Poster Paper: Racial Demographic Change and Municipal Lawmaking: A Test of Racial Threat Theory in Estimating the Risk of the Enactment of a Juvenile Curfew Ordinance

Thursday, November 6, 2014
Ballroom B (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Portia Allen-Kyle, Rutgers University
This paper uses longitudinal census and crime data from 1950 to 2010 to test the validity of racial threat theory (operationalized as the size and change of the proportion of black migrants into cities) can predict the adoption of a juvenile curfew ordinance. Using a Cox proportional hazard model to examine the effect of the size and change in proportion of the black population on the risk of cities to pass such an ordinance, this study controls for region, median household income, crime, the percentage of single female-headed households, unemployment, and the percentage of young people aged 15-24 years old.

The goal of this paper is to examine whether longitudinal changes in the size of the minority population can influence municipal-level legislative reactions. Rooted in Blumer’s (1958) theory of group threat, racial threat theory, the growth in the size of the minority population in relation to whites will lead to the spread of social control measures because of perceived threats to safety and quality of life (Welch & Payne 2010. Juvenile curfew ordinances are an example of such social control measures and are relevant to examine given the relative ease by which you can regulate and control minors, when compared to the constitutional obstacles when legislating regarding adults.

This study makes a few critical contributions to the field. First, this work contributes to a very small body of literature on the social origins of law, and an even smaller cadre of work on municipal lawmaking. There is great opportunity for research on the origins of municipal law and the influence of social factors, as municipal law most is most relevant to individuals’ everyday life and activities. Second, this work further contributes to the literature on racial threat theory, intergroup perceptions, and social position. A deeper understanding of the role of perceived group position and threat based on demographic change is critical to understanding how these changes influence the municipal lawmaking process, particularly in the context of the expansion of social control measures. Most importantly, this works explores local, historical policy responses to social change, which is a salient process to understanding present policy responses to changing demographics of the United States in the 21st century due to increased immigration.