased incidence of emotional disturbance and lower rates of high school completion and college enrollment. These effects are driven entirely by black and Hispanic students in response to police killings of other minorities and are largest for incidents involving unarmed individuals.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act that mandated federal oversight of election laws in discriminatory jurisdictions, prompting a spate of controversial new voting rules. Utilizing difference-in-differences to examine the act's 1975 revision, I provide the first estimates of the effects of "preclearance" oversight. I find that preclearance increased long-run voter turnout by 4-8 percentage points, due to lasting gains in minority participation. Surprisingly, Democratic support dropped sharply in areas subject to oversight. Using historical survey and newspaper data, I provide evidence that this was the result of political backlash among racially conservative whites.