Category Archives: Research Themes

Are Protests Effective?

liuThe University of Toronto Mississauga’s newspaper, The Medium, recently featured two of our faculty members – Professors Sida Liu and David Pettinicchio – addressing the role and effectiveness of political protest. You can read the entire article online. We have posted an excerpt here.

Are protests effective?

A rise in the number of widespread protests has occurred

David PettiniccioAisha Malik and Mahmoud Sarouji.

Feb. 13, 2017


If you have been following the news lately, it’s hard to miss the abundance of protests and demonstrations occurring globally…

…But are protests effective? I contacted sociology professor Sida Liu, whose focus includes sociology of law, globalization, and social theory among others.

Liu explained that protests are an important factor of a democratic society. The protests in the U.S. not only show discontent with the president, but also reflect on larger global concerns, such as discrimination and the rise of xenophobia. Liu stated, “Skeptics would say that these protests are futile when a government is not listening and a president is too busy tweeting, but they at least raise the collective consciousness of people regarding some vital aspects of our social and political life.”

He went on to explain that protests connect over time, and sometimes only manifest after a longer period of time. Protests rarely have an immediate effect, but they are not isolated events either; rather, they need time to become evident.

In regards to solidarity marches for the Quebec City mosque shooting victims, Liu said that they “demonstrate the Canadian society’s openness, diversity, and care for religious and ethnic minority groups.” They also allow communities to come out and condemn violence against innocent and unarmed individuals.

Liu cited Émile Durkheim, a founding father of sociology who argued, “Punishment on crimes is an indicator of the solidarity of a society.” He further explained, “In this sense, solidarity marches also constitute a form of resistance to the symbolic and physical violence of gender and racial discrimination exercised by xenophobic white males.”

Sociology professor David Pettinicchio, whose focuses include political sociology, social policy, and social movements, also spoke of the impact a protest can have.

Pettinicchio explained that protests allow awareness of issues that don’t seem to be focused on by political leaders. Political activism is important especially now. He stated that “protests help galvanize people around important issues and they can indirectly shape policy directions.

“[Protests] alone may not be enough. For mobilization to be successful moving forward, it requires thinking about long-term and short-term goals and objectives, as well as the use of a multi-pronged approach that can include direct action, as well as systematic efforts to monitor policy, contact policymakers, and for regular citizens to remain engaged in the political process in the long run,” he continued. “The effectiveness relies on unity of ‘political elites’ movement and organizational leaders, activists and regular citizens.”

Read the full article here.

Ellen Berrey speaks on Trump and the law on CTV

berrey-thumbnailEllen Berrey is a faculty member in Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. Her research focuses on law and society, race and public policy in the U.S. On February 6th, she spoke on CTV about President Trump’s travel ban.

Watch the video of her interview here:

 http://ctv.news/wyN6ueE

Criminal Defense in China

liu-criminal-defenseProfessor’s Sida Liu’s new book shows how defense lawyers in China interweave politics and practice in their everyday work.

Sida Liu is a faculty member at the Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, teaching at the Mississauga campus. Currently he is also a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation, and a Fellow of the Public Intellectuals Program at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Professor Liu’s empirical research focuses on the legal profession in China. Late this fall he and co-author Terence C. Halliday, published a book with Cambridge University Press entitled Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work

According to the publisher:

Criminal Defense in China studies empirically the everyday work and political mobilization of defense lawyers in China. It builds upon 329 interviews across China, and other social science methods, to investigate and analyze the interweaving of politics and practice in five segments of the practicing criminal defense bar in China from 2005 to 2015. This book is the first to examine everyday criminal defense work in China as a political project. The authors engage extensive scholarship on lawyers and political liberalism across the world, from seventeenth-century Europe to late twentieth-century Korea and Taiwan, drawing on theoretical propositions from this body of theory to examine the strategies and constraints of lawyer mobilization in China. The book brings a fresh perspective through its focus on everyday work and ordinary lawyering in an authoritarian context and raises searching questions about law and lawyers, politics and society, in China’s uncertain future.

Jooyoung Lee in London Free Press

jooyoung-leeJooyoung Lee is a faculty member in Sociology, teaching at the St. George Campus. His research focuses on gun violence. He spoke with the London Free Press on Wednesday, February 1. The full article is available here. Below is an excerpt.

London police: More weapons seized, but lack of arrests in local gun incidents erodes confidence in cops, says prof

By Dale Carruthers, The London Free Press

As gun seizures more than doubled in London last year, police still haven’t made any arrests in a spate of shootings — including one homicide — that have plagued the city over the last half year.

One gun violence expert warns that unsolved shootings not only make citizens feel unsafe, but they also erode their confidence in police.

“When cases go unsolved, they also compound and add to people’s distrust of the police,” said Jooyoung Lee, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.

“There’s a lack of faith that police can actually protect people and do their job.”

The unsolved shootings — all of them in the second half of 2016 — left one man dead and two others injured…

(part of the article omitted)
…But Lee says authorities can’t seize their way out of gun-violence problems.

“Aside from seizing guns, which is a valuable measure, police also could reduce gun violence by working with community leaders and trying to repair the strained relations with communities that don’t trust them all the time,” said Lee, whose research focuses on street gang members and gunshot victims.

Witnesses to two of the recent London shootings, neither of whom wanted to be identified, said they didn’t fully co-operate with investigators, citing a distrust of police and fear of retribution.

Lee says marginalized communities, where gun violence is more prevalent, often adopt a moral code of not co-operating with authorities — something that police need to crack.

