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Kiela Crabtree

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Emory University with a focus on the politics of race, identity, violence, and conflict in the United States. 

How does racial violence influence

American political behavior?

My work focuses on the impact of violence -- specifically racially-targeted violence -- on political participation and public opinion. My research also considers the political legacies of conflict in the United States, emphasizing dynamics of social identity and hierarchy. With interests in both contemporary and historical conflict, I have conducted intensive archival work on the legacies of Civil Rights Era violence and terrorism in the American south, and I continue to examine the implications of such violence for present-day political behavior.

I earned my PhD. in Political Science from the University of Michigan in 2022. Prior to attending the University of Michigan, I earned my B.A. in Politics at Sewanee: the University of the South. From 2022-2023, I was a post-doctoral fellow at Emory University's James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference.

I am an American Political Science Association (APSA) Minority Fellow, and my research has been supported by the Hanes Walton Award for the Study of Race and Ethnic Politics, in addition to the Converse-Miller Fellowship in American Political Behavior and Gerald R. Ford Fellowship. My dissertation proposal was recognized by APSA's Urban and Local Politics Section with the Byran Jackson Dissertation Research Award. Most recently, my dissertation research was supported by APSA's Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG). I have also been a Visiting Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). 


Forged in the Fire


How the Enduring Legacies of Racial Violence Shape American Politics

When, how, and why do the targets of racial violence resist, even in the face of credible threats to their lives?  When do those targeted fight back? And, instead, when are they repressed?   This book project answers these questions by focusing on the political consequences of racial violence in the United States and asserting its role in shaping political engagement, in the past and in the present-day. In the book, I conceptualize racially-targeted violence to encompass acts that include lynchings, hate crimes, and other tactics of racialized violence committed by private citizens. The book’s theoretical framework focuses on African-Americans and concerns the conditions under which racially-targeted violence is politically mobilizing, rather than politically repressive, for those who share racial identity with the victimized group. A novel dataset of racially-targeted violence, stretching across the 20th century and sourced from African-American newspapers, is used to test the theoretical framework.

Historically, it is undeniable that racial violence has occurred in the face of threats to political power and as an effort to deter political engagement. Therefore, the book’s central focus is establishing the conditions under which such violence is a successful means of repression, when it is, instead, politically activating, and how these outcomes manifest themselves in the present day. Ultimately, this book establishes racial violence as an enduring component of American politics. Not only has violence against African-Americans, and other historically-marginalized ethno-racial groups, shaped their political behavior in the past, but I show that it also continues to do so today.

Projects and Working Papers


Contemporary  Violence

A growing literature finds that mass shooting incidents in the United States have few, if any, lasting consequences for mass political behavior. But when those incidents clearly and indisputably target specific ethno-racial groups, is there evidence that such violence changes perceptions about the targeted group and shifts related policy attitudes? First, using several sources of nation-wide survey data, we consider if and how attitudes about an ethno-racial group change in the aftermath of four mass shooting events targeting Asian, Black, and Latinx Americans between 2015 and 2022. Then, we pursue this question further with a survey experiment and additional consideration for heterogeneous treatment effects. Across all studies, white Americans’ attitudes do not substantially change after exposure to news of a mass shooting, regardless of the target. Our findings present a more robust picture of the political aftermath of racially-targeted mass shootings by documenting the deep entrenchment of public opinion surrounding such incidents.

Racial Cues and Civilian Violence in the United States

A growing body of literature has drawn attention to the prevalence of fatal police shootings in the United States, documenting the many ways police violence impacts political behavior and perceptions of policing, particularly among Black and brown people. Less is known, however, about how incidents of mass violence directed at minority racial groups influence how members of those groups view their relationship with the political system. In this experimental study, I theorize an association between racially-targeted violence and shared-race with the targeted group, while also contending that responses to such violence are not simply a function of shared identity and racial attachment. I find that Black, Hispanic, and White respondents react in distinct ways to news about racially-targeted violence. Black respondents express significantly higher levels of anger when reading about violence targeting other Black people; they are significantly more empathetic, though, when reading about violence targeting Hispanic people. These findings offer new insights into the relationship between people of color and the lasting implications of violence over time.

         May 24, 2021, Monkey Cage Blog -- Washington Post.

Breeding Contempt: Reactions to Police Violence

(Forthcoming at Political Behavior) with Nicole Yadon

Growing media coverage and conversation around police shootings has occurred in the United
States in recent years, but little research in political science has explored individual reactions
to the news of police shootings or the implications for feelings towards police organizations. Consequently, this project explores how Americans react to stories about police-involved shootings and their subsequent opinions towards police. Using a survey experiment, we expose participants to a news story which describes a police officer shooting and killing either a Black man, a white man, or a dog, followed by measures of feelings towards police. We find evidence that the victim presented influences the perceptions white people hold of police brutality, police racism, and their attitudes toward policing more broadly. Moreover, and perhaps of greatest concern, is the lack of reaction white respondents express after reading about the murder of a Black victim. We contend that this finding has important implications for the politics of policing and police oversight.

