Sociology Faculty Research

Sociology Faculty Research

Catch up with research from the sociology department at Merrimack College.

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Dr. Daniel Herda

Chicago faces a racial reckoning. For over 50 years, Chicago Mayors Richard J. and Richard M. Daley were at the helm of a law-and-order dynasty that disadvantaged predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods and covered up heinous crimes against Black men. During his 1980-2012 tenure as State’s Attorney and Mayor, Richard M. Daley (son of Richard J. Daley) led a law enforcement bureaucracy which permitted police detective John Burge to supervise the torture of over 100 Black men on Chicago’s South and West Sides. Misguided policies on “gangs, guns, and drugs,” support for a racialized code of silence and police misconduct, and a lack of meaningful punishment, have ensured that these leaders’ effects on Chicago are still sorely felt.

In this book, John Hagan, Bill McCarthy, and Daniel Herda confront the complicated history of race, politics, and policing in Chicago to explain how crime works from the top-down through urban political machines and the elite figures who dominate them. The authors argue that the Daleys’ law enforcement system worked largely to benefit and protect White residential areas and business districts while excluding Black and Brown Chicagoans and concentrating them in highly segregated neighborhoods. The stark contradiction between the promise “to serve and protect” and the realities of hyper-segregation and mass incarceration created widespread cynicism about policing that remains one of the most persistent problems of contemporary Chicago law enforcement.

Several studies find links between immigrant population innumeracy and anti-immigrant attitudes. It seems that when people over-estimate the size of foreign-born populations in their country, they also tend to be more hostile toward them. But can these inflated perceptions also result in anti-immigrant actions and behaviors, even acts of violence? The current study examines this question with data from the South African Social Attitudes Survey from 2019. The nation of South Africa stands as an outlier when it comes to acts of xenophobia. Harassment, violence, vigilantism, and riots targeting foreigners occur with frightening regularity. It is also a context where misperceptions about immigrants are pervasive. But can these help to explain South Africa’s anti-immigrant violence?

The current research examines the association between population innumeracy and respondents’ reports of having participated in violent, anti-immigrant behaviors. It tests two theoretical processes based on Intergroup Threat Theory and Fazio’s Attitudes-to-Behavior Process Model. The results indicate that population innumeracy is extraordinarily high in South Africa, among the highest ever recorded. Further, these misperceptions are associated with both a greater likelihood of reporting violent action against immigrants and a greater willingness to engage in violence if one hasn’t already. This is particularly true among the most extreme over-estimators. The associations are robust to several controls and hold in two different innumeracy operationalizations. They are also not mediated by perceptions of threat. The findings mark the first time that literature has demonstrated a link between innumeracy and anti-immigrant actions, which has several implications for future research.