“It’s essential,” he said, “because police rely upon community members to solve cases and they rely on tips and information to do so.”

Read the full article.

David Pettinicchio: History matters for understanding the future of disability rights

David PettiniccioDavid Pettinicchio is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, with undergraduate teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. His research focuses on discrimination based on disability and disability rights. Professor Pettinicchio recently wrote and published an essay in Policy Trajectories, the blog of the American Sociological Association’s Section on Comparative and Historical Sociology. The beginning of the essay is pasted below. You can read the full piece here.

History matters for understanding the future of disability rights

In 2000, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General, argued before the Senate that disability rights in education “created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.”

This is a longstanding view of Sessions, who in the late 1990s and early 2000s focused his efforts in educational policy around school safety and discipline while also proposing an amendment striking activities related to hate crimes from national training and education programs. With so-called “Ed-Flex,” Sessions and other Republicans in 1999 argued that arrogance on the part of the federal government acting as a “super school board” – thinking they know better than local communities about how to educate their children – only creates headaches.

To many critics, an Attorney General Sessions signals an era of rollbacks in civil rights and disability rights policy. Distressingly, his is not an anomalous viewpoint.

Sessions’ comments highlight the kinds of deeply held beliefs among powerful segments of society that federal disability rights policy interferes with local and/or private interests. Detractors have successfully created significant obstacles for effective policy implementation by framing equal rights and antidiscrimination provisions as unnecessary regulation causing unintended harms.

The fight for equal rights in education has been an integral part of the disability rights struggle. Policymakers and activists sought to establish key educational civil rights laws demanding that the government make good on its promise to enforce antidiscrimination and equal rights provisions enacted by Congress in the early 1970s and again in the early 1990s.

Read the full essay.

Black and Blue: Akwasi Owusu-Bempah in U of T Magazine

owusu-bempah-5x7portProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga with expertise in the area of race and policing. U of T Magazine featured an interview with him in the Winter 2017 edition. The entire interview is available here and includes a link to the TEDxUofT talk that Owusu-Bempah and Scot Wortley, Professor of Criminology, presented in 2015.

Black and Blue

Like many Canadians, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a sociology professor at U of T Mississauga who studies policing, has been following the spate of police shootings of unarmed citizens, mostly south of the border. U of T Magazine editor Scott Anderson recently spoke with Owusu-Bempah about these incidents and how relations between police and racialized communities in the U.S. and Canada could be improved.

What strikes you when you hear the reports of unarmed African-­Americans being shot by police and the social unrest that follows?

The unrest in places such as Ferguson and Baltimore is partly in response to police violence, but it also reflects the frustrations that many African-Americans feel over the failed promise of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality is still just a dream for many black Americans. Police violence often acts as a spark for social unrest. But there are a lot of underlying issues that motivate people to get out into the streets and protest.

How does policing in Canada differ from the U.S. with respect to people of colour?

I prefer to look at the differences between racial groups within each country. What we see in Canada is that, compared to whites, black and Aboriginal people are more likely to be victims of police violence. Blacks in Canada may fare better than blacks in the United States but they don’t fare better than whites here.

You’ve said that Canadians have some “blind spots” when it comes to race and policing. What are you referring to?

For one, we don’t have readily available policing data disaggregated by race. While the police gather race-based data in their investigations, it’s not made public, as it is in the U.K. and the U.S. As a result, we either think we don’t have a problem or we look to other places, such as the U.S., to see how we’re doing. Let’s also not forget that Canada has done a good job of erasing its racist history. The apartheid government of South Africa borrowed from Canada’s reservation system. We had slavery. We had segregated schools until almost the end of the last century.

Read the rest of the interview.

Jooyoung Lee speaks on CBC Regina about gun amnesties

jooyoung-lee Jooyoung Lee is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, teaching at the St. George Campus. His research focuses on gun violence. On January 26, Professor Jooyoung Lee joined host Sheila Coles and Regina police chief Evan Bray in a discussion about gun amnesties on the Morning Edition, a Regina CBC radio program.

Watch the video of the interview here.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah in Spacing Toronto on Pride and Black Lives Matter

owusu-bempah-5x7portProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga with expertise in the area of race and policing. This piece, written with Mariana Valverde of the Centre for Criminology, was published in Spacing Magazine on January 25, 2017. The complete piece is available online The following is an excerpt of the longer article:

The truth and post-truth about Pride and Black Lives Matter Toronto

Toronto’s police force has long been known for its sophisticated, expensive PR machine. It is thus not surprising that in the wake of the January 17th community meeting to set policy for Toronto’s Pride 2017, the police version of “Pride policy” was quickly taken up and reproduced in countless media stories, many complete with sad comments from gay or lesbian police officers who (no doubt sincerely) believed they had been exiled from Pride events. The truth was that the meeting voted to exclude police force floats and booths from Pride events.

The Pride organizers have not seemed particularly organized lately, so there is some uncertainty about how things will work out. However, what is indeed true is that Black Lives Matter’s demands, accepted by the majority at the community meeting, did not include banning police officers, queer or otherwise, from participation in Pride events.

First, on-duty police are needed to close streets and regulate traffic, and they will no doubt be treated with respect by Pride organizers, as has always been the case. Off-duty police will be as free to march in the parade as anyone else. Whether they are allowed to wear their uniforms is a matter for police management to decide. (There are very good reasons why officers and soldiers are not generally allowed to wear uniforms and carry guns while off duty).

What Black Lives Matter activists wanted — and what their allies of all races at the Pride meeting agreed to do — was to prevent police forces from using Pride events as PR opportunities.