Fear and Participation in Las Vegas:

Race, Violence, and Implications for Electoral Behavior

Focusing on the localized effects of violence on political participation and questioning whether such events leave the political fabric of a community untouched in their wake, I look to an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada to consider if violence with no clear target – an act of indiscriminate violence – has measurable effects on voter turnout. Even with no explicitly racial target, electoral participation is almost 10 percentage points higher among Hispanic people who registered to vote in the time immediately following the shooting. I suggest that the shift can be explained by community organizations that were spurred to action in the aftermath, highlighting the crucial roles that social capital and community organizations play in political mobilization. These findings reveal the unseen ways that violence can impact political participation, and I contend that this seemingly random event, while not clearly related to racial animus, had non-negligible consequences that fell along racial lines in Las Vegas.


Violence, Mobilization, and the Risk of Reprisal

Building on existing collective action and conflict studies literature, I contend that work regarding the American Civil Rights Movement (CRM) has undervalued a critical component of resource mobilization and local movement organization -- violence. In this paper, I propose a theory of collective mobilization or repression in the aftermath of racially-targeted violence. Focusing on a case-study of Birmingham, Alabama, I argue that CRM outcomes in the city of Birmingham cannot be fully understood without due consideration of the violence that preceded the nation's focus on the city in 1963. That is, violence which occurred long before Dr. King’s arrival in Birmingham is critical to understanding why the city was successfully desegregated. This paper expands on established theories of mobilization, and it provides insight into the enduring political implications of racially-targeted violence, the consequences of which we have yet to fully grapple with in the present-day.

        June 12, 2020. PRIO Blog.

How the South was Cleansed

with Christian Davenport

Outside of the Great Migration, hundreds of counties in the American South saw decreases in black population, and at times the complete disappearance of black communities in the span of several years. In this project, we examine the role of racial violence, specifically lynchings, as well as other political and economic factors, on such occurrences of black out-migration. We look not only at disappearances of black communities, but also the lasting effects of racial violence in areas where black populations do not return.

Missing, Murdered, Demobilized

What is the impact of discriminant, childhood violence on subsequent electoral turnout and political participation? This paper considers the political impact of the “Atlanta Child Murders” in Atlanta, Georgia, where the kidnapping and murder of 27 Black children between 1979 and 1981 revealed cross-cutting racial and class divisions within “Black Mecca.” Led by its first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, the city seemed exemplary of Black political empowerment. Yet, the lack of urgency regarding the crisis – until it became a public relations problem – demonstrated disappointing limits on descriptive representation as well as leadership’s apathy toward lower socio-economic status constituents. How did the Murders impact Black electoral politics in the city? Was there a measurable impact on the later electoral engagement of those who, at the time, were children themselves? This study estimates changes in electoral turnout and support for Jackson across several mayoral campaigns. With a focus on Atlanta, this project develops a broader framework for understanding the impact that violence in childhood has on political engagement later in life.

Historical Violence

Race and Extralegal Violence

Political Science 340

Emory University

Fall & Spring 2023, 2024

This course familiarizes students with extralegal and political violence. It is the goal of this course to connect interdisciplinary academic scholarship, literary texts, and real world events in order to develop a better understanding of how violence -- in Georgia and throughout the United States -- has been and continues to be used as a political weapon for coercion and repression.


The structure of the course moves through a cycle of conflict, starting with theories pertaining to the onset of extralegal violence, moving to explicate its various forms, and outlining the challenges of measurement and empirical analysis on the topic. The course then shifts to focus on the consequences of extralegal violence, while also considering it as a form of political resistance.

See students' multi-media projects exploring legacies of racial violence in Georgia.

Introduction to American Politics

University of Michigan

Graduate Student Instructor

Course introducing students to the study of American politics, including fundamental concerns of collective action, the structure and function of American political institutions, patterns in political behavior, and the roles of parties, social movements, and the media in the United States’ political system.

"Too Busy to Hate"

Atlanta Politics and Political Life

Political Science 190

Emory University

Fall 2023 & 2024

This freshman seminar introduces students to the political history, geography, economy, and institutions of the city of Atlanta. With a particular emphasis on race, political violence, and protest politics, students consider the political events, politicians, and activists who have shaped the Atlanta’s present-day contours and its place on a national political stage. The course takes students beyond Emory’s campus, familiarizing them with the city, as well as with central themes and concepts from the discipline of political science.

Listen to students' podcasts highlighting unique elements of Atlanta politics.


Introduction to Political Theory

University of Michigan

Graduate Student Instructor

Moving from discussions of power, political problems, proposed solutions, and movements of resistance, this course introduces students to classic and contemporary perspectives on issues that arise in the course of governance while challenging them to think critically about resolutions.


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